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Beerjacket & the Cairn String Quartet / Keeley Forsyth

Celtic Connections @ Glasgow CCA (Friday 31st January 2020)

By • Feb 4th, 2020 • Category: Gig review

It has been ages since I last saw Beerjacket. At one time Peter Kelly seemed to be everywhere and was racking up a lot of good support slots with impressive names.

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Then he just seemed to fall off my radar for a couple of years…or maybe our paths just diverged?

My memory is that he was always an interesting performer and quite innovative. It was never a case of just another singer songwriter guy strumming a guitar and singing songs about getting dumped.

There was always something more than that.

So checking in after a while it’s great to discover that this Celtic Connections festival headline gig of his is sold out.

I’ll get to that in a moment but first let me tell you about the support band. I discovered about 30 seconds before they took to the stage that the support for this gig was Keeley Forsyth.

The band took their places on the stage in almost pitch darkness. Three musicians, cello and guitar on one side, keyboards/organ/harmonium on the other. In the middle dressed all in black, Keeley lay down on the ground.

Then they began.

As they played slowly she rose from her position, slightly. Her lyrics… quite poetic in some places, in others like repeating a mantra. Sometimes quiet, sometimes almost screaming.

Musically it was like drone music in places, but acoustic drone music. Playing throbbing repetitive rhythms. Her vocals telling a story. Sometimes the opposite would happen and the vocals would repeat but the music would flow.

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It was all a bit surreal and very dark. At no point was this ever just a band on stage with a singer at the front. It was much more like theatre or performance art. It was a total sucker punch.

Very weird. But weird is good, right? All the other gigs have had Indie headliners/indie supports, singer-songwriter headliners/Songwriter supports, country headliners/Americana support. You get the idea?

But this was different. I’m not sure if I enjoyed it. I’m not sure if the audience enjoyed it, they seemed a bit taken aback. Think I need some time to process it all.

But it made a statement and it was all about the performance. And I kind of love them for that. I know that they are about to support Julian Cope on his forthcoming tour and I’m intrigued to see what they do next.

If they provided the darkness here then Beerjacket on the other hand brought us the sunshine.

Aided by the Cairn String Quartet on one side and Julia Doogan on backing vocals on the other side everything just sounded so lush.

The backing vocals bring something extra to these songs but the string quartet makes a huge difference. It takes them into another dimension and gives a polish and sheen that wasn’t there before.

And that’s not to say that playing solo there’s anything lacking. It adds something new but without diluting or being overpowering. It’s good that he played some songs solo on guitar or ukulele, some new ones as well. It brought good contrast to the show and gave the same kind of variety of sound that I always associated with Beerjacket ever since I first encountered him circa 2006.

I really hope this was recorded as I’d love to hear this again.

Beerjacket & the Cairn String Quartet / Keeley Forsyth

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