My first outing at this year’s Celtic connections saw me take a seat in the main auditorium at the Tron Theatre for a wonderfully inspiring 3-part concert. It’s centrepiece was Vision Mechanic’s Symon Macintyre’s production of Drift, a song & narrative cycle whipped up by composer, Eddie McGuire, & wordsmith, Judith Adams. Last summer, a ‘dreadful’ one according to Macintyre, the show had toured beaches of northern Scotland, & it was on one of these sandy stretches that Macintyre met Shetland’s prodigal fiddless, Claire White, who opened proceedings.
Accompanied by Robert Leask on guitar, Claire seemed like an angel as her white shawl hung softly & wafted gently as she swept her bow across her fiddling strings. She gave us three songs concerning folk-heroes from the northern regions, including a marvelous ballad concerning Jan Baalsrud a Second World war legend who managed to cross occupied Norway with 100 Nazis in pursuit, losing 9 toes in the process. In this self-penned number, the choric lyric, ‘Hands across the hills & hearts across the sea / Thro ice & wind & weather, our spirits they soar free‘ was particularly memorable.
The main event was Drift, inspired by Betty Mouat, a 61 year old Shetland crofter, who in January 1886 drifted alone at sea for nine days from Shetland to Norway. Combining soundscapes, film, music, words & song this is a multi-media production the Mumble would have been proud of. Gerda Stevenson gallops through the libretto of Judith Adams with a great confidence & perfect delivery, & really invokes the colloquial loneliness of Betty’s trial. For the nine songs she sings – representing the nine days Betty was at sea – she is accompanied by an excellent band of acoustic musicians, who when not playing remain as still as rocks in a seastorm. Of the story given us, Macintyre hopes we would ‘glimpse the thoughts & emotions of someone whose life is hanging by a thread,’ & I dare say he has achieved his objective, a multi-sensory plunge into the North Sea which instead of freezing us to bones, warms us to the cockles of our hearts. For those wishing to experience Drift, it will be on tour this summer @
25-28 May : Stamsund Theatre Festival
21-25 June : Arctic Arts Festival, Harstad
28 June – 3 July : Fossekleiva Kultursenter
21-26 sept : findhorn bay Festival
The final act of this night’s soul-easing music was Ewan Macintyre, who just so happens to be Symon’s son. An upbringing immersed in Gaelic culture shone quite clearly through his short but celebratory set of all that is best in Celtic music. His easy, honey-dripping vocals were bouyed up by some excellent melodically plodding double bass from virtuosoesque Conrad Mollesson, some neatly sliding Dobro from Gavin Taylor, & the salubrious soundsmithery of Adam Shapiro’s fiddle. Ewan had met Adam in Montreal, & together they recorded an album – You Probably Look Better Naked Anyway – which you can listen to & buy at the link below. On the night, the extended jams were lovely, & his recent return to the ‘mothership’ – ie Edinburgh – like Robert Johnson returned from the crossroads, is a welcome moment in the future of traditional Scottish music.
Reviewer : Damo Bullen