Celtic Connections 2009: New Voices – Rick Taylor
Strathclyde Suite, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, 18 January 2009
1 O’CLOCK in the afternoon is a strange and difficult time for a concert, being somewhat before breakfast time for the musician and slap in the middle of lunch for the audience. Then for some there were added complications attendant on having joined in the reportedly exuberant celebrations at the Festival Club which had ended only a few hours beforehand…
It is testament to the affection and respect accorded to Rick Taylor in his adopted home country that so many musicians and members of the public had turned out to hear his commission for the New Voices series, whose lead sponsor is Glasgow’s Sunday Herald.
Entitled Songs from the Wayward Boys, with a plethora of subtitles, the cycle began and ended with four songs on the subject of Homecoming, in accordance with 2009’s designated theme. Was that the Strathclyde Suite’s capricious audio gremlin mucking around again….?
No, the hiss grew into the sound of water, soon augmented by bells, thunder and rain, and any remaining misgivings were dispelled as the impressive collection of musicians began to sing, led by Carrbridge’s Ewan Robertson. Their strong clear voices rang out in a song setting of the pipe tune ‘Hector the Hero’, followed by ‘I will walk in the island of my dreams’ which segued into a very fine arrangement of ‘Over the Hillside’ by the Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan, sung by Taylor himself in his rarely heard, wistfully throaty voice, reminiscent of the mature Peter Gabriel.
Rick Taylor is a compositional master of the uplifting, inspiring musical phrase that tugs insistently at your heart; the next item on he agenda, his re-working of the ‘Skye Boat Song’, was full of them. When released into the wide world, this track may become a welcome addition to the ranks of contenders for Unofficial Scottish National Anthem.
Ewan Robertson’s strong, clear voice did justice to another fine arrangement of an old and well-loved song, ‘Brown Haired Maiden’, somewhat marred by the fact that Stu Haikney’s sharply powerful rock drums were far too far forward in the mix and as a result almost obliterated everything else, including Jonny Hardie’s lyrical fiddle playing.
The first half closed with new tunes for four of Sgitheanach bard William Ross’s songs. If English folk lyrics can be summarised as “I’m pregnant and you won’t marry me”, an awful lot of Gaelic songs boil down to “I cannot tell her that I will love her till my dying day”. and William Ross is no exception. (The female version is “I am waiting on the quay for my love to return”, sometimes with the added, slightly perplexing detail “barefooted” – but I digress.)
Had there been wifies pouring tea and serving home baking, the interval could not have felt more comfortably like a village hall in the Gaeltachd, and the second half set its face firmly to the sundering seas, with a collection of songs old and new all sharing a marine leitmotif.
‘The Water is Wide’, ‘Where Hast Thou Been’, ‘I Will Set My Ship in Order’, ‘I’d Sail With You’ and ‘Wish Me Well’ were all given the Rick Taylor valeting treatment, and came sparkling new and shipshape. Again, the sound continued to be hit and miss, sadly squashing the life out of Alex Higgins plaintive ‘moothie’, an instrument which when well played, as this evidently was, can be guaranteed to bring the hairs on the back of the neck standing to attention.
Luckily we could hear Laura Silitoe, the maestro’s daughter, bright and clear; her voice poured over the stage like warm soothing oil, and trumpeter Ryan Quigley’s superb improvisations were also unencumbered. Dispensing with any formalities throughout, the show often felt more like a session than a concert, and by agreement with the audience there was no ritual pause before the encores, though eventually the Wayward Boys (and Girl) linked arms to take a well deserved bow, or two.
© Jennie Macfie, 2009