At the resplendent Royal Concert Hall’s New Auditorium the evening was set for The Celtic Connections second week of line ups. It was to show a wonderful 3 act set of anciently and powerfully modern music making with vocals and melodies to die for.
Of the three first up was a band called Herkja (an Island) who are from Shetland at the tip of northern Scotland that holds great mysteries of life there. As a 4 piece ‘Herkja’ brought to life the stirring and potent sound of the traditional music so new and old, amazing to see and also brilliant.
It’s no use pondering the levels behind playing music like this, music to honour instruments and special play at work. With the delectable joy that comes from it pouring forth to a room enthralled. Emotional coverage when listened to made wholly open in the stories attitudes (of room, love and care) soft voices; endemic beautitude!
Grosse Isle were welcomed to a room in a good mood. The sentiments at play during their songs couldn’t have gone better, in a thing far beyond obstacles. So tastefully they welcomed us in return and in an accent scooped up into French. During the show we were reminded of the endless quality in music, formed and written that seemed to even rule the world, with Irish uilleen pipes doing just that in majestic beauty.
Welcome was then given to the long and far reaching strides from another relatively local hero who was top billed Kris Drever, his entourage for the evening included fiddle, accordion and keys and guitar. Drever’s words were his own; he switched between electric and acoustic guitar on his own terms while celebrating his and others wonderful play of proud and sultry beautiful vocals and guitar playing.
I heard the work masterful describing a musician working so well with learned confidence and relaxing presence. It felt open wide in everything from lyrics (that were true because of the truth behind them of really rather upsetting terms) the music itself describes its own sentiments almost as a creature whose historic world shimmer with strength, memory and evocation.
In his two decade experience as a prominent emergence from the Shetland folk scene, he recorded his debut album, called classical, ‘Black Water’ (already making sure of great truth to his story.) He draws on all of this to bring us his songs in an evening embarked.
His veritable style and very enjoyable protagonistic singing reached long into the night, with the sound and brain of tradition mixed with copious amounts of right on modern statements and a curling twisting of many bended notes. Through the breath of life these melodies have the strength of stones and the wit of giving yourself to your heart land. Given to shaping a frosty break free for a few hours of grasping melodies so as to hearken to the Celtic centre.
It doesn’t get better than this, music that holds the bar as high as could be, as whole as to sound and gifted voice to the freedom in their hearts.
Surprise was on the faces of all during this performance to dispel the ages and separations in culture, class, style and a hard hitting story were brought to life by traditions of meeting as friend with a leap in the Connections stage. “When mountains meet” had as subtitle; Jub Milain Pahaar: a musical adventure from Scotland to Pakistan. This gave the evening something good to grip onto and take hold of in a big way.
The subtitle acted as a kind of recognition of the fine arts of theatre and music that was above exquisitely put together. In the spirit of the Connections, who are celebrating 30 years of hard and very fun work they yearly bring together. To the delight of all in well attended shows that differ wildly and yet are connected in the world wide (Scottish) festival.
The gorgeous church hall/room saw shadows stretch up with a feeling of a low fire burning in the deep. That burning was this most gracious and temper able play/gig that got straight into the state of story. Old Celtic clothes and shawls were worn by the 4 piece band on stage providing such a great basis for the music, while Pakistani clothes were worn by the actors who stayed to one side of the room or roamed freely through the seated audience.
It’s a long way from Scotland to Pakistan and it was a journey well made as to mimic the true story of a long absent and even unknown father who for Anne Wood lived on the other side of the world. But she decides to go anyway seeing it as a return to a home she had long not seen. Coming together were every track that you can think of in a musical and theatrical and very softly spoken and unintrusive telling that was so well.
They travel as Anne one and all together through sights of such brilliance as to be celebrated as they stood to celebrate every theme by singing, dancing, swinging of the best of taste and the most compelling tale where the whole room rooted for Anne. But it was all cut short to the shock of our protagonist when her own father denounced her as taboo as he tried to make her world into something she was not used to.
The spirit of fusion is very much alive at the Connections and has been since the beginning when they decided to give it an international stage. The work does nothing less than forge and form collaborations and this work “When Mountains Meet” were as vividly and triumphantly seen as to move closer and further away from each other with the epic emotional seismic, joyous hearts. Hearts that go through every level with the courage of conviction winning out on splendid and attractive proportions.
It was a night of mystery, uncertainty, pain and regret but it held up a torch to a room filled with praise and love. The journey described was remarkable, beautiful, refreshing and soulful. And a definite benevolence poured through in the interactions, as compassion and reasonability won the day. A play/gig about abandonment, and choosing the right paths to tread – the ones where you never know how things may end or come to be.
An exciting, enthralling, magical evening from wardrobe to expert fusions of style that though are so far away from each other and so distinctly similar. A grouping of storytelling very enthusiastically moulded for the stage that spilled into the room, I thank them with gratitude for a great time.
The Voodoo Rooms Edinburgh Blues Club 26th January 2023
The award-winning Edinburgh Blues Club opened its doors tonight in one of Edinburgh’s most prestigious and pretty venues, The Voodoo Rooms, a compact venue that has housed great musical talent over many years… and tonight was no exception. Especially if one likes one’s Rock N Roll deep and dirty, performed with the musical mastery of experienced Blues Wizards, & to a packed house and enthusiastic audience.
First up. The Real World. Gregor Gilmour, Guitar And Vocals. Ian Fisher. Guitar And Vocals Andrew Merchant. Drums. Jim Carr. Bass.
The Real World are a Glaswegian four-piece of consummate musicians, whose hearts are lodged in the greatness of the 60’s. With strong influences of Hendrix and The Stones, they whipped up a funky storm that certainly got me in the groove, with a combined chemistry and musicianship that was both infectious and educational, & included a tribute to the great and late, Jeff Beck. I learned something new tonight. Stevie Wonder wrote Superstition for Mr Beck. i was glad I got to the venue early, because Real World are a real gem of musical ear candy, a band that demonstrates how great Rock n Roll should be done, proving to be the greatest support for tonight’s headliners. I couldnae help thinking how perfect this band would be for Rabbies Tavern at Eden Festival. Oh yes baby I loved them.
The Gerry Jablonski Band. Gerry Jablonski, guitar, vocals Peter Narojczyk, harmonica Lewis Fraser, drums, vocals Grigor Leslie, bass, backing vocals
The Real World warmed the venue up expertly and perfectly for tonight’s Headliners, The Gerry Jablonski Band. Heralding from Aberdeenshire, I dinnae think that I was prepared for how brilliant this was going to be. Showcasing new material from their critically acclaimed long player, “105,” it’s a hard rocking, thoroughly engaging body of work, and the musical craftsmanship is nothing less than mesmerizing. Each of the band members brings a virtuoso of talent to the table. ith a spell-binding chemistry that thrilled the packed to the rafters Voodoo Rooms. Peter Narojczyk’s harmonica playing was next level brilliant – The harmonica was as much of a lead instrument as the guitars and vocals -, while the call and response between Gerry’s expert guitar licks was reminiscent of the chemistry between David Bowie and Mick Ronson.
Drummer, Lewis Fraser, combined the deepest penetrating rhythms while sharing lead vocals. Divine’s a drummer, and I know how difficult it is to play and sing at the same time, however Lewis took it in his stride. Completing the rhythm section on bass and vocals, Grigor Leslie combined to deliver the best live performance I have seen for quite some time. A true blessing to witness this level of musical perfection in such a small venue. Am still blown away with how good this performance was.
Just brilliant and without a doubt 5 Stars. The Real World And The Gerry Jablonski Band rocked my world tonight and found a new fan in Divine. Good Time ❤
Words: Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert Photography: Raymond Speedie
Hello Maja, can you tell us where are you from & where are you living today? Hi! I’m from a town called Stroud.
Maja is not your real name, is it? What’s the back-story? Maja is my Swedish name (my Mum is Swedish) and is what my family and some of my friends call me, and Lena is my middle name.
What are your first musical memories? Watching Top of the Pops, making up songs with my Sister about a Christmas tree, singing songs with my Mum & Dad, my Grandpa listening to classical singers, Swedish songs about trolls, dancing to song-tapes in the kitchen.
Who has been your greatest musical influence over the years? Leonard Cohen
So… desert island, solar power’d CD player, 3 albums – what are they? That’s a tricky one! I’m going to say at present Mike Oldfield – Discovery, Aldous Harding – Designer, Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen
Where do your songs come from & how do you shepherd them into existence? I get very inspired by nature but also like to create alternate worlds and landscapes in my head and set some of the songs there. I usually write with my guitar or a synthesizer, and if I can, come up with the melody and lyrics simultaneously. Often I’ll come up with an idea, go and hum or sing it for a while over a mundane task like the washing up or take it for a walk. Then I’ll take it back to the instrument and repeat as many times as necessary. I usually end up keeping only 20% or some of my ideas as I often don’t end up liking them anymore the next day!
Before you turn’d solo, what past musical projects were you involv’d in? I was the lead-singer in a band called Low Chimes and various iterations of the band prior to that. I played in my friend Pete Roe’s band for a little bit with my Low Chimes band-mates, and sang with a few different bands in my late teens now and again.
You’ve describ’d your debut album, the Keeper, as “forged in the fires of fear and self-doubt”, can you elaborate on that? I started writing The Keeper as a way of processing the end of the band. Even though it was an amicable break-up, I was really sad about it for some time and missed it a lot. I felt very unsure about branching out on my own and if I’d be good enough. It took a while to build up the confidence to do it, and to find a way of working with the self-doubt and worries still niggling away at me.
What are the key ingredients to your sound? A mixture of organic and synthetic/electronic sounds, such as nylon guitar and clarinets with lots of synthesizers. A strong beat is very important to me too, and I like a lot of the synth and electric guitar sounds to be gnarly and whacky sounding. We also like to try and make things sound quite warm in general when recording, so we recorded a lot of the instruments through valve amps for the latest record. I’d always record to tape if I could, but it’s a pricey business. One for the future!
Can you tell us about the influence the natural world has on your creativity? It’s influenced me musically and visually for as long as I can remember. A lot of things come up for me when I’m out in nature. I find it incredibly cathartic which then feeds into my song-writing. I also love that there’s always new magic to be found, flora and fauna to learn about and an endless amount to see and explore. I feel most at home in it.
You also paint the artwork for all your releases, are the visual arts a major part of your soul’s creativity, & if so, why? Yes definitely. For me they all tie in together as one. The album artworks, for example, are of the key places each album is set. I love to try and bring these to life through working with other creative friends too. My friend Martha Webb made a load of costumes and flags for the second album PLUTO which feature in the video she made for The Stone. It was a really enjoyable experience and one we had a strong joint-vision for. I love trying to bring the songs and worlds to life in as many ways as possible, and visuals to go with the music have always been very important to me.
What is your personal process, from writing a song to recording it in the studio? Once I’ve written a song in the way I mentioned in answer to an earlier question (which can take anything from a day if I’m very lucky to a few years), I’ll make a demo of it and send it to my friend and producer Rob Pemberton. We’ll then usually have a bit of a back and forth about ideas, parts we’d like to add or take away etc and go through a pre-production process. Then we’ll begin recording and this usually happens in mini sessions here and there over months. For both albums we’ve had other musicians and band-mates come in and play on them too.
You have just released an album called PLUTO, what was the creative impulse that began the project & how did it evolve? I’d been listening to a lot of early new age music as well as 80’s synth soundtracks – such as those of Joe Hisaishi for the early Studio Ghibli films. I was also listening to a lot of dance and electronic music, and knew I wanted PLUTO to be more synth laden and beat driven, yet keeping some organic/acoustic instrumentation in the mix. I’d also been watching loads of sci-fi such as Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica so was feeling inspired by space and alternate realms and realities. There ended up being Plutonic themes running throughout the album such as creation and destruction, transformation and renewal – hence the album name. A lot of the album ended up being set on an alternate world also, so the artwork is a snapshot of this planet/world with Pluto nearby.
Any shout-outs for the contributors? Definitely! Rob Pemberton who I made it with. Alex Heane, Emma Gatrill and Sasha Lewis who played on it. Shawn Joseph at Optimum Mastering who mastered it. My manager Aled Chivers who released it on his label Chiverin. Everyone who’s made the visuals – Martha Webb, Luke Oakley-Smith, Robin Parrish, Ella Webb, Anders Duckworth. My live band Rob, Alex, Lachlan McLellan, and sometimes Charlotte West and Rachael Dadd. Everyone who’s worked on the campaign – Aled, Matthew, Simon, Caitlin and InGrooves. Everyone who’s helped and supported in any way and anyone listening to the music!
You have a tour coming up, can you tell us about it? Yes! It’s the PLUTO album tour so we’ll mainly be playing songs from that plus a few from The Keeper. The tour begins later in the month and we’ll be doing 13 UK dates in total – 10 in England and 2 in Scotland. It’s my first headline tour with this project so I’m especially excited about it! Tickets are available from my website http://www.majalena.co.uk if you fancy coming to a show!
You’re heading to Edinburgh, where we’ll be attending the show – what’s your experiences of Scotland so far? Ah great! Look forward to seeing you there. I’ve always loved visiting Scotland. I absolutely love the nature and the mountains and I’ve always enjoyed visiting Glasgow and Edinburgh. We played in Scotland a bit when I was in Low Chimes and also recorded our first EP at a studio in a beautiful spot near Fort William, all which I have fond memories of. I’d love to spend some time exploring more of the nature and hiking.
How is the rest of 2023 looking on all fronts? It’s looking exciting at the moment! I’m going to focus on writing the next album and working hard to save money to record it – I work on a natural horsemanship yard and regenerative agriculture project, so I’ll be there for a good portion of the year. I also want to learn more about trees so will hopefully be doing a lot of reading. As well as getting to know synthesizers better and trying to improve my guitar playing. I’d also like to try and see more of my friends, do more DIY at home and hopefully some mini camping trips!
For me, the best parts of Celtic Connections are those where international artists get together with a talented & versatile bunch of Scottish performers to create something new, something beautiful, something strange! In 2023, I thought I’d check out Trio de Kali, a griot music group from Mali; whose guests included a couple of Louisiana Bluegrass boys – Dirk Powell & Chris Watson – whose rendition of Little Maggie was my favorite piece of the show; a couple of Scottish singers including nightingale-voiced, Gaelic singing Hebridean Jenna Cumming & the blossoming talents of Kim Carnie; alongside whistles, accordion & guitar from three Scottish musicians, including the evergreen Ross Ainslie. In the middle of it all was this smiling Senegalese guy on a well weird, string’d gonzo instrument out of which he manag’d to extract some proper ninja licks, like… it was amazing.
Unfortunately, in this post-Brexit blunderbuss bullet storm of nonsense, only two of the Trio were allow’d to visit the country after flying to Paris… singer, Hawa Kassé Mady Diabaté, & ngoni player, Mamadou Kouyaté, the son of the n’goni master, Bassekou Kouyate. Now, the version of n’goni Mamadou was playing is a beautiful bass-like instrument, & as a bass-player myself I’m definitely up for learning it, especially after seeing Mamadou so easy, so laid back & so cool as he play’d his part.
The performance itself was a mixture of the spirit songs of each of our performers, but play’d by the ensemble, which gave the piece harmony, continuity & class. Its amazing how they’d all been plonk’d together in a room – perhaps even that day – & manag’d to pull of something so mesmerisingly sensual… these are talented musicians all round. In its thirty years, Celtic Connections is always pushing against the bounds of what is possible in music, & yet again I was left completely enamour’d with the final product.
In 1996 I had just turn’d up at Barnsley College to start a degree course in Popular Music Studies. I’d also taken a couple of sheets of acid along, which was all perfectly set off by Kula Shaker’s recently releas’d & phenomenally good album K. Then it was magic mushroom season & I totally fell in love with the album, A quarter century later that same album is as good as ever, & last night I was having a reyt ol’ time to some of its classics, along with others from the band’s heavenly, esoteric & organic era-defining oeuvre.
The above video is from the lads last month, with my punter-venue being the Liquid Rooms in Edinburgh, & was so heaving I could only garner half an occasional glimpse of the band in action from a upper wing of the venue. Still I was well buzzing, like, & carried on regardless, buzzing off the vibes & the music. Opening with Hey Dude & ending with Govinda, & all those other bangers in between, it was an absolute joy to be there. Crispian Mills is the George Harrison of Britpop, not afraid to chuck in a Clapton’s Crossroads riff either, floating effortlessly over the best bass player in Britain, I’ve often thought, Alonza Bevan. The next crucial pillar of the band is their yeti-shaggy organist, Jay Darlington – the drummer’s funky n’all – honest to god, reyt band!
Since the 90s, I don’t think I’ve experienced a band that comes anywhere near to the Shaker’s elegant & powerful rock, so it’s a real pleasure to see them in mood for hanging up their sticks & straps – nah, keep going lads, & lets get you out into the summery festival meadows, playing to thousands, which is the source spring of your true alchemy. Meanwhile, I’ve been reyt inspir’d to get ma fuckin’ gee-tah out & get busy on the fretfield!
Words: Damian Beeson Bullen Photography: Al Roberts
Rosie H Sullivan is currently touring Scotland The Mumble caught up with her for a wee blether
What are your earliest musical memories? Listening to music with my dad all the time! He isn’t a musician, but he adores music, so it’s something we’ve loved doing together since I was young.
Who has been your greatest musical influence over the years? I have many, it is ever changing! There is so much musical genius in this world that it’s hard to pick one. But if I really had too, I’d draw very strongly toward Joni Mitchell.
So… desert island, solar power’d CD player, 3 albums – what are they? Song for our daughter by Laura Marling. Blue by Joni Mitchell. Either ‘tusk’ or ‘rumours’ (super deluxe) by Fleetwood Mac.
Where do your songs come from & how do you shepherd them into existence? They’re all so different, formed differently and about different things. Usually it is just how I feel and have a moment of inspiration, or an idea has been secretly piecing itself together within me and if I find a melody it comes out quite easily.
You are quickly making a name for yourself on the Scottish music scene, but to you what exactly is the Scottish Music Scene? It really is an honour to be part of the Scottish music scene! There is such a broad array of musical talent from all across Scotland and I find it awfully comforting to know others within it.
You are signed to Nettwerk Records, what are they like? Nettwerk are wonderful. It is nearly a year since I signed with them, and my experience has been wholly positive so far. I have the best team and I feel listened to, supported and at times challenged, but I’m doing what I love and feel so lucky to be doing so.
How has the sound & songwriting evolv’d since the previous successful single, So I’ve Been Told? It’s a constant revolving door of picking up inspiration and influences from new music I hear, poetry, people I speak to! I think it is good to understand what it is I am trying to achieve when writing, and always thinking of how to improve can be super useful too. I can be inspired by the simplest of things.
Last month you release’d a track call’d Lights, can you tell us all about it? ‘Lights’ is a love song, inspire by the love within my parents’ relationship. They’ve been together almost forty years, and it is so amazing to see how strong love can be through all that time. I had an image in my head when I was thinking about people in love, and had this idea that we all have a small light within us, and when you find someone you match with, your lights spark together to become brighter as one.
Any shout-outs for the contributors? Ross Hamilton was my producer for my EP. He is a wonderful being to work with, super inspiring and also hilarious which is great for when you’re in the studio. Rachel Wilson played cello on ‘lights’ and I can’t unhear it – I love it so much!
You have currently half-way thro’ a mini tour of Scotland, how is at all going so far? So far, it has been amazing! More than I could ask for, we have had a great turn out at the shows and it has warmed my heart to see people coming to live music and singing along with me. It always reminds me why I do music, there is no feeling like it. I’m so excited for the last two dates, however quite sad as I don’t want it all to end!
What are the differences between recording music & playing live, & which platform do you prefer? It’s difficult, as I enjoy the whole process! I think connecting with people, in any way, whether that be through listening online to my recorded music, or coming to my gigs, it all comes down to how music makes people feel and connects us.
How is the rest of 2023 looking on all fronts? It would be lovely to get my music connecting with even more people and play more gigs! I feel quite inspired and creative at the moment and feel as if I’m growing every day. Hopefully back in the studio soon to start recording and also writing some more songs. I’m excited to see what 23 has in store
It was a dark and rainy Night in Aulde Reekie as I waited upon the 21, for like 29 mins, 29 mins when it was pissing it doon felt like 3 days. It was the first time I had been out all-day, I was prepped for a cold wet night, a good brolly and thermals, my long black cashmere coat is really waterproof. when the 21 came I was ever so grateful, getting off at Hawk Hill and walking round to Spuds so that he could perform his photogenic mastery. documenting The Pet Shop Boys and Midnight Fireworks.
When I was a nipper I bought Smash Hits every week. This was when Neil Tennant was the editor and I always really enjoyed his writing in Smash Hits, I swapped Smash Hits for Q Magazine and Neil Tennant also wrote for Q. I loved Loved loved Disco when it came out and it still stands as a cohesive whole. The hits of the PSBs are really really ingrained into people’s subconscious because they have been so successful. Of course this level of popularity ensures sell out concerts globally without faltering. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have been satisfying a largely Gay audience for 4 decades and their pop light synthpopness has found its way into most people of a certain generation’s CD collection. Indeed the PSBs have become part of the framework of being British. National treasures.
So why would people pay £80 to stand in The Ross Bandstand in the middle of Winter in the pissing rain. for four hours. In the worst dreich inclement weather to have landed on The Hogmanay doorstep in recent History. Edinburgh’s Hogmanay has always been hardcore weatherwise, I will never forget seeing The Human League play a stage erected at the roundabout on the junction of Market Street, with gale-force Artic blasts adding an extra chill factor, it was still brilliant in a surreal only in Edinburgh kind of way. The difference being of all inclement weather that is hard to deal with persistent rain and being exposed to it is the hardest. Good Time sucker of them all. As you can guess, I am struggling to divorce myself from just how fucking minging it actually was, to give a balanced review.
Saying that, I am so so glad I made the effort, for the night was fantastic. I danced so hard on Friday. Sophie Ellis Bexter should have been the headliner; she is a lady that connects and genuinely cares, she was engaged with her Audience to get the best out of them, also it was a younger up for it crowd having a really Good Time. And of course it wasnae raining.
So, to come from the perspective of reviewing Edinburgh’s Hogmanay in past years, I can draw a comparison. My last one, The Street Party had three stages; housing The Human League, Colonel Mustard And the Dijon 5 Amongst others, that alone was worth the price of a Street Party ticket. I didn’t get to Princes Street Gardens West End for Rag n Bone Mans ushering in of the bells (Which was really really good by the way) and fireworks, I got there just as Rag n Boneman came on Stage if only because there was so much to see and do out with The Ross Bandstand. But this year there was none of that. So what were people actually paying for?
The warm-up DJ, DJ Elle Jo – Pretty Ugly – had a difficult job on her hands, warming up a soggy audience, she did look a little out of her depth on that mega stage as she played a good 80s/90s selection of tunes. Am not sure that she was comfortable, but we were nae there for comfort, we were there for Rock n Roll. And tonight’s host, Susie McCabe, introduced the Hogmanay Headliners to a backdrop of a projected Ukrainian flag.
The stage was prepped as Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe took to it; at first before a minimal design – two lamp posts a microphone and Chris Lowes keyboards to begin a set of The Pet Shop Boys’ greatest hits, performed with full mega production glitz, with a rib-shaking soundsystem. The lights and the stage show were nothing less than excellent, and mesmerising. As hit after hit was performed, the stage set changed to reveal a proper band (gosh); the visuals were incredible and the party went off.
Stopping just before midnight for the countdown and fireworks, Susie McCabe announced the countdown and asked everyone to hug each other… Sweety, everyone is soaking wet, that’s nae gonna happen.
The Fireworks were spectacular; there were lots of Ooooos and Ahhhhs, explosions of pyrotechnic amazingness. It was a very nice firework display and then we all had a singalong to Aulde Lang Sign. Then The Pet Shop Boys came back on for their closing songs, with West End Girls as the encore being my fave Pet Shop Boys number.
I think had this been the middle of Summer, then this concert would have been a delight from start to finish. Because it was amazingly spectacular from a performance art perspective, better perceived from a hot beach, rather than a sea of cagoules and umbrellas.
Words: Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert Photography: Raymond Speedie