Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
Thursdays are a good night for music, one thinks, soothing the mood just before the weekend kicks into gear. My sentiments seemed to have been shared by a great many others, for there was a packed house in the Main auditorium of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall for two modern folk outfits, Lau & The Unthanks. The latter band came on first, a couple of lovely, young English Roses steeped in their native Northumbrian balladry. Over the past decade they have been gaining respect, having performed on Jools Holland & at many a folk festival across the land.
Becky & Rachel Unthank love coming to Glasow – one of them admitting that in her student days she had been rescued from drowning in a puddle outside the Griffin! Joining them on stage were the rest of their band, a trumpet here, drums there, dramatic piano chords everywhere, & together they created a stunning futuristic account of those miner’s songs & sea-shanties of auld. A fantastic performance, these little bjorkettes will be touring Scotland in May & I really do urge anyone who loves the sheer beauty of song-craft well-sung to swell the numbers of their growing army of fans. For me, the perfect individual pathos of ‘Magpie’ was outstanding, & the full haunting bandscape of ‘The King of Rome’ a sheer pleasure to witness as they pulled into the room like those Celtic drids of old. And of course, the clog solo was magnificent.
The evening’s second band was Lau, an Anglo-Scottish trio formed a decade ago. It is fronted by Kris Drever, whose rendition of ‘The Ballad of Patrick Spence’ is always on my playlist when I’m soireeing about India, something to pop on whenever I’m missing Scotland. Lau’s music, however, is not traditional – well it has traditional elements, but it is all rather gonzo, dreamy sequences of song-cycles that are mining the musicals aether for gems & minerals as yet unheard. Joined on stage for the first two numbers by the Unthanks sisters on vocals, they were soon striding through the set, a shimmering collection of uber-grooves that had everyone nodding & tapping along.
This gig was the start of a national tour in which the widely acclaimed album, ‘The Bell That Never Rang’ shall be performed live up & down the land. ‘The best album of the year’ said The Herald, ‘The best live band in the UK,’ said the Guardian…. perhaps, perhaps not, but there is a certain sexual energy that escapes from the throbbing pulse of Lau’s music that really needs to be experienced live. Their hypnotic blend of electronica, accordion, fiddle, & folk guitar is a curious one, but rather wonderful to watch when they hit their full pomp. Heart-tugging in places, soul-surfing in others, the band are in complete unison, from their banter between songs to their complete freedom when relying on each other at the more complicated sections of their craft.
Tonight is what Celtic Connections is all about, the fusion of old & new, looking backwards, looking forwards. The venue was amazing also, & singular praise must be given to the lighting team who rendered the performance with a Doorsian rock-art tapestry, especially the moment when its seemed as if sunbeams glimmered through the leafy overpass of a forest glade – spectacular. For me, I think The Unthanks would have been a better second half, for Lau were a little understated – but that’s just a matter of taste, & the standing ovation Lau received at the finale would say differently.
Reviewer : Damo Bullen
Stage: Atmosphere: Performance:
Stage: Atmosphere: Performance: