On a day when the news was dominated by the inauguration of Donald J Trump as the President of the United States, it was a welcome relief that one day previously, Glasgow’s wonderful Celtic Connections had returned to town with ample musical talents to distract one’s mind from possible nuclear holocausts. What was even more intriguing and exciting was the deliberate inclusion of a number of strong female artists in this year’s line-up, including Olivia Newton John and Scottish Album of the Year award winner Anna Meredith. On the BBC, Celtic Connections Director Donald Shaw is reported saying “I think the festive would be worse off if it did not have a strong female presence. Gender does have a different dimension in the way it produces music.”
Tonight’s headliner Ette was certainly fulfilling the Director’s eagerness to give bright and intoxicating females the centre-stage, but more on them later. Inside Broadcast, performing to only eight people when she first appeared on stage, the humped outline of Glasgow-based songstress Chrissie Barnacle clambering over cables with her acoustic guitar was not atypical of the timid and slightly-awkward image she continually emits upon first sight. In fact, Barnacle is something special. Dreamy and pickled in wonderful insight, she finger-picks, wolf howls, and delineates her stories in a beguiling way which is instantly picked up by each newcomer into the basement. Part-fairy, part-Wiccan, Barnacle’s love-neurosis is neither mawkish nor syrupy but welcomes listeners in to a very personal account of collapsed romances and hopeful times ahead. The sublime “Cannibal Rats Part II” and “Hazelnuts” deserve special mention for such doe-eyed absorptions.
Second support for the night was ‘folk and roll’ two-piece Morrissey and Marshall. The Dublin lads were making their first visit to Scotland and were given a resounding welcome by the swollen Glasgow audience. Opening song “I’ve Got A Plan” reached Number 1 in Ireland and with a measured Beatles-influence, Darren Morrissey and Greg Marshall made a substantial impact with their opening songs, even sharing a mic at one stage during some beautiful harmonising. Songs such as “She’s Got Love” with its catchy riffs and “Pack Up Lady” were endearing stories lending their origins from back home but there were a few hit and miss efforts with Morrissey’s continuous need to mention who they were, indulge the audience in some participation, and the fact that there was a merchandise stall selling their wares at the back of the venue grating somewhat mid-set. Pick of their seven-song performance was “High And Low” which is the final track on debut album ‘And So It Began”, edging into a leisurely-Tom Meighan of Kasabian territory. A comfortable debut with minor indie filler moments and one which I am sure will only enhance their reputation.
Just prior to headliner Ette beginning their set, the audience had finally shuffled away from the seated wings of the room and huddled forward-centre whilst Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Take Me Out’ played over the sound system. The energy levels were rising and by 9.30pm, the first thing the band said was ‘Turn up the synthesizers please’, followed by ‘Amazingly, we’re not sponsored by Roland despite the stage set-up’. A 7-piece band, Ette is the solo project of Teen Canteen mainstay Carla Easton and produced by Dr Cosmos Tape Lab/Them Beatles musician Joe Kane. However, the live sets consist of a number of different musicians from various bands lending their talents – Debs Smith (Teen Canteen), Greg MacAulay (BooHooHoo), John Nicol (The Needles), Paul Kelly (The Martial Arts/How To Swim), and Chloe Philip (Teen Canteen) playing alongside Easton and Kane, deliver a sumptuous cavern of triumphant commotion. Delving into debut album ‘Homemade Lemonade’ which was released in July 2016 by Olive Grove Records, the band’s doubled-up keyboards worked formidably on opener “Bones”. Not unafraid to chat between numbers, Easton leant the personal sketches of where the songs emanated from while producer Kane’s repartee flowed in the good-natured vibe which the band exhibits. Incredibly Easton’s right-hand doesn’t cramp up during the Velvets-Waiting-For-The-Man keys on “I Hate You Song” whilst the percussion and backing vocals offered by TC team-mates Smith and Philip are invaluable during fan favourite “Attack Of The Glam Soul Cheerleaders (Part 1 & 2)”.
The key to such amiability between band members may lie in Easton’s remark that ‘the band don’t play that often’, most probably due to commitments with other projects. However, the quality takes another step up during the gorgeous “Heaven Knows”, sounding twice as good live as it does on record. Easton’s adulating lyric ‘the way you make me feel is so unreal’ sounds like something straight out of the Motown factory, while the danceable accompaniment led by Kelly’s bass dips into summer territory whereas other titles lend themselves to the winter Gods including the inspired “Fireworks” and whooshing synthetic sounds on “Bonfire”; the former of which was guided by some unorthodox knee-slapping and kazoo. Make no bones though, Easton’s vocals are shimmering throughout the set regardless which direction the music takes – a truly stimulating and refreshing voice on the UK music scene which Scotland occasionally gifts to the rest of the world. Having recently been accepted for a singer/songwriter residency at Banff Centre in Calgary, Canada it will be interesting times ahead for the Carluke girl – whether that appears in the shape of Ette, Teen Canteen, Jesus, Baby or any other projects that she chooses to delve into during 2017. However rare this evening’s performance may have been, it will not be one that they forg-ette (sorry) for a long time.
Reviewer : Stephen Watt