A big show this, a step up after the headliners’ last Glasgow gig at St Lukes last year (BM missed this as it sold out pretty quickly). Under the Celtic Connections banner tonight’s show was in fact booked sometime before the CC programme was announced.
First up was Dublin’s Rachel Lavelle, who played keyboards with some electronic backing, and sang. The usually boisterous Barras crowd listened rapt, at least for the first couple of numbers, before there were a couple of more upbeat tracks and the tension eased into a bit more chatter. Quite a bit of the set was from last year’s ‘Big Dreams’ album, a mixture of “found” sound effects, Laurie Anderson-esque oral manipulation, a quite incredible singing voice and some introspective, ethereal songs. There were some beat-driven numbers and towards the end there was a blast of some full-on trance, but only for a wee minute or so… There’s a lot of experimental reaching out here, often darkly atmospheric, and a lot of potential…ironically one of the highlights was ‘Let Me Unlock Your Full Potential’, which sounded like a Kate Bush ‘Hounds of Love’ outtake, in a good way mind…
By the time the headliners came on the place was rammed. Lankum picked up accolades last year for their ‘False Lankum’ album from everyone from The Guardian to The Quietus to Uncut (of course BM doesn’t read any of that sh**)… but interestingly only play a couple of original tracks from that release. Playing as a quintet, adding a drummer (who doesn’t have much to do at times tonight) to the core four-piece, who sit at chairs with their various instruments changing around a bit between tracks. A low-key starting version of ‘The Wild Rover’ gets things started, and again The Barras collectively shuts its mouth and listens – amazing! And this burns slowly, nothing like the Dubliners/Pogues versions, adding droning traditional instrumentation, a mournful female vocal and a funereal tempo. Over the next hour or so they show their mettle in dark, almost Gothic originals full of death, pestilence, thwarted love and all the elements for a night of existential dread – why did BM come, then? Because it’s beautiful, cathartic, the playing and harmony singing are incredible and it also refashions this music for a new generation – and BM isn’t even Irish! Ok, so national traditions are a serious business for some people and this reviewer is not really trying to make any massive cultural points but… anyway. In between there is a lot of banter and some sibling ribbing between the two brothers in the band.
There are several other traditional covers, references to Sinead O’Connor, Palestine gets a huge roar and the first set ends with another from the recent album, ‘Go Dig My Grave’ – cheery! The drums are deployed at full pelt a couple of times, indicating that this combo can play loud and fast if the occasion requires but that a lot of the material is better suited to more acoustic arrangements. They return for four further tracks including a bleak version of The Pogues’ ‘Old Main Drag’, a truly harrowing song and again an indication that this lot are challenging the “Plastic Paddy” cliche of the cartoon “Oirish” in favour of something darker, more atmospheric and authentic.