Archives for posts with tag: #celticconnections

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STORM, a 10 meter high sea goddess arose from the River Clyde last Saturday morning 18 January 2020 in the calmer wake of her big brother Brendan who had battered these shore a few days previously.  Made entirely of recycled and natural materials, STORM is said to be the largest puppet in the UK. With her movements guided  by a hard-working, rope-hauling crew of fisherfolk in sou’westers and kilts, STORM stood up, raised her head and looked around at the hundreds of mortal folk below her.

This woman giant, the culmination of two years’ work by creators Vision Mechanics, immediately captured the hearts of all gathered by the Clyde to welcome her.

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Slowly moving her giant feet and legs, her strolling rhythm soon settled; stately, her head turning this way and that, eyes blinking, she gazed around her, up and down, then, chin raised she proudly processed through the city. In busy Argyll Street, shoppers stopped aghast and children froze mid-bite at their Big Macs.  Even some folk with ears blocked by headphones, sensed something and looked up.

While countless mobile phones recorded her every step, in time they were put away as people just gazed in wonder as STORM paraded trailing her own boom-box soundtrack specially composed by Mairi Campbell and Dave Grey.

There were some moving moments when Storm dropped on one knee to honour the singing of the young women of the Dileab Choir from the Western Isles and for the Campbeltown Pipe Group.

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The expertise of the puppeteers made us forget the humans in control as we were held in thrall by that same timeless magic of rhymers, guisers and Galoshan who have been entrancing and frightening folk by turns since technologically simpler times.   Their skill, and the symbolism of an other-worldly giant in our midst proved that we can all still believe in a bit of magic. STORM’s character began to shine through even as we saw her being worked from the back.  STORM led her entourage uptown to the steps of Glasgow Royal Concert Hall just in time to herald the opening of the first weekend of Celtic Connections.  Saturday 18 January saw a whole day devoted to our shores:  Coast and Waters 2020 – a mini festival within a festival celebrated Scotland’s links with the sea and the unique musical and cultural heritage it has gifted us.

STORM reminded us of how much we owe the sea, that it gives and takes away, how much our lives depend on it and our responsibility to protect it.  How timely then that last Saturday, we witnessed STORM finally come home tae the Clyde – Glasgow’s once mighty waterway to the world.

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Storm’s debut appearance kicked off the first week of Celtic Connections which runs throughout venues in Glasgow until February 2.  The city’s halls and clubs are playing host to events featuring around 2,000 musicians who have travelled from around the world to perform.

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Celtic Connections columnist Anni Donaldson reviews one show looking at the life and music of Margaret Barry

This article first appeared in Common Space https://www.commonspace.scot/articles/10265/anni-donaldson-century-apart-art-margaret-barry-and-karine-polwart

THE gulf separating the lived experience of singers Margaret Barry and Karine Polwart could hardly be wider. 

Margaret, born into a family of street musicians in Cork in 1917, and Karine, a 40-something from Edinburgh, show the distance women have travelled in the world of traditional music and song.

‘She Moved Through the Fair’ by Colin Irwin and Mary McPartlan, which played at the Tron Theatre as part of Celtic Connections, gave us a funny, poignant and honestly tuneful evocation of Barry’s colourful life.

Karine Polwart

Finding herself homeless at 16, she took her chances on the road with just her bicycle and her ‘banji’, as she called it. Living rough at times and singing for bed and board, she traipsed around Ireland’s cities and country fairs singing on street corners, in pubs or wherever she could earn her keep.

Although she learned the hard way how to command an audience and compete with the clatter of street and stall, her powerfully sweet and melodic tones gave voice to Ireland’s eternal longing for itself in ballads of migration, of loves lost and found, of failed rebellion and roving in the years after the failed Easter Rising.

The self-styled ‘Queen of the Gypsies’ was strong in the face of the Irish Catholic Church’s view of independently-minded single mothers like herself, of a male-dominated culture and general prejudice against travellers – she held her own and had the last laugh.

Read more – Anni Donaldson: James Kelman on the Dirt Road to Lafayette

Bumping into tradition-hunters Robin Roberts and Alan Lomax in 1951, Barry’s gifts were recognised and she went on to become the centre of the growing Irish community in London, taking up residence at sessions in the famous Bedford Arms with her new musical partner, fiddler Michael Gorman.

Caring little at all for her appearance, lack of front teeth and more for stout, Margaret went on to a colourful career touring the US. Mary McPartlan (main picture) lovingly rendered Margaret’s signature songs like the Galway Shawl, The Factory Girl, My Laggan Love, the Wild Colonial Boy and others including the exquisite title song.

Larne-born actor Ruby Campbell’s fine portrayal of Margaret through her life gave a real sense of this huge character and the size of the toss she never gave for convention or sobriety.

Polwart’s play, Wind Resistance, by contrast, expressed more 20th century concerns for land, nature, community, birth and motherhood. Centred on her beloved Falla Moss, Polwart’s multi-dimensional performance combined songs and stories old and new, chat, audio interviews and wondrous back projections of geese in flight.

Read more – Anni Donaldson: Is it time Scotland paid a new piper?

Polwart drew the connections and cooperation between bird, land, people, history and agriculture, weaving her tale around the love story of Roberta and Will who settled in Falla Moor in 1919. This deeply moving musical essay shared one highly creative woman’s art through reminiscence, via football, medieval medicine, peat bogs, moss and birth.

That Polwart had the funding and freedom to do what Barry could only do by force of will shows how far we have come in recognising the art women can make given half a chance.

We must thank Celtic Connections for reminding us of those uproarious foremothers like Margaret Barry who carved those first paths through the peat bog of centuries of tradition and silt and ended up on the boards of the Tron Theatre.

Pictures courtesy of Celtic Connections

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