Sometimes it’s good to test the cohesion of unknowns and expectations. I’d never been to The Blue Arrow Jazz Club or seen Peter Broderick in any of his genre hopping incarnations either solo or with Efterklang before I went to see him sing Arthur Russell at Celtic Connections. I’ve obviously only ever seen Arthur Russell the late, equally multi-skilled cellist, experimental composer and generally accomplished musician, producer and singer in a documentary, so it was an evening of open- minded approach to the new. Before, and indeed at the sold- out gig, people said to me that they consider Broderick to be the real unsung hero of the Erased Tapes label, emphasising his skilled multi-instrumentalism and willingness to embrace the new. There was certainly a buzz about the small club where the bulk of the audience also came early to hear Gerard Black from Glasgow band Babe perform a solo set that clearly demonstrated his great vocal range and draw of melody, all tracks being well received by an upbeat and engaged crowd.
Broderick took to the stage to perform the first section solo, taking us through seven of Russell’s songs, explaining how he came to know and record his work, getting to access the estate, to know Russell’s partner Tom Lee, and involve his family in the recordings. It can be hard to manage the sound of a small space that has a bar area so relatively close to the stage but the combination of Broderick’s skills, those of the sound desk and a refreshingly attentive and engaged crowd meant that it all came together perfectly . When he comes to sing Words of Love, one of the songs from the archive that he had access to, there is something genuinely touching about his humble appreciation and sense of privilege of the fact that Tom Lee first heard the song sung by himself and not Arthur. He found Arthur through being told he sounded like him, and you can definitely hear why tonight. Broderick has a really convivial stage presence and you can sense his relish in getting to delve deep into Russell’s archives whilst adding his own warm flourishes and slight changes. He infuses the solo set with the yearnings of imagined and some serious skill and presence.
After a short break he’s joined on stage incrementally by a range of Glasgow musicians that he met for the first time the day before. This for me was where the gig really came into its own. He’s joined by Kim Moore (Wolf) on gorgeous vocals, Casio and viola, Joe Rattray (Admiral Fallow) on bass, Liam Chapman on drums and finally Andrew Cowan from Yous on guitar, leading us through some gloriously beaming renditions, later bringing in Connor Smith on pedal steel for That’s Us/ Wild Combination and James Steele on saxophone for Go Bang during which Broderick birls note perfect in the audience. The interplay of camaraderie and genuinely tight music on display is a joy to both watch and hear, as is the moment earlier where Broderick announces ‘f**k the purists’, nicely assuaging my fears that this could be a muso hipster gig. In an act of audience participation so perfect I did wonder if it was staged, we have an American named Matt playing Allen Ginsberg during Ballad of the Lights with a confident veracity that pushes into playful.
After being at the gig I read a very scathing in stock descriptor by a record shop saying something along the lines of Broderick’s career is over so he’s churning out a tribute act. On the basis of tonight’s performance, I would have to disagree as if the point of a tribute/covers album is to make you curious about the back catalogue of both artists then Broderick achieved for each. If the point of live music is to have you feeling good old-fashioned joy to be part of something, then he also won that one too.
For more on the Celtic Connections 2019 click here.