Review of Celtic Connections Big Top, Skye on the 24th of March, 2012 by Toby Stainton.
With my ears still ringing after the previous nights Toecutter gig (see Toecutter Relaunch to appreciate the eclectic nature of our reviewers – ed) what better way to get over the frenetic metal craziness than a drive over to Skye in glorious sunshine to the Celtic Connections Big Top.
The festival was ran during Friday and Saturday evenings, located in a tent on the runway at the Broadford Aerodrome and featuring a blend of Scottish and American folk acts.
I was down for Saturday night’s lineup, which featured Feis Rois, The Civil Wars, Roseanne Cash and Niteworks. Speaking to people at the venue it seemed that the previous night had been less well attended, however Michael McGoldrick, Manran and Raul Malo (former frontman with the Mavericks) had still gone down very well indeed. Especially by 80 year old twins Joyce Holm and Moira Gray from Manchester who were down the front for both nights putting people over half their age to shame!
First up was Feis Rois, a group of young secondary school age musicians who belted out a series of reels and strathspeys to get the already busy tent up on their feet and dancing. This young group of musicians already seem to have the talent of musicians ten years older and I think it’s certain that we’ll see some of them again in their own bands in years to come.
Next came double Grammy Winners (for best folk album and folk duet) The Civil Wars. Considering this was the last date of a sold out tour it was a bit of surprise that they weren’t further up the bill. The duet comprising of Californian Joy Williams and Alabaman John Paul White bewitched and entranced an adoring audience, their simple harmonies and minimalist live setup draws you in and makes you feel like they’re singing to you alone and there’s no-one else in the room with you. A set list comprising tunes from the album ‘Barton Hollow’ and covers by Portishead (‘Sour Times’) and Michael Jackson (‘Billy Jean’) kept everyone happy during an all too short set and they left the stage to rapturous applause.
The crowd noticeably thinned after the Civil Wars finished which seemed to indicate that they were the big draw for the night. However Daimh with guest singer Karen Matheson managed to entertain and keep the momentum going. As it’s the year of Scottish Islands they focused primarily on tunes written by Islanders or about Islands, sang mainly in Gaelic by Leodhasach singer Calum Alex Macmillan with the occasional duet with Karen Matheson.
Roseanne Cash was up next, not being overly familiar with her back catalogue I wasn’t sure what to expect, but she was obviously popular with an expectant audience who knew her work, which spans over thirty years. Adopting a similar set up to the Civil Wars, just her and a guitarist, was a simple but effective way to woo the audience proving that you don’t need Marshall amps and a huge drum kit to convey power in music. A sublime version of ‘The Skye Boat Song’ certainly made her a few new fans that night, me included.
Both Roseanne Cash and the Civil Wars seemed awed by the location of the festival and were at pains to tell us what a fantastic place we live in, when Joy Williams comments about the stunning mountains was met with typically Scottish apathy (aye, it’s no bad I s’pose) she laughed and told us we were spoiled brats… and she’s probably right!
The headline slot was given to local band Niteworks, described as an ‘Electronica Fusion act’ who have been heavily influenced by their Gaelic and Island upbringing. If you’re familiar with the late Martyn Bennet’s work or the Peatbog Faeries then this should give you a flavour of what they’re like. Think techno with gaelic samples overlayed with pipes and whistle arrangements and big drum beats and pulsating beats and… just go and see them!
A great choice to close the festival although they weren’t universally popular with the older people in the audience who left in their droves during the set. The younger folk however went wild, much to the consternation of the stewards who suddenly had to deal with crowd surfers and (foiled) attempts at stage diving after an otherwise quiet weekend!
A triumphant end to what was a very successful weekend and one that I hope the Celtic Connections team will run again next year.