Celtic Connections, the worldly-eclectic celebration of roots music that warms the bitter January chill in Glasgow since 1994, kicked off on Thursday with a showcase of their fine programme until Laura Marling and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra took to the stage. Adding oomph to the launch, artistic director Donald Shaw incorporated the BBCSSO, who under the conduction of Jules Buckley and arrangements of Kate St John, provided a textual cuddle to the fine tracks of Miss Marlings.
Opening a packed first half, Celtic Connections veteran Karine Polwart wowed the audience with her Trump protest song Cover Your Eyes and a showcase of talent at the festival followed on from there. Scottish troubadours Rachel Sermanni and Adam Holmes and Michigan-based bluegrass singers from Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys were included in that list, provided an insightful look at what fans of Celtic Connections are likely to expect this year.
After the quick succession of talent there was an intermission and it was almost like joining a new gig entirely in the second half as we took our seats. Laura Marling’s appearance with her orchestral band created a less contrived vibe: it was with ease that you could relax into your concert hall seat. With five albums of acclaimed song-writing with a well-anticipated sixth, Semper Femina, due for release in March, Laura Marling unassumingly held the stage with her charmingly haunting vocals. Some of her emotionally-charged songs were swelled and propelled by the stunning orchestral arrangements of Kate St John and performing talent of the BBCSSO, but of course.
On a foundation of atmospheric strings, there were many trimming to keep her audience impressed. Marling’s melancholic vocals were shadowed by a muted trumpet on I Was An Eagle; the harp strings evoked the apocalyptic concept of Hope in the Air; Leonard Cohen’s Avalanche was covered, but in a delicate manner that made you feel that this gentleman’s work was handled supremely, stunning those in the crowd. Sonically, this venue swelled and Marling still held her intimacy, displaying to all that she can thrive against these stunning string arrangements, not always a blank canvas. Highlighting that this is a festival that gets enthused by collaboration and cultural juxtaposition, this was an important but stunningly elegant gig to kick it all off.
Celtic Connections 2017 is ongoing until 5th Feb.