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The Transatlantic Sessions - It's About the Music

Posted by Sharon Armstrong on Mon, 02/04/2013 - 18:57

So that’s it then, all over for another year. No more Celtic Connections until 2014.

The musicians must be tired by now, but they didn’t seem to be last night as Celtic Connections brought this year’s festival to an elegantly transatlantic ending at the Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall.

The ongoing theme of Celtic Connections is stated in its name; the connections that exist between divergent genres of music. The strength and beauty of these connections was clearly illustrated in the final performance at the RCH with a line-up that included on the American side of the Atlantic the talents of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Crooked Still’s Aoife O’Donovan, Appalachian style fiddler Bruce Molsky, Dirk Powell, the sunny-voiced Eric Bibb, the unimitable Jerry Douglas, and Russ Barenburg; and from this side of the pond, Aly Bain, Phil Cunningham, Danny Thompson, Michael McGoldrick, John Doyle, John McCusker, James Mackintosh, singer Emily Smith and Donald Shaw.

“Not to say that we are divided by a common stage,” joked Shetland fiddler Aly Bain from one side of the theatre as the concert kicked off.

“Isn’t this here where we are supposed to come together?” rejoined Jerry Douglas from the other side of the stage.

This particular stage was definitely an agreeable one, with a leather sectional sofa at the back, complete with lampshade, offering a nice vantage point from which the musicians could travel to and from the front of the stage.

And travel they did - musically if not physically - from the silver chills of Scotland and Ireland, to the humid heat of Louisiana and the mountains of Appalachia, taking in some rock and roll on the way, and amusing themselves on the road in the approved and time-honoured way - enthusiastically ribbing your fellow travelers.

“I’ve tuned this banjo a bit,” said Dirk Powell to the crowd. “And as you can see, I am still trying.”

“Banjo means out of tune,” said Douglas.

“In many languages,” replied Powell.

“We tune because we care,” Douglas went on. “You might go to see some bands who don’t care. We care. And we care that you care.”
He looked over at Powell.

“Are you done tuning yet, or do you want me to talk some more?”

“Oh, just do it,” said Aly Bain, as the crowd laughed. “I don’t care.”

Once the banjo was in tune, the memory of the late great Levon Helm was once again brought to the fore when Powell described him as a well of deep music, which drew a cheer from the crowd.

The nature of sessions is that while they have a certain element of control, there is also a free-wheeling aspect to them. In the Transatlantic Sessions that wheel is a large one, and sometimes it turns in unexpected ways; such as in the direction of Blues singer Eric Bibb, who brought the sly humour of good blues to the mix with his song Champagne Habits (on a beer salary); or Aoife O’Donovan, who along with Bruce Molsky brought the bluegrass mountains to rainy Glasgow ; and even Teddy Thompson and Mary Chapin Carpenter, who respectively added the rasp and beat of Nashville rock, and folk influenced county to the Traditional Celtic virtuosity of Bain, Cunningham, McGoldrick, Doyle, McCusker, Mackintosh and Shaw.

The Transatlantic Sessions could be said to be doing many things - drawing water from a common musical well, or providing a way for music lovers to enjoy the adventure of fording new musical tributaries, or our welcoming back Celtic music from its travels across the sea, changed as we all are by the journey into something that might still be recognizable, but is at the same time wonderful and new.

So perhaps one of the very best things about the Transatlantic Sessions is, and always will be, just as simple the message on the back of T-shirt Teddy Thompson’s wore to the final Transatlantic Session of 2013.

It’s about the music, his T-shirt read.

I totally agree and, with that in mind, I can’t wait to find out what Celtic Connections holds in store for 2014.