It’s a celebration of Celtic music of course, but opener Annie Booth isn’t in a party mood.
“It’s one cheery song after another,” she apologises, before launching into ‘Post Goodbyes’, perhaps the most downbeat of the tunes on her album ‘An Unforgiving Light’.
However, Booth’s sparkling tunes offset the misery, her pure vocal ringing out while ‘Never Go To Church’ shows a grittiness of voice as well as songwriting.
Roxanne de Bastion may also have good reason to be glum. The Berlin-born singer, now based in London, is, we suspect, not a Brexiter. “That line gets sadder every day,” she smiles sadly, following a remark about England’s place in Europe, as we’re then wished a “happy Holocaust Day”.
However, a selection of sprightly tunes on both piano and guitar and engaging between-song banter soon win round the growing crowd, who are even encouraged into a singalong on her closing ‘Red And White Blood Cells’.
There’s something a bit unusual about the headliners’ stage setup. Not the harp – no, like her piano that’s standard for Gillian Fleetwood. No, in front of Martin Henry’s guitar, a drum kit. Which, as it turns out, is to be played by the De Rosa frontman, rather than his multi-talented sidekick.
The two begin with their regular string instruments for something of a Celtic-themed post-rock workout before launching into a new tune, ‘Powers of 10’, from a forthcoming second EP. The duo’s back catalogue is a limited one, restricted to the ‘On The Forest Floor’ debut, but fortunately with the Celtic Connections theme, the enthusiastic crowd are perfectly happy with a setlist which dips into the De Rosa back catalogue as well as several traditional tunes (Fleetwood has been on the Burns supper circuit it seems) so as well as ‘The Slave’s Lament’ we get a cover of a tune penned by our other national bard, Michael Marra, in the shape of ‘The Lonesome Death of Francis Clark’.
However, what is noticeable about tonight’s set is the amount of cheery banter and audience interaction. Your regular De Rosa show sees the band – well, Henry – do no more than politely acknowledge the audience. Tonight, the pair bounce off each other like a comedy double act, the singer surprising everyone with the revelation that ‘Forestry’ is about, as far as we can tell, being in Wales, naked apart from a pair of wellies.
I said “vocalist”, but tonight’s show is a real showcase for Fleetwood’s voice, both in the perfect harmonies the duo deliver, and in the tunes where she takes the lead. Oh, and where Henry provides understated percussion as the ideal foil to his singing partner.
There’s another cover to finish, a lovely take on Low’s ‘Last Snowstorm Of The Year’, but this audience aren’t letting the duo go quietly.
Fortunately, despite their having run out of tunes, there’s always an old De Rosa song in the locker, and we get ‘The Engineer’, a pre-Fleetwood tune which gets a new arrangement with piano and backing vocals beautifully augmenting a song which stands alongside anything by the aforementioned Burns or Marra.
And everyone goes home happy.