Celtic Connections 2021: Elephant Sessions – A Lockdown Special

Ironworks, Inverness
30th Jan, 2021


The intro to this evening’s musical offering was the 1977 hit from the Spanish act Baccara ‘Yes Sir I can Boogie’. A lively disco number which set the scene nicely for tonight’s concert entitled Elephant Sessions. The gig was recorded at the Ironworks Venue in Inverness and felt like a ‘you had to be there’ event. A violin played its dramatic tones as we were led in to the venue by film, on and into the room for tonight’s no vocal performance.

The Elephants were at first in the dark then dimly lit by green light giving viewers the pleasurable feeling of being there with them. This young act of merry making music commenced with a single violin (Euan) plucking a traditional melody which then loudened as we were introduced to the music that soon became a fusion of traditional and experimental. It was giddy with their talent and with their first gig like that in too long a time.
By the end of their first song the spotlight had hit the stage that was surrounded by neon light. This band are very well liked and critically acclaimed. With their second song they called ‘Wet Field Day’ the thumping of the drum came to fore. It was an amalgamation of styles that they played, from jazzy base to really booming the music from the drums.

Their mastery was obvious and each variety of song passed by with a genuine feeling of satisfaction that poured out of them in the dim images on the screen. They were able to create all sorts of rhymes and speeds with a most effortless interaction especially for them being such a young act, but very well experienced, for live and recorded music and for indulging in the sweeping act of folk, funk and electronic music.
Their coverage of themes is very well known now and very popular. Never missing a trick and including their seductive talent for traditional and synthesiser going together while calling a song; Loft Crofter and keeping a disco speed that the violin was happily involved with. Their songs; ‘Tiagarra’ which is a Museum in Australia, ‘Doofer’ where you can’t think of a name, just showed the trajectory the Elephants are able to work with and master a great amount of work.

For ‘Doofer’ they had a heavy overdrive on the guitar, which along with the thumping drum had a kind of ecstatic effect that blew you away and while that was happening you were reminded that another sound was the violin or the mandolin. The 6 or 7 performances were the same set up throughout though they swapped instruments. including the synth in an amazing movement of pace and changing repetitive note changes and energy changes making an event of stories old and new.

It was the first I had seen in this year’s connections where the band were on their own. And it felt like a slightly different dynamic because of the type of venue all the way up in Inverness, a night club venue no doubt. But it was the sheer energy that sprung from them and the tightness of this very well-oiled act. A kind of positivity without having to think about it, and a great desire to entertain us make us dance and have a great time. One of the most together acts out there.

Daniel Donnelly

Celtic Connections 2021: Transatlantic Sessions

Various venues inc. The Royal Concert Hall
29th Jan

I sat with bated breath at the thought of this evenings Transatlantic Sessions gig. An evening that holds a place at the heart of the Connections festival. The Sessions kicked off with some familiar faces at the Royal Concert Hall with a fast paced 3-reel set beginning with an Irish jig called ‘Boys of 25’, where 25 is an Irish card game. The band consisted of 8 musicians on double base, flute, violin, accordion and more, all coming together in fast and slow rhythms in songs with and without vocals.

The next artist was Julie Flowlis whose song ‘Bothen Ai righ am braigh Raithneach’, had her vocals in a grip compelling you to hear them clearly. She appeared again later on with her song called ‘Biodh an beoch seo ‘n haimh mo ruin’ which she told us translates as ‘This drink will be in the hand of my love’, an endearing lyric.

After the Sessions, we indeed crossed the ocean to a recording studio called The Compass Records studio in Nashville Tennessee. To a 3-person act on guitar violin and banjo who were to perform 3 tunes, the first called ‘Temperance Reel’ or ‘T-totalers’ in Irish, which was a no vocal song. Alison Brown sang her ‘Appalacian Celtic melody’ as an American Musician with strong Celtic ties. With a hint of medieval classical they fused with Celtic and a country twang. Also, at the studios Tim O’Brien took his music with 4 performers playing a song called ‘Storms are on the Ocean’ a traditional song about the perils we have to meet and overcome on our journey.

At the Record studio Molly Tuttle took to the stage in a vocal and guitar set. She played very stringent blues guitar and sang a song called ‘Take the journey’ about realising the journey we are already on. Then to footage of Glasgow’s George Square and the Walter Scott monument setting a scene for a 300-year-old Irish song called ‘The Wishing Tree’ by a blind harpist called Ocallaghan. Performed at the Royal Concert Hall it was a glorious and beautiful piece with no vocals but plenty of smiles.

To enhance the evenings virtual experience the next reel was taken from the archives back to 1998 with a song called ‘Trouble in the Fields. Filmed in a pub and so at very close quarter sang Maura O’Connell and Nanci Griffith a song about life in the heart of rural Scottish communities. A gifted and traditional song of guitar and double bass (somehow fitting into the small room) and so on, a treat and a reminder of their beginnings.

The footage moved back across the ocean from The Royal Concert Hall to the humble Tennessee studio as always in its most welcoming way. Songs were sung about the graces of people, places and the journeys necessity. Playing old wounded war songs or capturing the lives of inspiring people as tribute and a celebration of beautiful music that grows and moves and welcomes us in.

Back at the Concert Hall was the mournful sounds of Kris Drever, who sang for the sessions band. In his ‘farewell to Fiunery’ his ‘heart almost dies at the thought of leaving Fiunery’ his tones had the impression of something like suffering which was what he was singing about.

Before leaving Tennessee, we were treated to a last number from Tim O’Brien and his group of stringed instruments with the guiding song of’ Look down that Lonesome Road’. On an 8-string guitar he led the 3 backing vocals who offered the country styles of backing up harmonies to twist the song and elevate the sound. He left us with the line ‘they say whiskey slows you down, well keep drinking.’

And finally, we once again heard the tones of the Sessions band all together and in their wonderous musical unison. With an Irish Shetland tune. And three reels called ‘Kid on the Mountain/Sleep Sound Ida Mornin/The Reconciliation’. All with a full-on band, no vocals, with a skipping rhythm and a dramatic background. Very much like a fling but also so much more with a kind of musical honesty. And in one movement piano, violin drum and all vanished into the finished fading of a lively, lovely time, well that’s all folks (well until the next time anyway).

Daniel Donnelly

Celtic Connections 2021: Home on the Sea

Filmed on Various Scottish Islands
27 th Jan, 2021

With more gorgeous footage of the home city of Celtic Connections, Glasgow and after a 3-minute countdown we were taken to other Scottish locations. The first song of the evening was recorded on
the Inner Hebridean Isle of Eigg. Three musicians sat outdoors with mandolin, violin and beat box.

Their set of 3 tunes were stories about people who are well known in their communities and also less well known but still admired. As with Celtic music tradition the songs speeded up from slow to
fast dancing pace.

After the trio the footage continued with some film of the Isle of Arran. Stunning views to lead us further into the spectacle of the Connections. The evening was called ‘Home on the Sea’ a testament to being part of an island. We found the next act of Gillian Frame on vocals accompanied by Findlay Napier on guitar. Their song ‘Lovely Molly’ had a distinct positivity, joy and happiness to it, telling tales of upbringing and thoughtful reminiscing. Also reflected in their second song, sung almost in the wilderness of Scottish farm and marsh land.

The now traditional ferry footage continued with film from the Isle of Mull, setting a great scene for the evening in pushing the boat out. There came the solitary voice of Alasdair Whyte, who was also standing outdoor in a smart slightly military but warm coat. His deep musical tones in Gaelic could have been about anything, but I was happy to sit and listen to the 5-minute vocal solo.

The next performance was a mixture of Gaelic and English lyrics and titles, who named themselves simply ‘Peat & Diesel’. The song began with a heavy overdrive on his guitar, a man on accordion and a drummer. Their joy of playing was clear from the get go. This gig was filmed in their hometown of Stornoway, and they offered a real feeling of welcome and a contentment that waved us in. They were all about the music and having fun right down to the lyrics of closeness and revelry.

And next came the Isle of Skye, which was the backdrop to a few different performances in the same spot. Malin Lewis & Innes Watson played on guitar and bagpipes, a piece they called ‘Tune 51’, amiable numbered. In this no vocal song the amazing sound of the pipes with its drone effect and guitar backing had the great benefit of the mountains, with snow peaked tops, behind it a scene of what it is after all, all about.

In the Gaelic lyrics the culture came thick and fast as each act seemed to speed by. The view of Skye lasted for a few songs, with usually just the two to perform it and some very young, very advanced talent. The vocals of Anne Martin in her song ‘A’Bhanntrech Mhor ‘or the great widow had the pipes ready at hand to enliven and accentuate her vocals.

Song three from the same venue of mountain and water, was Arthur Brook & Louden MacKay’s ‘Season of Silence/Saruman’s Jig/Cal Mac Kenny’ the latter being a Caledonian MacBrayne ferry to Scottish Isles, of which there was footage still to come. It had the seated accordion player taking the solo melodies.

Onward to the last gig and a tremendous view to the Sounds of the Isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides. We saw Lisa Nic Neill standing on her own on a hill singing a song called ‘An Ionndrain’ or ‘Missing’. A song in Gaelic with voice and piano. This young singer performed her slow melodic paraphrases on the notion of something not being there for her something that seemed lost. As the footage of Barra swept over the landscape her voice was like the very rocks and grass singing to us and to the sea, a compliment and ode to the view all around her.

To complete our tour of Scottish Isles we arrived at Tiree to hear Jamie MacDonald and Tara Rankin play their march and two reels called ‘John MacLennon/David White’s/St Kilda Wedding’. Some no vocal music of violin and piano. Holding a steady pace then racing up to fast dancing music, but keeping it very simple and slowly melodic. And as the frills and lifts went on the two faded and we were treated to footage of tourists who are visiting to see wildlife and natural phenomenon of Scotland. A marvellously well composed production for this evening’s grand tour of Celtic Music.

Daniel Donnelly