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