Celtic Connections is very different this year, having become a digital festival to reach its global audience, who can’t be in Glasgow this January. Huge credit and gratitude goes to everyone who has made this happen, in such a wonderful way, from the musicians on stages in Glasgow and overseas, to everyone behind the scenes bringing us these shows.
Transatlantic Sessions 2021 was recorded at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and Compass Records Studios in Nashville, Tennessee. Released online on Friday 29 January, it is available to view until 6th February 2021. Usually the US members of the band and guests are here in Scotland with the Scots and the Irish, but this year out of necessity they are filmed at home.
At Glasgow Royal Concert Hall are Aly Bain, Phil Cunningham, John McCusker, Michael McGoldrick, Donald Shaw, James Mackintosh, Euan Burton, Julie Fowlis and Kris Drever, joined remotely for several sets by transatlantic stalwart Jerry Douglas on Dobro. In Nashville are Alison Brown, Tim O’Brien, John Doyle from Ireland, Molly Tuttle and Stuart Duncan. Also, there is Transatlantic Sessions archive footage from 1995 with “Trouble in the Fields”, sung by Maura O’Connell and Nanci Griffith. Donald Shaw – now the festival’s Creative Director – and Jerry Douglas also featured then. This piece is introduced in 2021 by Sessions originator Aly Bain, with his recollection of the inspiration for the Transatlantic Sessions, from conversations in a Glasgow hostelry way back in the 1990’s.
The Concert Hall and Nashville sets of tunes and songs are presented in a back-and-forth order, resulting in a wonderfully varied show. Sets of tunes in Glasgow are interspersed with songs performed by Julie Fowlis and by Kris Drever. Julie Fowlis beautifully revisits “Bothan Àirigh am Bràigh Raithneach” (from the Braes of Rannoch). Songwriter, Guitarist Kris Drever performs his own “I’ll Always Leave The Light On”. Fiddler John McCusker introduces “The Wishing Tree Set”, which starts with a piece based on a melody written 300 years ago by the blind Irish harpist O’Carolan. The set is dedicated to the stateside musical pals.
The overall feeling of the Glasgow selections is wonderfully melodic, all immaculately played by the band. Played with particular emotion is Phil Cunningham’s tune “So Long Liam” for his friend, the great Irish Uilleann piper Liam O’Flynn. The pipes here are beautifully played by Michael McGoldrick. On both sides of the ocean, it is clear that the players are enjoying playing together again.
In Nashville, lively and accomplished sets are led by Alison Brown, Tim O’Brien and John Doyle, also with a solo performance from songwriter and guitar player Molly Tuttle, singing her own “Take the Journey”. Alison Brown’s banjo playing on “The Mason’s Apron” is particularly mesmerising. Tim O’Brien introduces a Carter Family song called “The Storms are on the Ocean”, well chosen for dedication to musical friends distanced across the ocean this year.
Introducing the final set of the show at the Concert Hall, the festival’s Creative Director and Transatlantic band member Donald Shaw highlights the successful bringing together once again of the old-time American music and Scots and Irish traditional music. This show does that so wonderfully well. This viewer is left with that warm feeling as if they have been in person at another great show of the festival. Here’s to next year in Glasgow!
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