Celtic Connections: Rebel Musics at Oran Mor, 23/1/14

celtic-connectionsSince it’s beginnings, Celtic Connections has tried to link artists together.

During the festival, musical groups and individuals separated by place, time or by style are encouraged to play together.

The idea that roots, no matter what land they’ve grown deep in, have similar attitudes to life and musicianship.

It can lead to never-seen-the-like gigs that are fresh and exhilarating or it can lead to more raised brows than clapping hands.

Let’s liken it to the kitchen; it can be thrilling to throw away the recipe book and create something with more personality and it takes real knowledge and skill to blend flavours together in an original way.

Fusion food requires the chef to compare and contrast the cultures, spotting harmonies in the base notes.

Sometimes many hands make light work, sometimes too many cooks spoil the broth.

In the case of ‘Rebel Musics’ at Oran Mor, it was the chocolate cake wrapped in Parma ham and dribbled with red wine jus scenario.

Chocolate cake? Good. Parma ham? Good. Red Wine jus? Good. Combo? Not so much.

The group playing includes Pee Wee Ellis (saxophonist and member of James Brown’s band) to Dave Swarbrick (highly influential English fiddle icon) to Dick Gaughan (revered Scottish folk/ protest singer).

On the night, it is clear how they have all become esteemed, however led by Canadian reggae singer James Wilson, the merging of traditional folk with Jamaican and jazz influences falls flat.

Ska-like bounce undermines the songs authenticity, it isn’t uncomfortable or hard to listen to – many in the audience are enjoying it – but in fusing the two genres together, the best of each is lost.

There is a contrived medley of Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman No Cry’ with Robert Burn’s ‘My Love is like a Red, Red Rose’ that Gaughan seems to take as tongue-in-cheek while Wilson takes seriously.

Gaughan takes the lead on ‘Tom Paine’s Bones’, ‘Will Ye Go, Lassie Go’ and ‘Erin Go Bragh’ and they are received well, with a fair bit of sing along.

The rebellious element to the night is difficult to see.

During the last few songs each musician plays solo, which is impressive at first, but soon becomes a sort of boring musical tit-for-tat and Swarbrick’s lengthiest fiddle piece is completely lost to a sound issue.

Gaughan makes a barely-there political contribution, the summary of which is ‘vote yes’.

The audience is chatty throughout the set and not just from bletherings at the bar.

Gabberings from pockets of the crowd make some parts difficult to hear.

Noise from the crowd has been a problem at many Oran Mor gigs and tonight it is annoying to the point that the support act intervenes with one particular group of gossipers.

In a different venue, on unattached nights, each of the musicians would have impressed.

We could have had our chocolate cake and eaten it too… savoured separate from the Parma ham and the red wine jus.

Words: Leonie Colmar

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