Monday, 28 January 2013

Celtic Connections - politics and herding cats

Celtic Connections is now over half way done, and it is looking like another successful year. The mix of folk, world, rock, blues and Americana is proving to attract wide audiences, and the off-the-wall events too, are bringing ‘em in.

Amongst the early events that I saw, was Shamrock City’a concert (on 18 Jan) built around a new music and film project about to be launched by well-known Irish-American band Solas. The project is based on the history of Irish immigrants to America, especially the large number of them who travelled to Butte, Montana to work in the booming copper mines at the turn of the 20th century. 

Mines in Uptown Butte
Among them was the great- great-uncle of Seamus Egan, ‘Solas’ founder. Working together, the hugely talented group of musicians in the band have produced a superb history/celebration of the impact that the Irish had on Butte, and the impact that Butte had on them. It is surely no accident that Butte is one of the few cities in the USA which has had a Mayor elected (twice!) on a Socialist ticket! 

The concert itself was a great success. The projections complemented the mix of ballad, jig and political song that made up the musical side to the project, and the appearance of Dick Gaughan to sing the miner’s union song was well received by the large audience. 

The appearance of the Co-operative Funeralcare Brass Band was also an unexpected treat. Drafted in at short notice, they successfully added depth to some of the material. 

It was maybe even more appropriate to preview this album in Scotland just now. An unexpected, and very welcome addition to the debate over immigration, nationality, borders and working people, it added a further element to the political strand that forms a core part of Celtic Connections.

All together now!

Levon Helm. The Band's drummer

Another successful development that has distinguished Celtic Connections recently is the ‘Review Concert’. Best done around in tribute to a particular musician or style, one of this years successes was the Roamin’ Roots Review (20 January). 

Based on the contribution of Levon Helm (who died last year), and the Band, this was a fitting tribute to a seminal musician. Curated by Roddy Hart, with his band The Lonesome Fire producing a unifiying rock backing, the concert brought together, Levon’s daughter Amy; Scottish folk trio, Lau; Rachel Sermanni; Scott Hutchison (Frightened Rabbit); talented singer-songwriter Beerjacket; Admiral Fallow's Louis Abbott and Ben Knox Miller
of The Low Anthem. 

Two additional guests who both delivered cracking short sets, were Irish singer Gemma Hayes, and top English folkie, Beth Orton. Finishing off the evening with The Weight, and The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, this demonstrated how good it is when someone (in this case Roddy Hart) can successfully bring groups of diverse musicians together and park their egos at the stage door. Another Celtic Connections success story!

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