Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Monday, February 16, 2009

Playing Catch-up: Celtic Connections Nu-Nordic Night, 23 January 2009

This was a very interesting evening in the GRCH's Strathclyde Suite. The concert opened with a set by a trio of Barry Phillips (Californian cellist playing a 5-string - or 16-string if you count the sympathetic ones - cello made in Calcutta), Sarah-Jane Summers, a fiddler from Scotland, and another Norwegian fiddler called Anne something. They just played as a string trio, with no percussion or vocals, and sounded really interesting. Phillips has recorded a couple of solo CDs, and I believe the trio are planning to make a record. First, though, they will need a name, which they don't yet have.

Then we had a band called Baltic Crossing, a five-piece from Finland, Denmark and Britain. They sounded more conventionally folky than the first group, though with the cross-cultural flavour that characterises Nu-Nordic. I didn't feel inspired to buy their album, but they were good.

After the interval came Ian Carr and Niklas Roswall. I enjoyed them but then I'm a sucker for the nyckelharpa. Again, somewhat conventional compared with what I'd been expecting, but great playing on both instruments.

However, the finale was provided by Fribo, who are an extraordinary band. Led by Ewan Mcpherson and the aforementioned Sarah-Jane Summers, they were everything I'd hoped the evening would be. Supposedly Fribo is a trio, but on this occasion they also had a percussionist and an additional female vocalist (I think from Norway). I have a feeling there was someone else on permanently as well, possibly the other fiddler from the first band. By the end of the set all the earlier performers had come on to join them, hence my confusion. They produced a bewildering variety of sounds, not least when the two singers whipped out overtone flutes and began to play them. And that for me is the essence of what I like in Nu-Nordic: the sense that you never know quite what comes next. Ewan McPherson looked every inch the nerd, the only musician in a suit and tie, but his playing was clearly unaffected and he's one heck of a guitarist. Probably the highlight was a belting version of the Scots ballad Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight (aka May Colven) in which a woman is wooed by a serial killer but outsmarts him and kills him first. I did buy their album, and will look out for future offerings.

A brief mention for Fribo's percussionist, who (I'm guessing by chance rather than design) was the only person in the whole evening not to be introduced by name. As it happens I know her: her name is Signy Jakobsdottir and she ran the Gamelan taster workshop I attended last summer. For Fribo she played part of a drum kit (with hands rather than sticks), some pieces of Gamelan, and a variety of other instruments tuned and untuned. She made a huge contribution to the sound and definitely deserves a credit.

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