Live review: Celtic Connections: International Burns Concert at The Hydro, 25/1/14

celtic-connectionsThe aim of the Burn’s Concert is to celebrate the life and legacy of Robert Burns.

There’s nae neeps nor tatties here, my jo, it is a mix of Scottish and international acts performing his songs and their own.

This year it has moved in to a new wee housie, is looking aw bonnie for the BBC, has its Commonwealth hat on, is pally with Homecoming Scotland and is commemorating the passing of Seumus Heaney and marking the death of Nelson Mandela.

Plates are spinning in the Hydro tonight!

The Hydro proves to be worthy venue, screens around the venue are used wisely throughout the night: bearing the flag of South Africa, giving us Rabbie’s words to read, wrapping us in tartan and cinematically zooming in on the orchestra.

The backstage team works tirelessly to make the evening as enjoyable in the flesh as it is on the screen – it’s difficult to be great in the past and the present simultaneously.

There is a saying, a made up saying, a saying of grave risk ‘paying homage can lead to playing fromage’.

Luckily, the Burns’ songs tonight aren’t cheesy at all.

Karine Polwart annunciates each word of ‘A Man’s a Man for A’ That’, clearly passionate about their meaning and political significance.

A relaxed and very professional Karen Matheson (of Capercaillie) is greeted onstage with applause, introduces and sings ‘Ae Fond Kiss’; it’s a nice and classically done version.

Rachel Sermanni sings ‘A Red, Red Rose’ gently and unhurried, enhancing the simplistic and heartfelt words.

The audience’s eyes are like a puppy dogs throughout and the success of her ‘cover’ is clear from the applause.

The Mae Trio, a young singing group from Australia, sing ‘John Anderson, My Jo’, fresh from their performance at Platform they deliver harmonised version with a funereal feel.

It seems, by this point in the festival, that collaborations are a contractually obliged Celtic Connections commandment, however thou cannot complain, as tonights are great.

Salsa Celtica (looking surprisingly alert after playing Festival Club until the early hours) and Julie Fowlis expertly blend Cuban and Gaelic rhythms into a fun set with real stomp.

Karine Polwart and Greek folk singer Alkinoos Ioannidis met organically at the festival last year and this comes through in their performance; they sound balanced and natural singing together.

Ionnidis, a well-known folk figure in Greece, wisely tells the audience to remember Greece and says that reading the poetry of another country can be the best way to gain true insight into their nation.

Judging by their enthusiasm and mutual passion for music and culture, it looks like there is scope for them to work together again.

Other highlights include a piece of Donald Shaw’s score for ‘Hebrides – Islands on the Edge’; with coastal landscape and cute wildlife on screen and talented musicians on stage heads are turning back and forth, spoilt for stunning choice.

Dougie MacLean’s ‘This Love Will Carry’ is elevated to Disney-soundtrack-standard uplifting by the outstanding RSNO orchestra; MacLean looks delighted with the arrangement and the audience are too.

Chucking some vibrancy into the proceedings is singing and dancing trio South Africa’s Mahotella Queens.

Two of the trio is pensioners – one being 69 and the other being 72!

They sing in a celebratory style and dance with shimmying hips, every how-can-she-still-do-that-there-better-be-on-site-first-aid-at-the-Hydro-movement highlighted by their colourful skirts and hats.

The funniest moment of the night has to be one of the Queens shouting “thank you” down the microphone in every language she knows.

It went a little something like this…

Presenter: Round of applause for the Mohatella Queens, the next performer is a…

Queen: Obrigado!

Presenter: Next up is…

Queen: In Zulu, they say, ngiyabonga!

Presenter: Ok, thanks, another time for the Mohatella Queens.

Queen: Arigato! That is Japanese!

In the final moments of the night, in the throes of a slightly confused ‘Auld Lang Syne’, a few spinning plates fall as the organisational dilemma of so many artists and crew celebrating one birthday onstage becomes clear, however it’s quite fitting, after all, the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.

Words: Leonie Colmar

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