The Highland Sessions

24 Jan 2011 in Music, Showcase

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 22 January 2011

THE PROGRAMMERS may have thought that this was a companion concert to the evergreen Transatlantic Sessions, but anyone who has ever been to a concert during ‘Blazin’ in Beauly’ would have recognised it as basically ‘ Blazin’ in Buchanan Street’. A plethora of fine musicians on stage playing exhilarating music in a laidback kind of way with a liberal sprinkling of jokes of all colours, usually (but not always) from Allan Henderson.

Fiddle Alasdair Fraser and cellist Natalie Haas

Fiddle Alasdair Fraser and cellist Natalie Haas

One major difference was the inclusion of some of the finest living Gaelic singers. The first of these was Margaret Stewart, accompanied by the fine musicians of Daimh, augmented by Donald Shaw on harmonium. Her pure silver tones aided by precise diction and breath control, simply soared off the stage and captivated the Concert Hall despite the first song being even less cheerful than is usual for Gaelic song; lamenting those burned in a church during a clan feud. She was followed by Kathleen MacInnes and, as though that weren’t riches enough, Cathy Ann Macphee, followed by the peerless Julie Fowlis and her band. Ringing the changes with their equally fine tenors were Daimh’s Calum Alex Macmillan and Darren MacLean.

This was, as Jenna Reid announced, her first Scottish festival gig as Catriona Macdonald’s replacement in Blazin Fiddles. No nerves were displayed and none needed; like her predecessor she’s a terrific fiddle player, and the injection of new blood seems to have rejuvenated the rest of the band, judging by the energy with which they tore into the music. Whether well-loved favourites like The Fashion o’ the Lasses, or new – the Norwegian waltz set – all the sets were freshly polished and sparkling. Sharing introductions, and interjections, it was no matter that the audience was measured in thousands rather than a few hundred; they were as relaxed as they would have been in Beauly – though with slightly more decorum.

The second half opened with a brief display of classic, delicate perfection by Alastair Fraser and Natalie Haas. Throughout the evening, they and the rest of the deck of singers and musicians, including such talents as Gabe McVarish, Martin O’Neill, the Duncans Chisholm and Lyall, were shuffled and dealt onto the stage in a dizzying number of permutations, the way things happen at any session. Richly rewarding in every way, the Highland Sessions are likely to become a fixture – and a very hot ticket – in Celtic Connections.

© Jennie Macfie, 2011