Celtic Connections is renowned for showcasing intriguing and exciting musical collaborations, and the pairing of Hannah Read and Andy Monaghan certainly falls into that category. Hannah Read is an Edinburgh-born and Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter and fiddler, whose 2018 album, Way Out I’ll Wander, received critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. Andy Monaghan played guitar and keys in Frightened Rabbit and is now a much sought-after collaborator, producer and recording engineer. Introduced by a mutual music friend in New York towards the end of 2018, the pair immediately hit it off and agreed to meet up again in the early Spring of 2019 in Monaghan’s Glasgow studio to work on some new material. The result was a collection of co-written songs, which were premiered on 24th January at the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA), for this year’s Celtic Connections.

Support was provided in the form of a short set by local singer-songwriter, Cara Rose, who impressed with her heartfelt songs and soulful delivery.

Hannah Read and Andy Monaghan were accompanied on the night by Emer Tumilty on keys and Peter Kelly on drums. We were informed that the new songs would be played straight through, with minimal breaks and chat between songs, and this added to the intensity of the performance. The opening song, Two Decades, set the tone, with Hannah Read’s commanding vocals underpinned by driving rhythms and thrilling interplay between the twin guitars of Read and Monaghan. The new songs retain Hannah Read’s elegant songcraft and take them off in bold new directions, sometimes featuring crunching guitar riffs and other times shimmering, cinematic soundscapes.

The contrasting stage personas of Hannah Read and Andy Monaghan was notable, with Read as the central driving force and Monaghan providing a suitably stoic counterpoint. The pair clearly relished feeding off each other’s creative energies, combining to produce a succession of towering guitar riffs. Monaghan was the main guitar-slinger, in terms of guitar licks and solos, although Read showed, on a couple of occasions, that she is no slouch in that department either.

Some of the songs were tight and crisp, while others stretched out impressively, accentuating the sense of open space often evident in Hannah Read’s lyrics and allowing the tempo to rise and fall, as required.

Hannah Read’s wonderful fiddle was used sparingly, but to very good effect, adding poignancy with beautifully-constructed solos, combining with Tumilty’s synths and Monaghan’s echoey guitar to produce ambient soundscapes and, towards the end of the set, providing an achingly-beautiful transition between the songs Breezy and Light.

The closing song, Arthur, was a reminder of the potency of these new songs, with Read’s graceful yet powerful vocals soaring over more glorious intertwined guitar riffs. The audience were desperate for more, but this new material is finite for now and it was not to be…

The musical pairing of Hannah Read and Andy Monaghan certainly lived up to expectations. Their new sound is a revelation and the forthcoming album of this music will be one to savour.

Individual photos courtesy of Mike Ozmond