Celtic Connections 2010 – New Voices: Iain Morrison

20 Jan 2010 in Music, Outer Hebrides

Strathclyde Suite, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, 17 January 2010

Iain Morrison ensemble (photo - Fergus Feggans)

Iain Morrison ensemble (photo - Fergus Feggans)

IAIN MORRISON, Stornoway-born singer/songwriter and guitarist of Glasgow indie band Crash My Model Car, has an alter ego as a piper. Taught by his pipe major father at the age of eleven using canntaireachd (the ancient Gaelic verbal notation of music, a subtler equivalent of solfège but with additional grace note functions), it is perhaps not surprising that in his Celtic Connections commission he has chosen to unite the various strands of his musical life, creating indie pop songs based on the melodies of ancient piobaireachd.

None more ancient, of course, than ‘Mackintosh’s Lament/Cumha Mhic an-Toisich’, the main theme of which was famously taken by Dvorak for his New World Symphony after he heard it sung as a spiritual by slaves in the United States. Thought to be based originally on an ancient keening song, sung by mourners at a funeral, in the hands of Morrison and his band it comes roaring off the stage in the raw, power–punk style of the Velvet Underground. and is one of the highlights of the evening.

Morrison’s music combines the anger of early U2, the poignancy of REM and the plangent loss and longing that is the essence of Gaelic song. ‘Ghost on the Water’ is about scarce fishing, the ache of hunger that was an everpresent threat in the past vividly evoked by “What’s under these waves, I need to feed my family”, lines sung with passionate intensity by Morrison in English, while guest Rona Lightfoot, that great singer and piper from South Uist, recites a Gaelic translation.

Introducing his other guest, his father, Pipe Major Iain M Morrison, the younger Morrison is overcome with emotion, stumbling over the words till he settles on ‘the old man’. “That’s what I always call him, anyway”, he explains, wiping sweat, or maybe a tear, away with his sleeve – after all, the concert started at 1pm and he has been up since the unconscionably (for a musician) early hour of 7am.

Father and son duets follow, weaving voices and pipes together with practised, sympathetic ease. Backed by a skilful ensemble – Seamus O’Donnell, Marc Duff, Iain Hutchison and Graham Neilson – Morrison mostly plays guitar but occasionally straps on the bellows and lifts up the smallpipes, choosing them to end the programme on a flamboyant, upwardly bent note.

© Jennie Macfie, 2010