The first time I saw Kinnaris Quintet a few years ago, it took one look at their fabulous, glittery outfits to know their music would be right up my street. They proceeded to blow me away. This year’s Celtic Connection gig at The Old Fruitmarket was no different.
Blue string lights hanging from the balconies veiled the iconic Glasgow venue in a mysterious hue, giving just enough of a glow to make out old signs from greengrocers. The air was filled with the bustling sound of people happily chatting away, faces radiating with excitement in anticipation of the concert that was about to start.
At five to eight, the lights were turned all the way down, and five silhouettes walked on the stage. White, flashing spotlights cut through the room, accompanied by a haunting melody. When Gangar, the first support band of the night, started playing, the surprise from the crowd was almost tangible.
The five-piece band from Norway was rocking the stage, playing a mix of folk and metal – a mix I would have never put together but that worked effortlessly. At first, the crowd was hesitant, but the pure joy radiating from the guys on stage was infectious, and by the third song, the crowd was happily copying the slightly bizarre tree dance demonstrated by fiddle player Mattias Truell Thedens and saxophonist Oskar Goendvrind Lindeberget.
Switching between a few slightly more folk-heavy tunes and ones with a big pinch of rock and metal influence mixed in, the guys had something in store for everyone. Gangar closed with ‘Fjellets melodi’ which translates to ‘melody of the mountains’. During a quick toilet break, I overheard someone saying “That was completely unexpected, but brilliant” and I could not have put it better myself.
The metallic twang of a banjo introduced the second act of the night, Ciarán Ryan Band. Their sound was rooted in Irish music and felt like more familiar territory. Soon the first gleeful hooch of the night, basically the Scots version of a cowboy yeehaw, rippled through the room. If you have ever been to a ceilidh, you will most likely know the exact sound. Ciarán Ryan (tenor banjo/mandolin) and Andrew Waite (accordion) formed the heart and soul of the band, building on the foundation of the rhythmic section. With their happy trad vibes, the band managed to blow a bit of the winter blues away. Songs like ‘Feckno’ from their 2024 album ‘Occupational Hazards’ got the crowd good and sweaty until finally the moment had come everyone had been waiting for.
The string lights changed their shade, now shining in pink and blue as the five members of Kinnaris Quintet took to the stage and the spotlights found Aileen Reid (five-string fiddle), who was glowing in a neon pink dress. The band kicked off their set with ‘This Too’ the title track from their most recent album. The exhilarating energy from all five women transferred to the crowd from the first second. For the second song of the night, the band was joined on stage by Scottish vocalist Julie Fowlis, who enchanted the crowd with her mesmerising Gaelic singing, one of the most beautiful and fantastical languages I’ve ever heard.
A personal favourite of the night was ‘June’s Garden/Pockets’ from the band’s debut album, written by Laura-Beth Salter (mandolin/tenor guitar) and her husband. The song started a lot slower than anything that had been played all night, and while usually in trad music guitars are mainly used as an accompanying instrument, Salter and Jenn Butterworth (guitar) took the lead for this song, picking a bittersweet melody on their instruments that went right under the skin. Halfway through the song, the pace started to pick up, at first barely noticeable. The crowd got louder and louder, anticipating the beat drop, no genre can do beat drops quite like trad music, and Kinnaris Quintet did not disappoint. The band was joined once again by Julie Fowlis and welcomed another iconic Scottish singer and songwriter on stage, Karine Polwart. The song changed once more transforming into notes of Emily Sandé’s ‘Read All About It, Pt. III’. When Karine Polwart started singing, at first there were only a few people joining in, but when the chorus started, a choir of voices filled the former market hall.
The Glasgow-based quintet gave the audience their all for over an hour and when the last notes had been played, thunderous applause echoed throughout the venue. The women received the praise arm in arm and beamed at each and that right there was the best part of the night. Not the beer, or the iconic venue, or the music (and all three of those were pretty damn fantastic), but the pure joy that radiated from all seven women as they stood proudly on stage celebrating each other.