An Interview with Steve Arnott

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Steve Arnott had a dream; then he got a bus; then he got on the telly – The Mumble absolutely adore the guy…


Hello Steve, where are you from & where you at?
Hi Mumble I am from Kingston upon Hull and I am still here.

Where did your love of music come from?
My love for music came from hearing singers such as Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson played by my mum. Then I discovered hip-hop culture at the age of 9 through breakdancing.

You’ve got three famous singers from history coming round for dinner. Who would they be & what would you cook; starters, mains & dessert?
Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and India Arie… Yazz could then cook 🙂 Starter: Fallafel and Houmous; Main: Stuffed Wild Mushrooms and for Pudding: Lemon Cheesecake.

Where & when did you get the idea for The Beats Bus?
I came up with the idea about 5 years ago as I used to do workshops with young people aged 16-25 in Hull city centre. The workshops were really successful, but there wasn’t a lot attending so it started me thinking why? I came to the conclusion that not a lot of families have excess money to give the children to travel to the city centre everyday, so I needed to make a travelling recording studio/workshop vehicle.

 

What kind of things do the kids say The Beats Bus makes them feel?
Confidence, a sense of family, proud to be part of it and they are excited about the future, which is great.

How did the documentary, A Northern Soul, come about?
I met Sean the director at the event “Made in Hull” that he created but previously. We had had a discussion through a mutual friend, Rebecca Robyns, about each other. Sean was looking for a character and I had a story to tell. Then we met we agreed to start filming and the rest is history.

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What was it like working with these particular film-makers?
It was a pleasure working with Sean, he is a very inspiring man and we are both from Hull. Sharing the same background we struck up a strong bond and friendship straight away.

How did A Northern Soul, change your life?
The documentary has changed my life massively; it has helped me fund my dream and also provide free workshops for young people in Hull.

Did being the City of Culture change Hull?
No, it never changed Hull, it has always been an awesome city. What it did do though is shine a light on our creatives and massively boosted our civic pride.

What’s happening right now with The Beats Bus?
In 2019 we are rolling out free workshops for young people who get stuck on their estates because they have no money to travel. We want to try and raise their aspirations. We are also working with the Police on a ‘no more knives’ campaign which is going to be an exciting project.

What would you say to somebody who has a dream?
Follow it with all your heart and going up, under or over to achieve your destiny. It is in your hands – choose a path and make a plan.

Have you thought about taking The Beats Bus further afield – perhaps even the Edinburgh Fringe?
Yes and we will, but at the moment we are concentrating on helping our community as they really need it.


www.beats-bus.co.uk

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Teenage Funkland 4: Young Roses


Continuing Damian Beeson Bullen’s retrospective adventure thro’ the Birth of Britpop with the true story behind the secret track – THE FOZ – on The Stone Roses’ Second Coming


It is early May, 1994. In the UK local elections, the Tories have just lost 429 seats and control of 18 councils. They were definitely losing the youth vote, especially after the introduction into law of the most insidious piece of legislation in 300 years, the Criminal Justice Bill. ‘New age travellers?’ had croaked John Major at the Tory conference, of 1992, ‘Not in this age. Not in any age.’ In effect, this prevented people from getting together outside & having a rave, granting the police huge discretionary powers to thwart our fun. The Levelers were in the front line of protests, a proper funky band of proper hippies; on May 7th they attended a press conference at the Rainbow Centre in Kentish Town, where the Advance Party’s Debby Daunton declared;

I suppose that because no one in government has ever had the desire to let what’s left of his hair down at a rave, they don”t see why anyone else should be allowed to…. Society is perfectly happy for the army to run around pretending to kill people on Salisbury plain

Meanwhile, the 32-mile long Channel Tunnel had officially opened on the 6th, finally physically connecting the Entente Cordiale for the first time since the Ice Age Land Bridge was swamp’d by the seas. Following two centuries of cross-channel schemes, those 22 miles of water between Dover & Calais were finally breached by science, engineering & Human endeavour. After cutting the ribbons on the Eurostar Terminal at Waterloo, the Queen found herself rushing under the seabed towards England, emerging at Calais on an overcast afternoon & a meeting with President Mitterrand. “The mixture of French elan and British pragmatism,” said the Queen in her speech of the day in the most untroubled French, “when united in a common cause, has proved to be a highly successful combination. The tunnel embodies that simple truth… the French and British peoples, for all their individual diversity and ages-long rivalry, complement each other well – better perhaps than we realise.” Agreed! Every cheese-eating surrender monkey needs someone to drag them out of the pickle.

Three days later saw the release of Trogg’s song Love Is All Around (1967) by Scottish popsters Wet Wet Wet, fronted by heart-throb-at-the-time Marti Pellow. Another 4 days after the release – May 13th – Four Weddings & a Funeral was released, on which the song was featured, propelling it towards fifteen weeks of being at No 1. Like everybody else at the time, even the band themselves were fed up with hearing the song, so deleted the single from sale, thus preventing them from equaling Bryan Adams’ record for weeks at the top with his 1991 single (Everything I Do) I Do It For You. The film did even better, becoming the biggest grossing British film ever, making nearly £200 million and costing just $2 million to make.

Back in the world of cooler music, Wigan’s finest psychedelic popsters, Verve, were told they had to change their name to The Verve by lawyers representing Polygram, the owners of Verve jazz records. The Verve were yet to hit the heights of Northern Soul & espcecially Urban Hymns, but were slowly growing in status, musicianship, songwriting & style. In little Ynyssdu, after the Oasis gig we felt ourselves full of rock ‘n’ roll. The crunch of the guitars still swirled around our heads, the bass & drums gave us a groove to our step… & we wanted more. Out came the keyboard. Suddenly me & Nick were the new Lennon & MaCartney as we proceeded to pen such classics as ‘(Whats yer) Problem Babe’ and ”Teenage Funkland’ in a stony haze. Then one day, during a lull in jamming to the casio beat, something struck me. After reading an article in the NME (see below), I was looking at a map of the region & saw the town of Monmouth…

Fuckin Hell Nick… that’s where the Roses are recording!

“Where!”

“Monmouth… it’s just over the border. Come on pal, let’s check ’em out & see where that bloody album is.”

“Let’s go!”

So we borrowed a tent & off we went…

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Aha! The Stone Roses. My beloved Stone Roses. I was 13 when the first album came out in 1989. A year later I was on a school trip to London – we saw Blood Brothers I recall – & I’d just started listening to the Inspiral Carpets. A friend had given me a tape with Life on it. On the reverse side was the Stone Roses, & somewhere after Birmingham I thought I’d give it a listen. By the time we hit London I was hooked. I must have listened to that album twice a day for the next few years. While that was happening, the Roses had ditched their dodgy record company – Zomba – & signed up with American label, Geffen. Then they went underground for a long time – young dads n’all that – with the difficult second album proving a lot more difficult than anyone expected. Things had changed you see, the zeitgeist,,, the Age of the Second Summer of Love was over, the Time of the Britpoppers had come.

The Roses were the flagship band for the Madchester movement which we all bought into & loved. Their longevity is proven. In the past couple of years I’ve seen James at Party in the Palace (Linlithgow), The Charlatans at Electric Fields (Drumlanrig Castle), The Happy Mondays at Lindisfarne Festival, & of course the Roses themselves at Heaton Park then, for my fortieth birthday, at the Etihad. I was there with my sister & brother-in-law, & to our right were a couple of my age with their 14 year old daughter, all donned out in Roses regalia & singing along to every word. The Roses, you see, are family, & we were a part of it.

Me & the brother-in-law, Simon, at the Etihad 2016

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It was an awesome gig – much better than Heaton Park, & one in which the first album was played in its entireity – a great moment really seeing as I’m trying to emulate it at the moment. Yeah, what a gig, the best I’ve ever been to in my life, I think, the Etihad was like a modern Collosseum & my favorite gladiators were on cracking form – their new single, All For One, if a little plastic in the recording was majestic in such an environment. Aye,  I love the Roses me!

From my blog, June 2016

 

That first album was a killer, an eternal classic, & everyone knows it. The travesty is, instead of seizing world domination when it was in the palm of their hands, the looping funk of Fools Gold teaching everyone how to dance properly, the Roses chose to be enigmatic.. The world had waited… & waited… & waited… & fuckin waited & still not even a whimper. Yet they still retained the aura of Britain’s coolest band. In reality, with John Squire obsessing over the sound & chalking up a healthy coke addiction the recording process had dragged on for months & years. “I made the mistake of using cocaine for a while,’ recollected Squire, thinking it would make me productive, but it just made me more unsure, more paranoid.” By May 1994, however, they were approaching the final touches at a famous converted farmhouse near Monmouth called Rockfield Studios. Bohemian Rhapsody had been recorded here, so it must have had some good, creative vibes. “Put the heating on more often,” wrote Ian Brown in the visitors book, “and I might one day come back.” The album would be released a few months later on the 5th December.

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The Roses signing the Rockfield visitors book

May ’94 also saw the passing away of John Smith, the leader of the Labour party. Before his well-mourned passing it was universally understood that he would be the next prime minister… & a good one at that. After over fifteen years of Toryism, it was time for a change. Although Maggie Thatcher had got the country back on it’s feet after the chaotic seventies, by ’94 the party she once ruled with an iron fist was a corrupt organisation led by an excrutiatingly dull PM, John Major. A seismic shift was coming, & with the elections due in 1997 & everybody felt Labour would win. On Smith’s death, the name of a young, dazzling Labour MP began to be spoken… Tony Blair.

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Now then, I cannot believe that the brilliant John Smith, the leader of the Labour Party in 1994, would ever have let George Bush & the American Neocons ever get away with faking 9-11 & attacking Iraq & Afghanistan. Tony Blair did. by the way, & was the chief beneficiary to John Smith’s sudden & unexpected death by heart attack in London on the 12th May. He would have made a great PM, the country was desperate for change & Labour was heading for a landslide. Was it a conspiracy, perhaps, perhaps not Smith had suffered a heart attack in ’88, & was a heavy drinker. Still, Tony Blair did make an unusual statement while staying in a French hotel with his family in April 1994. On waking his wife, Cherie, one morning, he blurted out quite obtusely, “If John dies, I will be leader, not Gordon. And somehow, I think this will happen. I just think it will.”

Monmouth from the air, 1920

Back in the world of the 18-year-old Nicky & Damo, a bus-ride out of Ynyssdu & a wee train jump outta Newport & we found ourselves pulling into Abergavenny, a strange sounding town right on the border. Monmouth wasn’t served by train, so we blagged some local budweiser boy to drive us there for a fiver. So there we were, razzin down the road with a local wise guy, the sun setting over Wales behind us, the English border ahead. Crossing into the mothership, we were soon were among the scenic streets of Monmouth. On the outskirts of town we found a camp-sight, & in the failing light snook in thro’ a back field & set up camp. By the time the tent was up & we’d had a reefer or two, we were swamped by a serious a case of ‘What next?’

“Reyt, I think Rockfield’s a couple of miles out of town… so I’ll go & check it out.”

“Nice one… I’ll chill here & get stoned.”

“Nice one… inabit!”

“Inabit.”

Rockfield Studios

With one rolled I set off along a country road. Above the stars were singing & I was enveloped in the bosom of a warm May night. Up ahead, somewhere (I hoped) lay Rockfield Studios. After a couple of miles the shadow of a building loomed out of the gloom. It turned out to be a farmhouse & just as I was walking to the door to check it out, a car razzed up beside me on the drive. This guy leaps out sporting a baseball cap & all at once I clicked… it was only fuckin’ Ian Brown.

“Can I help yer kid?”

 “Yeah mate, I’ve come to see what the Stone Roses are up to!”

 “Cool, come in!”

So there I was, sat in the control room of Rockfield Studios, chattin to Reni about a Roses gig in Colne (near Burnley) & Ian Brown buzzin about, his mane completely shaved off & renouncing all drugs. The Roses’ producer then turns up with two Yanks – radio pluggers – who had been sent over by Geffen to see where all their money had gone & to listen to the album. Mani was away & Squires was off taking coke somewhere but there was one guy missin.’

Lads… I can’t stay on mi own, mi mates waitin down at the campsite.”

 “No worries… we’ll go pick him up.”

Sound as fuck… none of yer pop star bullshit… simply sound as fuck. We roared the couple of miles down the road in their motor, Reni at the wheel. Then with a screech & a spin we razzed up the camp site, pulling up right outside the tent. I got out, unzipped & poked me head inside… Nicky looked stoned.

 “Yo Nick, I’m wi Stone Roses!”

 “Eh!?”

 “No, swear down… come on, wi gonna listen to the new album!”

 “Reyt, I’ll get mi weed!”

 Unfortunately it was too dark to find the weed, & we were proper rushin.’ So after brief introductions me & Nick were just about to get in the car when who would show up but a pretty pissed-off campsite owner.

 “Oy there boyos, what yer doin!”

 “It’s allright mate, they’re with us,” said Brown.

 “Wait a minute… they haven’t even paid!”

 “We’ll sort you out in the morning mate,”

So we jumped in the car with Nick. I can’t quite remember, but I’m sure they made more noise when they left than when they arrived.

Back in the studio we were flanked by Yanks on us left & Mancs on us right. One by one tracks off the new album were brought from a pile of massive tape reels. For a wide-eyed kid who had been using a Tascam four-track, to see the epic grandeur of a proper recording studio it was very cool indeed. At one point we went to the farm itself for a cup of tea & a spliff, watchin’ MTV. Talk ended up on football… the Roses being Man U fans. It was just at the beginning of their strangle-hold on the domestic game, & the double loomed, even if they were wearing an awful, schizophrenic away kit. They had just pipped Bastard Rovers to the title by 8 points & were about to meet Chelsea in the FA Cup final. It was the season when Cantona ran rampant in the middle field, his Napoleonic dash & Gallic élan controlling every match & inspiring his team. He also kicked a Norwich player in the head – ‘descpicable’ said Jimmy Hill – and stamped on John Moncur at Swindon. But he was genius!

I feel really at home here. I love the game, above all in England. I really thought I would not play football again, but my career was changed completely by coming here, I did not really know what to expect. On the continent they say that the English are cold & reserved, but they are not. The English like to laugh. They like to tell jokes. I’ve been surprised. I like the English Eric Cantona

In Rockfield Studios, at one point John Squire came in to make himself a brew. He didn’t say anything, an almost Shelleyan figure in the background, who made his tea & disappeared. The Second Coming was mainly about Squires. He wrote all the tunes but one & lavished them with a series of powder-driven guitar solos. Inspired by Led Zeppelin & thus the artistic alchemy of Aleister Crowley he had produced a darkly poetic album. I remember seeing a Robert Johnson CD in the studio (which I’ve now got in my car) & another influence must be Jimmy Hendrix… on Good Times the title & the guitaring are one & the same. At one point they gave us a tour of the studio, & I saw the handwritten lyrics to Straight To The Man, testifying to the fact the album was still malleable. During the listening, other tracks definitively stood out; the acoustic sing-a-long Tightrope, the melodic Ten Storey Love Song & the fuzzy Begging You made us realise why we loved them in the first place. Then they slapped on Love Spreads & we knew the Roses were back.

They also played a mental track, full of screeching violins & mad acoustics, which they called The Foz“You should put it on the album,” we told ’em. Indeed they did, at our behest it seems, as a secret track. If you left the album running by accident, the stereo would suddenly spring to life again, 90 tracks in. Producer, Simon Dawson, who was also present at our visit, bragging about how the album was ‘gonna be massive,’ had this to say about The Foz.

This was nothing to do with me at all – it was something they did before they came to Rockfield. I know I’m credited with the keyboards, but I didn’t play them on that! I think Reni played the piano, Ian played the violin, and John was playing the mandolin. It was something they did late one night when they were with John Leckie and he’d wandered in with his DAT player – it was just a bit of a joke, I think. I don’t think it was supposed to be found that easily — it was supposed to shock people who’d left their CD playing while they were studying or whatever. The working title was ‘The Foz’ – well, I say working title…that was what was written on the box, anyway…” – Simon Dawson.

There was one funny moment. Ian, Reni & Simon asked us what we’d been up to, & we mentioned we’d seen Oasis recently. BOOM – you could almost cut the tension with a knife. Simon was praising them as good lads, but you could definitely feel a sense of ‘who are these johnny-cum-latelys everyone’s rabbiting on about.’ During 1994, Oasis were actually recording at nearby Monow Valley studios, which led to Ian Brown & the Gallagher brother’s first bumping into each other as Brown was walking out of the WH Smiths in Monmouth. As Brown shadow boxed his way towards them & started praising Cigarettes & Alcohol, perhaps this was the existential moment of the baton being changed. Darius had established the empire, & Xerxes was gonna spread its power over widening regions. Whatever did transpire that day, safe to say back at the studio two sets of baggy Mancunians were creating & recording beautiful, beautiful, perhaps even immortal music.

The Stone Roses in December 1994 : in their exclusive interview to The Big Issue

So our brilliant time finally over, with the radio pluggers leaving at the same time as ourselves, Reni & Ian drove us back to the campsite, the first ‘outsiders’ to hear the album in the world. All the music mags had been shunned, & there we were a Barlicker & an Accy Roader, piercing the aura of invincibility right to the summit of Olympus. “I don’t think its as good as the first one!” said Nick as we finally managed to skin-up. But I didn’t care, I mean, the fuckin’ Stone Roses, the new fuckin’ album – we were very lucky boys.

Needless to say we were up at the crack of dawn & did a runner without paying.


TEENAGE FUNKLAND

———

1: THE MURDER OF KURT COBAIN

2: SUPERSONIC

3: NEWPORT

4: YOUNG ROSES

 

Celtic Connections: Eddi Reader and Leeroy Stagger

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Kings Theatre, Glasgow 
Wednesday, January 30th 2019


Glasgow’s venerable Kings Theatre seemed a fitting venue for the return of the ever-popular Eddi Reader to the Celtic Connections festival, Glasgow’s amazing annual sharing of music from all over the world. But first, we had a Scottish version of a transatlantic session as the packed King’s audience welcomed Canadian singer songwriter Leeroy Stagger to the stage to perform his unique blend of folk, blues and tradition, based simply upon two musicians on guitar and banjo.

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Leeroy introduced each song, telling us the story of how it came about and why they were performing it. They were simple songs with simple lyrics, sharing tales in a familiar old way of sharing stories that has been practiced across the globe in every clan or tribe. An amazing adherence to tradition, and yet somehow also a new, alternative take on things, encompassing, as is popular today, ideas of rebellion through music; a rebellion towards a new world of love and light. And indeed his soulful music succeeding in generating a feeling of love in the auditorium, a feeling taken up and built upon as Eddi Reader and her band strode on to the stage to begin their performance.

The ensemble of eight consisted of flute, accordion, piano, guitar, drum, double bass – an exciting array that promised much – and all presided over by Eddi herself in a striking red dress, which she commented on as she addressed us and told us how glad she was to be performing in the well known King’s theatre in her own home town, a town where she holds a well-earned special place in the people’s hearts. The city, and city life, were at the forefront of her stories that were set about in each of her songs. The old Celtic music with its sensual sound and simple lyrics were profound from the first song with the band coming to life behind her tremendously emotive vocals. The solos flew by on flute and violin and danced in and out of her melodies in a most attractive way.

The evening was marvellously produced and performed, each song touching upon a new emotion; there was partying, terrible sadness, lots of joking. Music to dance wildly to, music that represented high life, low life, tunes that would have fitted right in to any venue, from a cosy pub to a giant arena. All with Eddi always rising far above it, singing with a magical quality that held us and enchanted us. Her stories too were captivating, all the more so because of being a part of the performance and told in such a personal way that you could have no doubt of the reality of the life being represented in this glorious two and a half hours of sheer entertainment.

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Yet again, an evening like this creates a connection between a large live audience and graceful, generous artists who want nothing more than to heal the world through the love generated by simple and beautiful act of performing and sharing music. It feels like a privilege to share their heartbreak and their joy. It feels like this kind of evening is one of a kind but it is great to realise that music happens everywhere, every night, all over the world. And that’s what Celtic Connections is all about.
Reviewer: Daniel Donnelly

Reviewer: Daniel Donnelly

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Celtic Connections: The Once and Mike Vass

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The Drygate
Glasgow
Friday, January 23rd 2019


The Once and Mike Vass set sail from Nova Scotia and Nairn to bring home tonight’s
audience a grand haul of songs. Mike Vass opened the show with his first ever performance as a singer heading up a band. He is already, of course, well known as a composer, Malinky fiddle player, sailor, teacher and musical boat blogger of some renown. These latest songs constitute an autobiographical project transmitted in very emotionally engaging music which was characteristically well arranged for his chosen band of trumpet, cello, bass, keyboards and drums. In songs where the words matter, some are a bit thin on tunes, and some tuneful songs lose the impact of the words, but Vass’s songs strike just the right tune/word balance.

Of course it’s hard to hear everything at a live gig, but what I heard, I liked e.g. ‘I was only right to touch the tiller lightly’. There’s more to singing than the words and the tune, though, and with Mike’s confident stage presence and easy rapport, he might consider upping the emotional investment, as he becomes a more seasoned singer. He could do worse than studying The Once, who have been singing together since 2004. They have developed a very different autobiographical style which I found refreshingly honest and original, but on which my companion wasn’t so keen. It’s horses for courses, I guess. In terms of an imaginary Beaufort scale of emotional engagement, Mike would be a calm Force 2 or 3 (this comparison is maybe a bit unfair because in Vass’s songs the instruments were doing the emotional talking).

The Once, however, would be a brisk Force 5 or 6. Their music is full of strong melodies and close harmonies, more from a country/folk rock/roots tradition. But it was in the stories which precede some of the songs where the band, and its charismatic singer Geraldine Hollett, were most affecting, with both tragic and uplifting stories powerfully told, and later, sung. In contrast, Phil Churchill’s humour was refreshingly quirky. Since the concert ‘By the glow of the kerosene light’ has been going round my head. It’s a country song by fellow Newfie, Wince Coles, but it tells the kind of desperately sad story which did and still does sometimes happen. The Once sing it marvellously, but their own songs are
much more hopeful. ‘We are all running the same race’ is typical, and declares that ‘the
brightest dawn is yet to come’. Even if it isn’t, it’s nights like tonight which make it all
worthwhile. Something very strengthening is born of nights in winter singing songs which don’t shun sadness yet remain hopeful.

Reviewer: Catherine Eunson

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Celtic Connections: LoLanders featuring Fraser Fifield and Oene van Geel

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Royal Concert Hall
Glasgow
Tuesday January 22nd 2019


This concert was made possible thanks to ‘Going Dutch’, a project put together by the UK
and Ireland-wide Jazz Promotion Network with funding mainly from Dutch Performing Arts, and an additional contribution from Creative Scotland. Great gigs like this do indeed all flower from a creative partnership and a good idea meeting a source of funding. The concert marked the culmination of some days of playing together, but the project will continue for 6 more months, so it marks a significant investment in the future. Moreover Fraser Fifield is influential in more than one musical sphere in Scotland, so we can look forward to hearing the benefits of what will happen in the next 6 months for a long time to come. The Scottish musicians involved are Fraser Fifield on low whistle and small pipes (though he is also known as a saxophonist), Graeme Stephen on guitar, and Hardeep Deerhe on tabla. Their Dutch LoLander comrades are Oene van Geele on viola, Mark Haanstra on bass, and Udo Demandt on percussion. At least half of the band are also significant composers. So an unusual and very impressive line up, and one which pulls together an already entwined history of collaborations from its members. At the outset I should say how deftly the tabla and percussion fitted together, producing a marvellously lively foundation for a rhythm section which, along with the bassist, sounded as if they had been playing together for years.

The evening had started with the Scottish based Fergus MacCreadie trio who took us on a
journey full of melody and exploration. The drums of Stephen Henderson and the bass of
David Bowden combined securely and effortlessly and each number provided easily enough melodic charm and harmonic interest so that, as a listener, I felt more than happy to follow the subsequent explorations wherever they wanted to go. Maybe a trio can afford each other space, as keyboard, bass and drums have little need to worry about crowding out the others, or maybe these musicians are just very adept at storytelling. Either way this was the perfect band to introduce the sextet who were to follow. Every number they played was a winner, so it’s also difficult to pick out especial highlights. But just to prove I was there and I was listening, I’ll pick out the unison bass and keyboard melody line introducing the second number as being noticeably effective, as well as the three nameless new numbers before the warmth and spaciousness of ‘An Old Friend.’ Do yourselves a favour and either buy the album ‘Turas’ or go and see the Fergus McCreadie Trio soon. Or even better, both.

The only slight bump in the concert’s road came at the very start of the LoLanders own set, when I missed the spaciousness and easy confidence of what had come before as the energy of the bigger band seemed to jump up like a slightly over friendly dog. But it all settled down very quickly. Or was it that I woke up? Probably both, and the inventiveness and variety of the LoLanders set soon proved, and remained fascinating. It also helps when you have a really charismatic personality on stage like Oene van Geele. He relished every chance to attack a syncopated beat, his solos took flight and his spontaneous jumps landed perfectly. This liveliness certainly acted as a visual focus for the group, as did the drums and percussion. And let’s not underestimate the visual drama, the dance, if you like, of making music. Much in the music was mercurial as in, ‘Chase it, catch it’. Spoiler alert – it got away!

Now I’m not a guitar expert, but Graeme Stephen’s instrument looks and sounds like quite a character. Never once did you wonder why there were so many notes happening. Instead Stephen showed his compositional sense and feeling for the drama of the music throughout. Fraser Fifield’s low whistle and Oene’s viola were also a vibrant combination. Fifield also occasionally and very successfully brought out the small pipes and with them came a couple of tunes from the traditional repertoire. All in all this was a great energetic display of wonderful jazz from a well mixed group of instruments, throughout which the inventiveness and lyricism of Fifield’s low whistle shone. I hope to hear more from them all again soon.

Reviewer: Catherine Eunson

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Celtic Connections: Mariza & Support

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Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
Monday, January 21st 2019


I took my seat at the back of the main concert hall, taking it all in. The setting was striking, with the marvellous Celtic Connections signature logo projected in black on the left hand stalls and in red on the stage’s back screen. As the lights dimmed, the musicians of the support act calmly took their places and the magic began.

Spotlights picked out each performer as they embarked upon their tender and emotional musical journey, sometimes individually, sometimes in combination. The theme was ancient Scottish culture, portrayed through poetry – ancient stories in ancient music had the performance travelling through tragedy through to childlike joy. The solo singer carefully stood her ground as she bathed us in her beautiful voice, enhanced by an accompaniment performed in perfect harmony, like an organ being played by several people. Whole songs were written on the one tone like a melodic drone with the instruments effortlessly guiding each other to make the chord swell to fill the hall and dance over its high walls. She was joined by a second singer for two songs of her own composition. A fitting prelude to the main performer.

Mariza and her accompanying musicians, on guitar, Portuguese guitar, acoustic bass – and accordion – performed their first haunting song in darkness. The mood had changed to Fado, an old musical genre with its roots in Mariza’s native Portugal. There was an almost ephemeral quality about the singer’s amazing gown in a light grey/blue which seemed to echo the lightness and ever-changing quality of the music, and to subtly promise an equally well-crafted evening, which indeed it turned out to be, with production values that could not have been bettered.

Mariza held the audience in the palm of her hand as, moving easily in that gorgeous gown, she spoke to us, introducing each song and drawing us in to the stories she was telling through her music, now sad, now joyously happy. Fado seems to embrace many genres of world music, moving between them with mind boggling fluidity as we were continuously introduced to yet another facet, another possibility that the music could embrace. And yet there was a great unity between them which Mariza captained and conducted. We could hear the Portuguese side but could also see the African element of her heritage.

The early promise was more than fulfilled in the performance, from the vocals and the intense musical accompaniment, to the visual impact created by the singer and her band, to the first class set. There was a presence there that lifted and conquered the hall, with a voice and music that was compelling and variable. Her intimacy as a performer was matched by her vivacious vocals. She moved around, she sat on the edge of the stage sharing her heart with us, talking about love and her goals in life, telling us that for her music is all about love. And living up to each and every point of celebration she wished to make in the marvellous uplifting music.

This was a haunting and lovely celebration of the beauty and power of music with a world class performer genuinely happy to be taking part in the Celtic Connections Festival. As she left the stage she took a walk round the hall, greeting friend and stranger alike (friends had come from home to see her). She opened herself up to everyone, come what may. Totally captivating.

Reviewer: Daniel Donnelly

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Celtic Connections: The Big Music Society

seinn air a phiob (1)


Mackintosh Church
Glasgow
Friday, January 18th 2019


The audience which came in from the Maryhill snow to the purple-lit Mackintosh Church soon realised they had entered a very special world. Pìobaireachd, Ceòl Mòr, the ‘Big Music’ is the classical music of the pipes and is like an independent state within a world. Define classical music anyone? Ask Alan MacDonald, really funny as well as knowledgeable in his introductions. According to him classical music ‘raises great expectations that a tune might break out.’ Pìobaireachd music starts with the measured statement of a tune, then repeats it with increasingly complex embellishments and variations before returning to it at the end. In the past the performance of this music has been rather constrained by convention, but Alan has done a great deal to bring it to life, and to contemporary audiences, as have the Big Music Society. In retrospect it was perhaps a shame that we didn’t hear a complete solo pibroch in the fantastic acoustics of the Mackintosh church. But the arrangements were substantial and mostly worked marvellously. One of the most effective was ‘Gabhaidh sinn an Rathad Mor’ a tune which has certainly been about a bit, and which progressed in good style to a grand conclusion, seeming to pick up both the Penguin Café Orchestra and the Vatersay Boys along the way. And if there is anything more exciting than the sound of the pipes, it is the sound of the pipes deferred, so that halfway through a tune you were already enjoying, comes the sight of a couple of guys hoisting the pipes on their shoulders and blowing up the bags in preparation, so you realise everything is about to go up a significant gear. Marvellous stuff, and with a double bass adding just enough to the foundations to support the whole musical structure.

The concert was called ‘Seinn (Sing) air a’ Phìob’ because in Gaelic pipers sing on their pipes. Singing and piping are inextricably linked and indeed singing ran throughout the concert, with the piping coming mostly in the second half. In the first half Maighread Stewart and Ingrid Henderson gave a stunning set of songs and solos with voice and harp. What a partnership they are with the harp sounding so refreshing and colourful you could almost taste it. In general, for me it was in the singing that the greatest highlights were to be found. The song about Deirdre of the Sorrows, the first song in praise of whisky, and in the second half the charismatic singing of Alan Macdonald stood out memorably. Not only were the audience treated to Maighread and Alan’s singing, Mairi MacInnes was there, and her rendition of Maol Donn was unforgettable. Then Kathleen MacInnes appeared as a surprise guest, bringing her soulful impact into the world of the concert. I enjoyed it all and, indeed, if I had to go to exactly the same thing tomorrow I most certainly would. Calum MacCrimmon and John Mulhearn deserve great praise for initiating and, more importantly, growing and maintaining the Big Music Society, making the event what it was. Long may it, and they, flourish.

Reviewer: Catherine Eunson

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