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BillCallahan_byHanlyBanks

Well it certainly is cosy down in Glasgow’s ABC for the concluding weekend of Celtic Connections which presents Bill Callahan and backing band to this capacity crowd. The lights are out, the bars are closed* and the band arrive onstage who all seats except for the namesake towering above them standing in the middle of the stage on an elevated pedestal**.

Although not widely known outside of ‘indie’ circles, Bill Callahan has built up quite the following over the years by sticking to whatever he wants to do, allowing people to take notice through their own will. Judging from those throngs of folk in attendance tonight this approach certainly seems to have worked for the man!

Opening with the first track ‘The Sing’ from ‘Dream River’, this seemed to forecast how the remainder of the evening would go as the majority of the set consisted of tracks from said album. Which the crowd seemed to deem acceptable with their polite ovations though it wasn’t until ‘Dress Sexy for My Funeral’**** from Callahan’s previous project Smog that he was met with an elevated display of audience appreciation.

At points the audience were so enamoured by Callahan’s baritone delivery that a whisper would came across as a shout. With little audience interaction except for the occasional sardonic banter which proved to be a highlight for me in what would have otherwise of been a sombre and serious evening***.

On the whole this was sober but soothing gig on the whole but with the intimacy of the show proving to be an odd counterpart to the size of the venue that it was taking place in. Not exactly a rousing Saturday night and not particularly mind blowing but still the man is good at what he does, just maybe not what I’m into. One man’s coffee is another man’s whisky after all*****….

*at the insistence of the man himself which led to bewilderment and resentment from more than one member of the audience.

**Soapbox anyone?

***It didn’t exactly lead to the most uproarious Saturday night but it’s the little things.

****The highlight of the night.

*****That’s if you got served before they closed the bar of course…

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When one discusses the merits of the “supergroup”, it is usually followed by the joshing of, not only, those that are part of it and those that actually choose to listen to them… well you know they do tend to be a bit shite. So trust the folk genre; commonly described as ‘traditional music’ to buck the tradition trend of the supergroup*.

 
With Celtic Connections in full swing and quite the selection of music to choose from it is a testament to the quality of their output that Lau, the abovementioned supergroup, are playing to a sold out crowd in Glasgow’s City Halls**. Comprised of fiddler; Aiden O’Rourke, accordionist/pianist; Martin Green, and guitarist/vocalist; Kris Drever***. With multiple awards under their belt and new album ‘Race the Loser’, released last year, expectations are high.

 
Beforehand though jaunty support was provided by Annabelle Chvostek, formally of the Wailin’ Jennys. Her uplifting traditional folky country protest music went down a treat and with audience participation high**** in the hall she certainly went down well with those that arrived early enough.

 
So to the main event which took a beginning, middle and end structure; with the middle being the highly publicised commission piece by Celtic Connections and the PRSF New Music Biennia. With Drever in the middle, Rourke to the right and the joyful Green to the right proceedings hit full swing right from the get go. Throwing in a cache of new tracks the highlight being the wistful and epic ‘Far from Portland’ it would have been more than a fulfilling show if that was all that we were to be treated to.

 
As we hit the middle of the set Lau are joined by The Elysian Quartet to perform ‘The Bell That Never Rang’ the piece commissioned for this very evening and a rare treat for everyone here to witness. Bringing forward all the strengths of each musician forward this was a wonderfully inventive bit of music that was not the norm for the respective genres of both sets of musicians.

 
Although this was a fine treat you could tell that that the audience were gagging to get back to some solo Lau action and they were not disappointed as there was a scattershot of tracks from the highly regarding first two albums ‘Arc Light’ and ‘Lightweights & Gentleman’ which led to wild applause and one audience member to shout out “You guys are awesome” which was swiftly replied to by Martin Green “Thanks Dad!”*****.

 
A wonderful show from start to finish with the limelight and adulation of the audience not resting solely on one member of the group but on Lau as a whole******! Thanks was given, applause was given and everyone in attendance including those performing left happy. Despite all that was going on this evening as part of Celtic Connections for those savvy enough to come here very much made the right choice.

 

 

*I realise I may be reaching a bit with this supergroup angle, but to the genre… well… they kinda are.

 
**Where they don’t allow you to take in a pint into the hall… sacrilegious.

 
***Check out all of their solo albums, you’re welcome.

 
****By that I mean clapping in time and shit…

 
*****I don’t think it was his Dad to be fair.

 
******But seriously check out all their solo material!

the-new-mendicants-1flow

It’s a Saturday night in Glasgow, which can be scary enough at points*, which is currently in the embrace of two inherently Scottish traditions this evening. Number one: Burns night, which means that celebrations are in full swing for the memory of our national bard… or more likely an excuse to consume one’s own body weight in whiskey. Number two: would be that of the Celtic Connections Festival which hosts several gigs for the Folk, Country and World music genres over the course of January. This is why I have found myself in the Glasgow Arches where the tartan shirts and trousers are oot** and my soundtrack to this evening is The New Mendicants.

 
The New Mendicants, the new project from Joe Pernice of the Pernice Brothers, and, more importantly to this crowd, Norman Blake of locally loved group Teenage Fanclub. After their aforementioned ‘better known’ groups played together several years back and finding themselves expats of their respective countries in Canada they ended up in a musical partnership. Somehow these guys found themselves working on the soundtrack to the film adaption of Nick Hornby’s ‘A Long Way Down’ ***. It turns out this was rejected by the film’s producers but the end product was that this new unit was born. With new album ‘Into the Lime’ coming out in the coming days, there is an expectant but unsure atmosphere amongst those in the crowd on what we are going to be treated to****.

 
The two arrive onstage in a slight rush, due to being told the wrong time, and settle themselves in at their seats having the barest of presence on the semi lit stage. The lighting funnily enough would prove to be the only form of distraction***** from the two men as the levels flickered throughout indicating that the mood couldn’t be settled on. However, the mood from the New Mendicants was set by their talkative nature and hushed tunes creating a relaxed and homely atmosphere.

 
The evening was certainly filled with entertaining banter, with both gents treating this near capacity crowd as if they were just playing the backroom of the pub, and with a group who started its existence thanks to their rejected works how could it not be. Sadly this was the highlight of the evening for me as the music left me somewhat wanting throughout. All the songs were characterised by pop hooks and hush tones with sing along choruses but it just felt like a poorer re-tread of their more famous works. There was certainly a lot of charm but charming music didn’t keep me entertained for any longer than 20 minutes.

 
Though the material may suit being further fleshed out in a bigger band setting******, with only 2 guitars and the occasional glockenspiel the material just didn’t seem strong enough for this barebones setting. At points it did seem that the audience’s initial attention was starting to wain but this was recaptured thanks to ‘I don’t want control of you’ from Blake’s Teenage Fanclub heyday… and then it was done. This allowed the audience to leave on a high but sadly the lead up to this was just a bit of a struggle and not terribly memorable… a shame really.

 
*I jest, calm doon!

 
**Not the punk kind either, I own a tartan tie but this feels like a bit much.

 
***Which is apparently awful as I’m told from people that I trust?

 
****Except those on the drams… their laldie at this point.

 
*****And it proved a welcome one for me later on.

 
******Like wae drums and bass and that.

Ted Leo

On my second expedition to Glasgow in a week for the punk music selection offered by the Celtic Connections festival, I found myself running to Glasgow’s ABC venue from the train station. This was due to receiving the knowledge that Ted Leo* would be on at a sharp 7.30pm. Luckily due to a recent bout of health consciousness prompting some running on my part prior to today, I entered the auditorium as the first song of Ted Leo’s set was finishing.

Getting myself to the front of the stage proved to be no great achievement as the audience was meagrely populated at this early hour**. Despite appearing with a lack of his backing band the Pharmacists, Ted Leo still had all the impact that I expected as he remained an enthralling performer despite flying solo on a rather large stage. He treated the audience early to his ode to Glasgow ‘A Bottle of Buckie’ followed by ‘Bottled in Cork’*** from his last release ‘the Brutalist Bricks’. As a gift to those who arrived early; our headliner Aimee Mann joined Ted on stage to perform a couple of songs from an untitled EP that they have collaborated on. A bit more country influenced than usually expected from Mr Leo, it was an interesting detour in the set with ‘The Gambler’ proving to be a highlight of the whole evening. Previous to Aimee Mann joining our support act, an in the know member of the audience shouted a polite request for the song ‘Timorous Me’ which was initially refused due to limited time. Upon pondering his response before heading into the next song, Ted Leo returned to address the audience member and stated that his request would be the song that finished his set which was the case****. A real treat for those that got there in time, and judging by the decibel level of applause I was not alone in discerning that.

Next up in our speckled evening of entertainment was Amelia Curran, who presented what would be more in line with the music presented usually, be Celtic Connections. For the next half an hour or so we were plied with whiskey soaked tales of love, and with the announcement mid-way through that we were hitting the ballads, the loss of that very love. Everything was well written, impeccably (if a little endearingly shyly) performed and Ms Curran was a charismatic character. However it just didn’t grab me wholly and in such an over populated bare bones market of singer songwriters’ oot there I would say that being grabbed was fairly essential*****.

Aimee Mann

Now for the closure of our adventure in Glasgow, Aimee Mann & band****** arrived on the platform. Despite the relatively low keyness of her music, Aimee Mann certainly has presence and was the focal point throughout the set. After the obligatory opening of relatively oldies, Mann forewarns the inclusion of new material from this point on. She admits this is a precarious move as explained by an anecdote involving her brother stating that no one goes to a gig to hear the new material*******. Ironically, things really come alive when she plays her biggest hits ‘Save Me’ and ‘Wise Up’ from the Magnolia soundtrack followed by a pleasant cover of ‘One is the Loneliest Number’. This more or less sets the template for the rest of the show, a solid mixture of old and new, finishing up with ‘It’s
Not Safe’
. Returning for an encore that ended the evening with ‘4th of July’, but not before Ted Leo re-joined her onstage for some Thin Lizzy noodling. To come clean, I wasn’t too au fait on Aimee Mann’s back catalogue, but I had read that she was a rather stand offish and cold artist. I did not get that from her this evening. I was entertained throughout and found that when she really comes alive is when things get really quiet.

*The main reason that I was going to this show.

**By gig standards anyway.

***Are we all drunk or something…?

****Jolly nice if you ask me.

*****Even Bon Iver went all E-Street on us.

******Do you ever get the fear when you see a band that looks like they have just stepped out of that move ‘Almost Famous’?

*******Depends on the artist I suppose…

Hamell on Trial

Another Celtic Connections is upon me and one of the required viewing gems is Mr Hamell of Hamell on Trial playing at Glasgow Oran Mor. I wasn’t quite sure of the set-up as Celtic Connections tends to throw a few curveballs each year* to fuck your expectations up a little. For a festival that brings together folk, country and world music genres to the fore, I always seem to end up at a punk gig** and tonight was no different…

Upon entering the venue support act Lach was already on stage*** regaling the audience with twitchy folk rock goodies. Looking like a cross between Christopher Lloyd and Elvis Costello****, he was treating the sparse crowd to some jokes and banter which wasn’t fully connecting with the audience. This seemed more than apparent to the man himself thus audience interaction was shunned for the next few numbers. However, as the venue began to fill up with late arrivals, Lach was greeted with a friendlier and louder response – a highlight being his shout out to the Kiss army*****. Sadly as Lach was hitting his stride and audience appreciation grew, time was up.

Strolling onstage to rapturous applause looking like the bastard son of Fu Manchu if he had made a cultural visit to Syracuse, New York, came Hamell on Trial. Opening with ‘Glad You’re Gone’ and continuing on for a couple of numbers before we were promised by Mr Hamell himself that there would be no jokes or stories, instead we would be treated to an evening of interpretive dance with the finale involving the sight of our main act in a thong******. Mr Hamell is not a man to keep his promises…Continuing on, we were diverted with an ode to Mr Hamell’s 1937 acoustic guitar, which by the man’s own admission he wields like a Tommy gun, which I can confirm is the truth.

Hamell has always seemed to me to be an artist who moves with the times, not particularly his style of music, but in terms of mood and feeling. He provides a document of what the collective are feeling and offering possible solutions that only a man who has lived his life according to punk rock can. Hence a lot of this evenings set list focused on highlighting tracks from his new album ‘The Happiest Man in the World’*******.  After the midpoint in the set the audience were treated to a double whammy on the effect of the economic recession on the working person. ‘Jennifer’s Stripping Again’, explaining the measures people will take to keep things going. This was followed by ‘Richards Got a Job’; displaying some hope and that if people keep trying things might be alright.

The rather diverse characters******** in attendance lapped it all up, especially when the floor was open to requests. I am surprised he was able to make any of it out due to the barrage of ineligible cries*********. Obeying those that he could comprehend & finishing the evening with two tracks from his beloved album ‘Choochtown’ (When Bobby Comes Down and Choochtown) left things on a really fucking high note. Not exactly a Celtic evening but Hamell on Trial made a connection with everyone who turned out.

*Or the Scottish equivalent of that saying.

**Hey, I am not closed minded, kay!

***At 7.35pm you can’t say Celtic Connections aren’t prompt.

****If they both went into that machine in Cronenbergs ‘The Fly’.

*****Kiss rules Motherfucker!

******Say what you will, I would clearly have remembered it.

*******It’s pretty tidy.

********Dead Kennedy beanie hatted gents next to those in full tweed suits.

*********I did shout for Coulter’s Snatch, but was denied… yes it is a song.