Celtic Connections 2021: Come Away In


Glasgow City Chambers
18th Jan


To a backdrop of more images of Glasgow, this evening’s Celtic Connections performance began. Entitled ‘Come Away In’, the inspiration came from a Burns poem called ‘The Wren’s Nest’ in which themes of welcome and hospitality are explored, themes which are very strong in Glaswegian, indeed in Scottish, culture, including the idea of refugees being offered warmth and shelter and an open door.

The evening was filmed in Glasgow’s City Chambers with a handful of musicians, the first to perform being Karine Polwart who kicked off the proceedings with her gorgeous vocals straight from the generosity of her heart. Her song ‘Come Away In’ offered up lyrics dedicated to the Burns poem. There was even a sense of humility as she led the song being joined by the reserved folk music that the other artists joined seemingly at will.

Her second song ‘Travel These Ways’ she told us was a commission written during 2020 as part of her work for the ‘Luminate’ festival. She works all around the country and beyond with dementia and other problems writing songs at will. Her compelling lyrics and persona were enhanced with piano, guitar and some backing vocals, usually for chorus harmonies, bringing forth big issues.

That was the reason behind what Eddi Reader called her project, using the most powerful medium of music and lyrics particularly to give a voice to proceedings. Findlay Napier’s first song ‘There’s More to Building Ships’ was no less straight and powerful, not to mention wonderfully skillful vocal ups and downs. The firm issue for this man’s song was on the world-famous heightened world of ship-building in Glasgow, and its problems of pay being pennies for the men who worked there.

All of the 13 or so songs had these powerful messages and meanings. These were clearly held by all participants in the evening’s music, as they plunged into their individually written pieces of music.

The evening was so well produced to clearly be everything that it was intended to be through really great music and storytelling complementing an often sad tale of injustice towards Scottish society with artists ready to tell facts about a heinous Glaswegian history.

Siobhan Millers tale in her song ‘The King’s Shilling’ was about what had happened to men in Glasgow and beyond, she coloured it with tragedy and pain in her heart. She told us that the story goes that Scottish men were tricked into joining the army to go and fight and die in a war. The serious levels were mirrored in her second song ‘Pound a Week Rise’ about unfairness and heartbreak for coal miners who after breathing soot weren’t even paid well or fairly.

Eddi returned, Karine returned, they all returned to perform and while they shifted between, they sat around with each other if not involved then simply listening. Rab Noakes, an experiences folksong writer, also based his provocative music on his extensive travel particularly in America. His songs added a traveller’s point of view.

And Eddi Reader’s sultry and powerful voice, style and honesty as a well-known performer blew the roof off with her powerful messages in a song called ‘My Hometown’ about coming home to her own heart as a Glaswegian saying that after a need to escape from it to the moment where she finds it her hometown that she has now come to love.

This was after a performance of an inspired song she wrote called ‘Prayer to Saint Valentine’. Of unbelievable beauty that she almost shone to create.

Findlay had the last word with his deep voice and capable song writing leaving us with ideas such as daylight ghosts that walk around and all for the love of god. The artists were relaxed in putting forward these issues and problems in the world and society of Glasgow and Scotland.

Beautiful voices, leaping into the cosmos of real and traditional yet modern song writing. So well produced as to be something of great value from personal pain and societal outrage.

Daniel Donnelly

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