Thursday, 2 February 2017

Hazy Recollections

29th January 2017

O2 ABC Glasgow

Hazy Recollections is the name given to a series of, what could I suppose be termed, afternoon taster sessions at the Glasgow music festival Celtic Connections.  Hosted by the affable Scottish singer-songwriter Finlay Napier – who also puts in a performing shift – there are generally four advertised acts plus a surprise guest(s), who each play a concise 20-25 minute set.

First up we had the curiously named Urban Farm Hand, a vehicle for the rather eccentric musical vision of producer Ben Seal.  Dissonant, discordant and ever so slightly twee at times (Seal's vocals occasionally put me in mind of Syd Barrett's on Piper at the Gates of Dawn), it shouldn't really have worked.  

And yet it did, with the audience won over by Seal and his friends' jazz-tinged performance.  Much of the stuff was pretty downbeat, it has to be said.  If I tell you Seal's paean to parenthood was called The Crushing Lows, you will perhaps gain an inkling to the sort of places we visited during the band's slot.  Still, they were kind enough to close their set with a bouncy one.

Urban Farm Hand, or three-quarters thereof.

Ben Seal

Finlay Napier - Hazy Recollections - Celtic Connections - 2017

Finlay Napier himself was next - a witty and personable host, as well a preposterously talented performer.  Presently, we learned, writing/recording songs for a new album tentatively entitled Glasgow, he was confident enough to perform a set of five new songs.  

Although, perhaps unreleased is a better term, for he bookended his set with a brace of covers: opening with Cod Liver Oil and The Orange Juice, a bawdy tale of drinking, dancing and fornication made popular by that Falstaffian old rogue Hamish Imlach - before closing with a poignant composition by Julia Doogan aptly titled, Glasgow.

The three new originals sandwiched between, each showcased both Napier's rich voice and late-flowering songwriting abilities.  Wire Burners, in particular catching the ear.  

Finlay Napier's setlist

Cod Liver Oil and The Orange Juice
Young Goths in the Necropolis
Building Ships
Wire Burners

Mairi Orr, I knew nothing about beforehand, but when she and another band member ambled on stage wearing cowboy hats, one could assume at least a nod in the direction of Nashville was in the offing.  And so it proved, but only the merest tilt of the head, for her storytelling was deeply rooted in Scottish folklore: tiles like Drover, Summer on the Clyde and Jenny Does Burn (the story of the last witch to be executed in Scotland) attested her lyrical inspirations were to found this side of the Atlantic.

Mairi initially cut a rather rather serious looking, even slightly anxious, figure - perhaps concerned lest we should not take to her material.  She need not have worried, for she, with her rich, smoky voice, and her band were a delight.  But the star-turn – indeed, the star of the whole afternoon in my opinion, was her dobro-player (and Neil Young lookalike) Dave Currie.  

Playing his instrument standing up and having it strapped on almost horizontal, he looked most uncomfortable, but his contributions shone.  Never flashy or showy, he elevated Mairi's songs immeasurably with (if I may quote Robert Fripp) an unerring sense of the appropriate.

Mairi Orr

Dave Currie - Celtic Connections 2017

Mairi Orr and Band - Celtic Connections 2017

And so to the surprise guests who turned out to be a Canadian quartet whose name, I am ashamed to say, has escaped me.  Their combination of instruments was certainly unique: cello, fiddle, mandolin and upright double-bass.  I struggled a touch with their opening two, mostly instrumental, numbers, but really enjoyed their piece Wyoming – the cello player coaxing some divine sounds from her instrument.

The show closers were Admiral Fallow – or at least half of them, as “the three noisy ones” were elsewhere this afternoon.  The extra space, musically speaking, their absence left allowed Kevin Brolly and Sarah Hayes ample scope to delight us all with their subtle embellishments to the stripped-down arrangements.  

Evangeline and Dead Against Smoking both benefited from this treatment.  Only the rocky Guest of the Government failed to make the transition from electric to acoustic I felt.

But that was OK.  As was the fact we were all treated to an encore of a short and sweet tune I had not heard before.

Kevin Brolly & Louis Abbott

Louis Abbott

Sarah Hayes

Admiral Fallow - Hazy Recollections - Celtic Connections - 2017

Quite the most fun-filled Sunday afternoon I can recall for some time.  Certainty since that occasion many years ago when a girlfriend and I played at..............but perhaps I shall not bore you with that tale.  


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