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

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