Perth Concert Hall
24th November 2017
Two of the finest acts in traditional music came together for a spectacular evening of Trad and Gaelic music and song at Perth Concert Hall. Both Julie Fowlis and Session A9 were making a very welcome return to Perth, having performed as part of Perthshire Amber Traditional Music Festival in past years.
Session A9, a Trad supergroup if ever there was one, opened the evening with an eclectic set from an extensive catalogue of contemporary and traditional pieces. The opening set of “Wedding Polkas” promised a taste of the truly devilish fiddle-playing to come from Charlie McKerron, Adam Sutherland, Gordon Gunn and Kevin Henderson. These guys play with all the energy of a storm force ten and as tightly as any classical quartet. When slowing the tempo for a rendition of the exquisite “Sleeping Tune,” a piece written by the legendary piper Gordon Duncan, the band had the emotional range of a full symphony orchestra. A fine performance of Jackson Browne’s “These Days” let vocalist and guitarist Marc Clement shine out with a wistful voice that suited the song perfectly. On another Gordon Duncan composition, “Bellydancer” the syncopated rhythms of Brian McAlpine’s electric piano playfully shimmied between some blisteringly hot fiddle and guitar playing.
The traditional tunes like “The Miller of Drone” had a rag-time makeover at these fiddlers’ bows, giving them a freshness and feeling that these guys love what they do as much as the audience loved listening. My own feet couldn’t keep still all night!
Julie Fowlis is an artist in a class of her own. Her reputation as both a curator of historic folk songs from her Hebridean home and a contemporary singer-songwriter, pushing the edges of Traditional music into new territory, has earned accolades from the traditional music scene as well as admiration from mainstream artists like Bjork and Radiohead. Her voice has an absolute purity and a velvety smoothness that makes of the mainly Scots Gaelic songs a beautiful soundscape, so that language comes second to feeling the magnetic pull of her voice. She has the power to transport you to the islands and hills, to hear the sea toss and the wind blow over the dunes on some remote and wild island. The opening “Oran an Roin” (Song of the Seals), with Julie singing unaccompanied, sent a shiver down the spine. Her voice enveloped the concert hall with an otherworldly air.
Julie was joined by Éamonn Doorley and Tony Byrne on guitars, and Duncan Chisholm and local artist Patsy Reid on fiddles to perform songs from her new album, “Alterum” which sees Fowlis sing in English (and Galician!) for the first time. The beautiful “Go Your Way” and “Camariñas” (a traditional Galician folk tune) showed such purity and innocence, with understated accompaniment that only highlighted the strength-in-softness of Fowlis’ perfect phrasing. A Gaelic rendition of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” (Lon-dubh) again displayed how international the scope of Celtic music can be in the hands of an artist like Fowlis.
A warmly appreciative audience had the opportunity to join in some Gaelic singing – which actually sounded rather good! Perhaps it was the excellent sound engineering of the venue. Fowlis is a rare talent in a musical landscape already heavily populated with great female interpreters of traditional songs. If you get a chance to hear her sing live, grab it!
Reviewer : Mark Mckenzie