Oundjian Conducts The Sea

Usher Hall


Fri 19th Feb


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I now have a new hero, the mercurial-heel’d conducting genius that is Peter Oundjian. He’s been musical director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra since 2012, & as a champion of the romantic repertoire has given the Scottish public some pieces to remember. Dedicated to fellow RSNO musical director Sir Alexander Gibson (1926-95), tonight’s offering was based upon the Sea; a starter of Debussy’s sumptuous La mer, & a main course of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ‘A Sea Symphony.‘ Both pieces were initially mused in 1903, with the composers feeling that the Wagnerian era had been almost completely mined of any musical jewels, & a new, more prosaic attachment to simpler themes, such as the natural world, was the way forward.


The evening began pleasantly, with La mer being, as David Kettle describes, ‘one of the composer’s best-loved & most respected works, for both its unmistakable watery evocations & its forward-looking approach to musical themes & form. Its been described – provocatively – as the greatest symphony ever written by a French composer.‘ I found it a great way to start proceedings, & I could feel Poseidon himself entering the Usher Hall, with all his fluid nymphs materialising through the walls. Watching the serrated bow action of the string section felt like watching a shoal of fish bouncing off invisible, underwater walls – & the sudden lifts of the music gave me great joy. La mer really is a world of wonder in which to lose one’s thoughts, a living organism that, as Kettel indeed writes, ‘is a work of memory & imagination, not picture-painting.’



After a small interval, on came the night’s full complement of singers, including the RSNO’s hefty choir, & eminent soloists Katherine Broderick (soprano) – in a dress of midnight-blue peopled by shiny diamonds – & booming-throated Benedict Nelson (baritone). They had been summoned by Oundjian to sing Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony, the words of which formed the entirety of the 19th century American poet Walt Whitman’s ‘A Song for All Seas, All Ships.’ Williams conducted this Symphony  for the first time at the 1910 Leeds festival, of which piece Anthony Bateman says he, ‘intended to convey an altogether more metaphysical, humanitarian & internationalist message.’ At the end of the Edwardian period its drastic & dramatic use of sound vibrations coupled with Whitman’s irregular versification would have seemed quite fantastic. A century later I feel the music still stands as quite brilliant, but the meter of Whitman’s words completely inappropriate for the symphony. Despite their great talents, the rush & flush of Whitman’s verbosity came across as a mumble, & one suspects such singing is best left with the lyrical strains of poetry.


For me, the bubbling bombast of the third movement – the Scherzo – was the finest, as it was also the earliest part to be composed, back in 1903. The singers worked best in the duet of the fourth movement, a marriage of voices triumphantly exclaiming ‘O we can wait no longer / We too take ship, O soul.’ Throughout everything, however, Oundjian whipped & whirled his way with magnificent composure & artistry, a complete genius & a joy to watch when in full flow – an Alex Higgins of the podium – & the way he teased the cellos into silence at the end of the concert was sublime. A wonderful night.

(from) A Song For All Seas, All Ships

(Walt Whitman)

TO-DAY a rude brief recitative,
Of ships sailing the Seas, each with its special flag or ship-signal;
Of unnamed heroes in the ships—Of waves spreading and spreading, far as the eye can reach;
Of dashing spray, and the winds piping and blowing;
And out of these a chant, for the sailors of all nations,
Fitful, like a surge.

Of Sea-Captains young or old, and the Mates—and of all intrepid Sailors;
Of the few, very choice, taciturn, whom fate can never surprise, nor death dismay,
Pick’d sparingly, without noise, by thee, old Ocean—chosen by thee,
Thou Sea, that pickest and cullest the race, in Time, and unitest Nations!
Suckled by thee, old husky Nurse—embodying thee!
Indomitable, untamed as thee.

(Ever the heroes, on water or on land, by ones or twos appearing,
Ever the stock preserv’d, and never lost, though rare—enough for seed preserv’d.


Reviewer : Damo Bullen



Music: 4.png Lyrics: 3 Emotivity: 5 


Atmosphere: 4.png Sound: 4.png Aesthetic: 5


Soloists: 3 Orchestra: 4.png Choir: 5

Fairport Convention

Queens Hall


6th February

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Going along to the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh as a ‘Fairport Virgin,’ I really did’t know what to expect. At 39 I was one of the youngest in the crowd, a full-house assembly of fans who were all speaking nothing but high praise for the band at the interval. Here’s not the place for a lengthy bio of the band, suffice it to say that the 5 members taking part in this Winter Tour of Britain are but five of over a hundred singers & musicians who have played with convention since its inception in the late 60s. An institution, then, but more so for their seminal place in popular music history as one of the leading pioneers of the ‘Folk-Rock’ fusion sound as seen in their seminal album, Leige & Leaf. Of their place in the tapestry, Richie Unterberger writes, ‘Fairport Convention did more than any other act to develop a truly British variation on the folk-rock prototype by drawing upon traditional material and styles indigenous to the British Isles. While the revved-up renditions of traditional British folk tunes drew the most critical attention, the group members were also (at least at the outset) talented songwriters as well as interpreters. They were comfortable with conventional harmony-based folk-rock as well as tunes that drew upon more explicitly traditional sources, and boasted some of the best singers and instrumentalists of the day.’


Before the Convention convened, we were treated to the individual talents of Roger Davies – a grown-up Milky-Bar Kid, who presented his simple but effective folk style honed in the intimate sessions of the Topic Folk Club, Bradford. For his last song he was joined by the Convention for his uptempo, self-penned ‘James Dean,’ a full-power way to conclude his set & get the Convention warmed up. As soon as Davies left the stage the Convention fired into the first song of their two hour set, which for a first-timer like me found to be a waking dream of some beauty.

Most of the songs were taken from their new album, Myths & Heroes, which served for a slightly subdued crowd, with the occasional spot of polite applause meeting most of the numbers. These, however, were sparkling; from the cool, ezy-grooves of the bass, to the fiddle & mandolin’s magnificent in concerto, I witnessed some excellent synergised music – uncomplicated yet artistic, mellow yet foot-tappy, lyrically sophisticated yet at times elegantly simplistic – this was the paradoxical essence of Folk-rock, & done to perfection.

Listening to the Convention is rather like having a snowfall in ones mind; the entrancing melodic flakes of each song drift thro the psychic aether & settle down into a soft blanket, embosoming the mind into relaxation. My highlight was the bass solo in the instrumental ‘Gallivant,’ but from Mozart to sea-shanties, the member’s influences perforated the soundscape, & proved an eclectic evening indeed.  For myself, the next time those silver foxes are in town I think I shall make my re-acquaintance, for it really was a splendid evening indeed.

Reviewer : Damo Bullen


They Might Be Giants




Jan 31st


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Its been ten years since New York’s quirkiest pop-rock-funk combo, They Might Be Giants, played in Glasgow. Such a cracking gig that was, that most folk who attended turned up in force to welcome them back to Weegieland. ‘Installing and servicing melody since 1982’ the Giants have been turning up ambrosial nuggets from under the rugs of their creativity, an outstanding ouvre that is rich pickings for an hour & three quarter’s worth of entertainment.


The core of TMBG are the two Jonnies, Flansburgh & Linnel, & they have been joined on a tour of the UK (Jan-Feb) & the US (Mar-Apr) by a full-on funky band. The whole sound really works rather well & shows that the Giants are not just off-piste songwriting genius, but also true musical maestros who can work & whip up an audience with ease.

35.pngClassics such as the eponymous fraggle-rock like chirpiness of ‘They Might Be Giants,’ Flood’s wonderful ‘Particle Man’ & the Alphabet of Nations courted our affections alongside more modern affairs. The Giants really are a joy to watch – these days they also do a children’s show, so more or less world domination is at their feet – but they’re to fuc£ing nice for that kind of thing. Instead, let us hopefully bask in the genius for a good while yet.

Reviewer : Damo Bullen




Royal Glasgow Concert Hall

Sat 30th January


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Oh what a night! One that’s etched into my memory for many a month. Skipinnish and friends started with the Irish based Leo and Anto who kick started the night with a love song First Love Stays With You Forever followed by Can You Tell Me Who The Villains Are? They tell the audience to, ‘put your motherfuckin hands in the air. Say our name, Leo and Anto.

This tactical audience participation was borrowed from Snoop Dogg when they were on tour in the States and caught one of his gigs.Totally didn’t expect this and neither did anyone else so it was most amusing to see everyone obeying and chanting their name.

Now that Leo and Anto had woke us up to the unscripted shenanigans we were treated the dulcet tones of Rachel Walker who was nothing short of superb.

After a short break it’s the act we had all been waiting for and the pipes begin.

Fronted by the instantly recognisable voice of Robert Robertson with his easy Highland patter and keenness to get the audience participating, it didn’t take long before the audience were dancing in the aisles.This is toe stomping, feet thumping modern ceilidh and I defy you to keep your feet still…impossible!

Aishling Cuimhn’ was closely followed by Tir A’ Mhurain which was a poignant lament to the death of soldiers heading home that were tragically drowned in 1918 after the war. 205 men lost their lives and their bodies were found scattered on the beach with toys that they had brought for their children. Gone, but not forgotten.

A traditional medley followed , then December which was tremendous. The imagery of the Hebrides on screen really worked giving panoramic vistas of island life as we immersed ourselves in the traditional medley.

Another emotive son was Piper To the end, written by Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits as a tribute to his uncle who was a piper and casualty of the war.

This has been a day to die for

Now the day has almost gone

Up above a choir of seabirds

Turns to face the setting sun


Now the evening dawn is calling

And all the hills are burning red

And before the night comes falling

Clouds are lined with golden thread

By the end of their set Skipinnish had worked the audience to such pliable putty in their hands that the mere mention of the chaos at the gig they did the night before had all the audience standing and clapping and trying to be more riotous. A tremendous feel good night from a band that will have you hooked and wanting more of their West coast magic.

Reviewer : Clare Crines


Flavia Coelho with Cheikh Lo


O2 ABC, Glasgow

Jan 28

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Flavia started off her set after fifteen minutes of darkened quiet; her support band; Cheikh Lo, were loud, colourful, and upbeat. The change of tempo and fusion of style filled the room with a lively vibe. African lyrics added to the multicultural theme bringing a sense of long distance culture with it. Energy began to run through the audience who gathered their attention towards the stage.

Flavia sang in Portuguese but spoke English to talk to her audience. Being born in Brazil her salsa influence infused her music, dancing style, as Flavia herself so aptly commented “…life that is in front of us…” that was her evening;  straight ahead, look to the positive, think good thoughts let’s do it through music. Honesty gained momentum during the show, and proving her to be a vibrant human being, in the interests of entertaining and truly loving it. The music had an element of South American spirit that lives for joy and endures hardship. She is an entertainer playing her cutting edge music, drawing inspiration from acts like Manu Chao who was a major influence on her music and style and even personal attitude.

Her style has attracted other great artists such as Arrested development’s drummer Tony Allen, who made a guest appearance with Coelho in her “Mundo Meu” tour. This merging music as expressed on her “Bossa Muffin” includes a great many styles and she was unafraid to try them all; including reggae, raga and Caribbean. Based at the moment in France her music takes her around the globe. Employing her traditional skills of song writing, blending an almost free form jazz like fast pace with   quick interactions between her and her musicians. Among the revelling mixture of people there some fans who knew her songs well to novices out for an evening at a Celtic connections gig.

Cheikh Lo

The energy soared higher as it blended between stage and audience who were compelled to move and dance. Indeed an elderly lady sitting next to me who was just out to take in some culture stood up and started jiving to the tunes. Flavia sang with a huge smile and sprang to life with every moment, her hair bouncing livening up the crowd which in turn responding with whoops and cheers.

The music of the four artists comprised a tight quick fire round of song after song, moving very fast distinguishing each note in a flourish. The rapid and inviting pace left not a single foot still and saw everybody swaying to the sound. Flavia consciously seeks to confront the boundaries in musical genre and fuse traditional with contemporary music. Her remarkable background had her absorbing many cultures into her music that evolved into what we witnessed on Thursday at the ABC. All in all a brilliant and endearing performance breaking musical and cultural barriers down throughout her show.

Reviewer: Daniel Donnelly


Anda Union

Eden Court – Empire Theatre

Sunday 31st January 2016

 Sound: 4.png Atmosphere: 5 Performance: 5

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Anda Union is a nine piece band made up of accomplished musicians based in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, but they have diverse ethnic backgrounds from varying nomadic cultures and fuse these different styles of traditional music while at the same time adding their own modern interpretation.

Anda Union.jpgThe stage is full of unfamiliar instruments, the band enter the stage, introducing themselves and explaining Anda means “blood brothers”. From that moment on we are launched into whirlwind of eclectic sounds, music, and vocals, with each member introducing songs which had its own personal significance. Saikhannakhaa sung a beautiful song from her home town, Chinggel gave some amazing solo’s on his Moadin Chor (ancient flute) and I was amazed that he was managing to play and sing Hoomai (guttural throat song) at the same time. They were joined on stage for solos and duets by Tsetsegmaa who performed her own Buriat songs and by Biligbaatar who is an award winning long song singer.

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There was an charged atmosphere, as the sounds of horses hooves, drum beats, bells and whistles conjured up scenes from the Steppes. In the introduction to Galloping Horses the musicians used their Horse Head Fiddles (Morin Hurr) to create the whinnying of horses, it was simply wonderful. We were told by Nars that the  the Morin Huurs used to be strung with horses hair but these days they tend to use Nylon. There was phenomenal singing from Nars, Urgen and Uni on the song Derlcha and when they were all playing their fiddles in unison, sometimes at great speed, it was astonishing.

What an extraordinary experience, I was blown away. Definitely worth catching them on the rest of their UK tour.

Reviewer: Zoe Gwynne