Celtic Connections, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 14/01/04
Ígor Medio (thankful for the translation work by Stephen Stuart from the Borders).
The 2004 Celtic Connections Festival opened January 14th at Glasgow's Royal Concert Hall with the concert HARVEST. The show, a project of the Scottish artist Donald Shaw (best known worldwide by his work with the band Capercaillie), was so named because of the upcoming generation of young Scottish musicians rising from the four corners of Scotland; and who reach standards higher than ever before thanks to initiatives such as the Fèisan movement over the Highlands and music schools based in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Out of this 'Harvest' of young virtuosos, 77 boys and girls aged 13 to 21 were selected to create a real folk orchestra made up of fiddles, cellos, accordions, small pipes, whistles, flutes, guitars, bouzouki, saxophone, piano, vocals and a whole Scottish bagpipe band, solidly conducted by Donald Shaw. In addition, Shaw also managed to attract to Glasgow some of the finest musicians from the European Celtic Regions (Scotland, Breizh, Eire, Galicia, Asturies) as a support for the youngsters, with the aim of starting a strong connection between the European folk scene and the next generation of Scottish musicians.
Scotland was certainly well represented: besides Donald Shaw (constantly busy combining his work as a conductor of the band with his performance on accordion, piano and keyboards) there were other Capercaillies such as Karen Matheson (vocals), Charlie McKerron (fiddle) and Ewen Vernal (double bass), whom, together with James MacIntosh (drums and percussion) had the complex task of building up the rhythm section of such a musical 'dinosaur'. Working on the backings were also Jim Sutherland (percussion) from Scotland, Soïg Siberil (guitar) and Gilles le Bigot (guitar) from Breizh, Guillermo Fernández (guitar) from Galicia and Ígor Medio (bouzouki) from Asturies. On the melody side were Aidan O'Rourke (fiddle) from Scotland, Michael McGoldrick (flute, uilleann pipes) for England/Eire, Jean-Michel Veillon (flute) from Breizh, Gerry O'Connor (banjo) from Eire, Xose M. Budiño (Galician bagpipes, low whistle) from Galicia and Jose M. Tejedor (Asturian bagpipes, low whistle) from Asturies. On the vocal side, Denez Prigent from Breizh, Karan Casey from Eire, Guadi Galego from Galicia and the Asturian Chus Pedro shared the stage with the young singers.
Over nearly three hours, the Glasgow audience enjoyed a repertoire of folk music of a variety and quality that will only rarely be seen on a stage. The instrumental sets were varied: some of the tunes were composed by Shaw and other musicians such as McGoldrick, Budiño or Tejedor; some came from the folklore of different Celtic regions; all of them were arranged as part of sets that the musicians worked out in just two days of rehearsing.
The concert opened with the haunting voice of a ballad, powerfully delivered by the youngest participant, the Scottish girl Emma MacInnes. This was followed by a solid rendition of a Breton Gavotte with which the band introduced itself. This tune already indicated the quality and fluent performance of the youngsters, which would increasingly improve throughout the show. Sets such as Famous Last Words (composed by Shaw over irregular rhythms), the mid-tempo reels of Tiree Girls, the jigs of Aurora, Setestrelo (a beautiful song composed by Galego/Fernández for their band Berrogüeto) or the exceptionally powerful E Garnison of Prigent stood out.
The Asturian repertoire was delivered by Tejedor's tunes Muñeres d'Avilés and Etna, and the Asturian traditional songs from Chus Pedro's latest recording, Baxé al camín de La Pola and the acclaimed Verdiciu. Solos by J. M. Veillon, Karan Casey and Denez Prigent demonstrated the virtuosity of the guest musicians; they were warmly and enthusiastically cheered by the audience.
As a final encore, the musicians improvised a set of tunes where instruments were coming in and going out by groups: starting with a traditional Scottish reel, flutes tune, fiddles tune, banjos tune (Gerry O'Connor and a young girl performed a bluegrass solo, so awesome that even the surrounding musicians were speachless), a fast Astur-Galician medley (Saltón Central followed by Aires de Pontevedra, performed by Asturian and Galician musicians on both their bagpipes, guitar and bouzouki), and back to the Scottish to finally close the set.
Harvest was an extraordinary event not only because of its quality, but mainly because of its exclusiveness. As far as we know, no folk music concert of this style and proportion has ever occurred before. Donald Shaw took a major risk - and here lays the greatness of the challenge - putting together a two and a half hour show with an almost completely new repertoire to be worked out by artists coming from all parts of Europe, led by young and inexpert musicians from different schools, under the additional pressure of performing at the most important festival, on the most impressive stage, and surrounded by musicians who are true musical legends for them. There were obviously doubts about the results; fortunately for Shaw -and for folk music in general terms- it was, as we Asturians say, a 'round game'. Harvest was a complete success, and a concept to be taken into account for further similar initiatives in folk music, both internationally speaking, and for Asturian folk music in particular. Brilliantly qualified after their acid test, the new generation of Scottish folk musicians is already here. And they have come to stay.