With the ‘pre-Worlds’ concert a permanent fixture on the annual calendar, and Glasgow Skye Association promoting its 25th Concert with guests Scottish Power, our permanent fixture winged his way from the hostelry with a horse shoe shaped bar where he is becoming a permanent fixture, to the event. Ever ready, his batteries are always on and he is a Duracell of Power himself. MacStig was in the stalls along with a throng of our readers, poised to listen to the much awaited programme of music. Here is his review .….
It would be a very simple thing to rattle off the subtle nuances of the sound, the programme construct, the light and shade between strings, reed and skin, and indeed much more besides. More of that later, but first a verdict to cut to the chase. This was a triumph from the band some are tipping as the dark horse for Friday and Saturday. On this form, with a bit of free spirited concert performance and all the additional rehearsals, it would be hard to disavow that notion.
There, I’ve said it; the band is on a roll (apologies) and if it all hangs together and fatigue doesn’t set in when these finely balanced instruments are exposed to the dreich weather, maybe, just maybe…….
Wednesday night saw me hot footing it from an excellent little brasserie down in the Merchant City, once home of ‘Tobacco Lords’ – a sight of a place in the 70s but recently trendier than a long beard on an Isle of Islay or Inveraray drummer. The brisk walk up through George Square in drizzly rain, on to Buchanan Street, nodding to the late lamented Donald Dewar’s statue in passing, and wondering what his intellect would think of things today.
‘The Power’ is a serious outfit, very serious, from the cut of the jib to the content in the programme. If this concert wasn’t a sell out, I reckon the precious few empty seats were already sold and there were a few no-shows as there always are – illness, travel, change in plans, beer elsewhere.
These pre-Worlds’ concerts, ably promoted by the Glasgow Skye Association, have a bit of a pattern, yet all the bands over the last while have brought their own personality to bear on the proceedings. Scottish Power was no exception and, straight out of the traps, was right up there; one of the best I’ve attended in these most recent times.
The second half might not have hit the buttons for some and I’ll be interested to hear the views of readers, but it was fresh, different and will easily plug and play in a Celtic Connections gig next January if the band is up for it. Not a Highland Wedding in sight, nor a whiff of Lord Alexander Kennedy, no Links, no Marion, Maggie or Lexy either. But there were musicians, and really top drawer ones at that.
No formulaic filling in of the blanks, this was a rich tapestry of sound, colour, texture and tone. Although the perpetual tuning by two technicians through some numbers was slightly distracting, the result was ‘Tone’. Tone with a capital T. And away from the vagaries of the external elements that have so dogged the outdoor season, these were chanters honed and prepared to the peak.
The honeyed, copper tone will stay with me and I hope the band can reproduce that moment in time again for those not present to lap this up. They managed it even in large ensemble with the guest musicians and the good lads and lassies of Bagad Cap Caval.
Any reviewer can hold the suspense until the end but this was a five star, no question. And knowing what some wags are like – that is 5 out of 5. If you disagree, fair enough, but you should be making an appointment with your nearest otolaryngologist forthwith. If you simply didn’t like the second half content and wanted MSR sets, that is something different.
Before I forget I should also mention the professional master of ceremonies John Mackay, Scottish TV newsreader of (clear throat and drop an octave) ‘I’m John MacKay’ fame.
From the opener, Billy Jackson’s ‘Molendinar’ and the colourful ‘Archie Campbell Medley’ packed full of great music to Callum Moffat’s solo set, kicked off with ‘Laird of Drumblair. This was a concert moving at pace. He was followed by gallus (his word) Robbie MacIsaac closing his mini set with the Glasgow vernacular ‘Aye, Right’ and one other unnamed tune – the kind you will know instantly when you see the DVD. Flying fingers from both Callum and Robbie.
The virtuosity was matched in the second half by the duo of guests Finlay MacDonald and John Mulhearn playing their own compositions, with ‘A Ripple of Report’ (Mulhearn) the stand out, although ‘Abdul’s’ was great too. The drum corps closed the half with Jake Jørgensen’s ‘Powerline’ fanfare in fine fashion, but the absolute highlight of the half for me was the Breton set ‘Kezag Cascade’ proving the arranger is beyond talented. The overall combination was superb.
In the second half it did become a contemporary gig with Rura opening proceedings with the ‘Dark Reel’ (Fraser Fifield) and two David Foley tunes (‘Catriona’s’ – for a love interest) and ‘I’ll never forget’ was poignant about the composer’s 101 year old Jamaican granny.
As I’ve alluded to, the guest players were exceptional and added texture, depth and subtlety to the programme just when it was needed. They weren’t wallpaper and for 20 to 25 minutes were front and centre. The quartet Rura blasted on to the scene about a decade ago, playing folk festivals galore, and delivered big time. If you were there for old school pipes and drums you might be of a completely different view. Let us know.
You’ll get the gist that wave after wave of music came along and I must mention the brilliantly titled ‘In Praise of Home’ featuring the vocal reminiscences of an 84 year old grandfather about Montrose.
The highlights were too many to cover but a lot of plaudits for the way the programme progressed to a natural finale (‘Kinnoull’) and rousing send off to set the audience off on their merry way to the local howfs and hostelries nearby but not before a vocal of ‘Killicrankie’ with a swift jump to the band playing it to close and a warm thank you from P/M Armstrong.
This was not going through the motions and simply rattling out the two March Strathspey & Reel sets and Medleys. Going into the Worlds the band will be on a high for sure, possibly a bit exhausted and relieved that it is now over. Tick tock, it is almost Friday.
Has the SP season benefitted from all the hard work for the concert? You bet, because they’ve remained fresh by playing other things rather than the competition sets. Maybe this approach has allowed them to be a bit less tense than perhaps they were a season or so ago, with a bit more freedom to enjoy the moment. They say the very best at the top of the game hear and see everything in a kind of slow motion whilst everyone else is being frantic.
One final observation. Such an exertion with the physical and mental stress, can have a lethargic impact on subsequent performance. Sports teams often demonstrate this by winning a huge game, then losing to a poor opponent next time out.
I’m sure the lads and lassies of the Power will build that in to their recovery and recognise the need to complete the job by delivering four flawless runs between tomorrow morning and Saturday evening. It is important they mentally see all of that in their minds eye and reset the dial. It’s what winners do.
On to the Worlds now, but for me this concert was a first class event. Bravo Scottish Power. Borrowing the title of David Foley’s tune again ‘I’ll Never Forget’. I hear that the baton of the concert passes to Inveraray & District for 2020.