Celtic Connections 2009: New Voices, Mairearad Green – Passing Places
Strathclyde Suite, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, 1 February 2009
PASSING PLACES, eh? A familiar feature on the single-track roads of the highlands, if there’s one thing Passing Places signs are unlikely to inspire, it’s music. Especially Achiltibuie-born Mairearad Green’s music. The talented accordionist has seen more than her fair share of these white, diamond-shaped signs on bicycle rides across the Coigach coast of Wester Ross; but it’s thanks to her favourite pastime that we were blessed with hearing this New Voices commission.
Playing to an almost full house – the Green and Macleod clan taking up a large chunk of the auditorium – the young folk prodigy began by declaring her amazement at fitting her entire family into one room, before steering headwind (literally, in the case of Green’s cousin, Ruaraidh Macleod – seen cycling through stiff Wester Ross winds courtesy of an inspired Magnus Graham-produced video projected onto a big screen) into the first passage, ‘Leaving Home’.
Creeping up on you like a crisp Highland morning, Green wasted little time flexing her folk muscles. The thematic piece segued into a fluffy jazz and seriously syncopated funk workout, before settling back down again to more familiar folksy climes. The video imagery gave you the feeling you were watching an episode of Weir’s Way set to an improved soundtrack. And as the moving images of Wester Ross fluttered by, so too, did feelings of homeland and belonging – a strong theme running throughout Green’s piece.
She was in good hands, too, of course. With an uncharacteristically neat and tidy Adam Sutherland sat alongside Green’s boyfriend, Newcastle’s Peter Tickell, on fiddles, and with Duncan Lyall on double-bass (surely the record holder for most amount of gigs played at Celtic Connections?), Green had open license to roam as she pleased, letting fly with a flurry of finger-stroking acrobatics on both accordion and pipes.
She is a talented piano player, too, and it was a shame she never chose to tickle the ivories, although it would have taken some inspired playing to upstage the steady and reliable Hamish Napier. Close friend and ally Anna Massie provided acoustic guitar accompaniment, while Donald Hay (drums) and Adam Bulley (mandolin/ banjo) were also on-hand to make up the rest of this eight-piece ensemble.
This was a conceptual piece, don’t forget, and the music continued to move as any push-bike would over the hills and one-track roads of the Highlands: smooth going downhill; bumpy, yet firmly in control even when crossing rougher ground. Smiling throughout, Green was clearly having a whale of a time. She could have chosen to sit centre stage while showing off all her chops, but instead, she selected to sit off to the side, content to let her fellow pros take a large chunk of the spotlight.
And that’s the measure of the woman. A rare talent, ever happy to support others rather than bump up herself. As her family’s heart swelled with pride, so, too, did the applause reverberating around the Strathclyde Suite. Her fifty minutes were up and it was time to go. No-one wanted to, but as is keeping with Green’s humility, she quietly and discreetly left the stage without milking the adulation or making too much of a fuss.
The best of this year’s Celtic Connections New Voices, then? By a country mile.
© Barry Gordon, 2009