Running late to The One Ensemble’s performance for Celtic Connections (due to snow-struck train delays) I realised taxi would be the only way I’d get to The Glad Cafe on time. As fortune had it, my taxi driver was from Rome, so our talk turned to the evocative peals of the differing strains of Italian folk songs from Sardinia, Calabria, Puglia and Sicily, known to modern ears through Alan Lomax and Diego Carpitella’s 1950s field recording trips. Much of this music is dying out, and few seem keen to continue the oral traditions.
But not Basque singer Nerea Bello, whose performance similarly pulled the audience into the still-throbbing life-force of the past, with songs whose plaintive sincerity shoot like arrows into the heart. Bello’s voice transported listeners from slippy, slidey ice-drenched Glasgow to a mountainside in sunnier climes and simpler times, where life is hard, and people sing not for adulation, but because they are alive, and not to sing would be death. Bello’s emotional range is stunning, from the shy keening of a child to the full-blooded warmth and strength of an empowered woman. Sparse accompaniments of kalimba and stroked tambourine deepened the sense of intimacy within the performance. To finish, Bello was joined on-stage by former bandmate (in cult experimental group Tattie Toes) Shane Connolly, for a bout of rhythmic, rousing percussive playing on long wooden slats with Bello’s ululations and interjections perfectly cued to underline the community spirit throughout. Nerea Bello is wholly magical and must-see.
The One Ensemble are one of those rare bands who never fail to inspire. Saint Seven is a composition “full of sevens”, as band-leader, guitarist, vocalist and occasional-reedist Daniel Padden laughingly states to the audience. The piece is architecturally-structured, and from only four musician (Padden, Connolly, Peter Nicholson and Alex South) playing without effects pedals grows a music so all-encompassing, the richness of it is really quite dazzling to the senses. One of the things most remarkable about The One Ensemble is the dexterity and diversity of each player’s background, who bring everything to the mix from Taiko drumming, puppetteering, bass clarinet, free improvisation, cello swells, indie pop, four-part harmonies and classical sensibilities to create a compelling sound. All hail The One Ensemble!
For more on the Celtic Connections click here.