Celtic Connections is widely known as a festival renowned for its collaborative spirit celebrating cultural exploration, and in that vein this was a gig that did not disappoint.
The evening began with sweet, melancholic Scottish ballads from Aberdeenshire folksinger Iona Fyfe, who, although wryly remarking at one stage that you’d think that she would run out of sad, long wistful songs to play, sang beautifully and soulfully throughout. While it’s true that we may never run out of ballads, we do not always hear them as beautifully performed. This was followed by Noah and his backing band who channelled the sun-drenched Americana of old with tales of heartbreak, pain and the lost romanticism of youth that brought to mind Ryan Adams’ early material. Next up was Scottish singer songwriter Mark McGowan, all swagger and flat cap, whose voice was like a young Fionn Regan mixed with Tallest Man on Earth and who played the guitar with a kind of wilful defiance that produced a captivating set full of humour and energy.
As the Spanish singer songwriter Joana Serrat took the stage with only her guitar for company giving a sweet, friendly introduction, the audience fell quiet, ready to be drawn in by her voice and her calm, often hypnotic presence. A beautiful, moving and captivating set followed, with songs that mixed the wistfulness of the earlier Scottish ballads with the hard won optimism of Noah’s Americana.
Serrat’s ethereal voice filled the room and occupied a space between a Mazzy Star like breathiness and an earthy, deep lustiness that evoked Beach House’s Victoria Legrand. One of my personal favourites of the night was Cloudy Heart, a song that, at first melancholic, develops into something more redemptive and joyful. This was a musician confident and at ease with her sound, so much so she could tease and tug at each track, transforming them into something very different to those she has recorded elsewhere.
Stripped of her band that gives her albums a full and rich sound, the songs took on another life morphing into haunting odes of longing which were heightened by a solitary strum of the guitar and the echo of a voice which often hung in the air, adding an emotional depth to the performance and bringing warmth and intimacy to a particularly dreary, damp January evening in Glasgow.