I arrive at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery for my last review of Celtic Connections 2014 to be directed to the back entrance to see Scottish folk artist Rachel Sermanni and support perform in an unusual setting. Eventually we are directed to come upstairs from the cafeteria into the Centre Hall were a stage has been set up and seating arranged. In the vastness of our surroundings the show is otherwise an intimate event which suits this evenings entertainment.
A young man soon emerges and introduces himself as Colin before looking at his surroundings and adding “How nuts is this? This might be the first gig where I learn something”, before beginning his set with a track called Old Wars which he based on when he found a gun in his parents house from World War I and caused him to wonder if it had ever been used to kill someone, “I think I would have heard of it, as I’m from a small village in the Isle of Lewis. Not many Nazis there”. The crowd enjoy his stories and the songs as he tells another tell for the next song Saints, “The next song is based on a friends 45 minute rant about his life reduced to 3 minutes. My reply was I’m a musician that lives in a van.” The song is amazing and my favourite of the set, the crowd also goes wild. Colin’s rapport with the audience is fantastic as he ponders how naughty this show is, “Its like shouting in a library” as he begins to play his next song of the set Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark. The cover is more subtle and Colin makes the song his own with the audience hanging on his every word an amazing cover. He engages his 500 strong audience once more , “I used to call myself The Boy Who Trapped the Sun and this is a song from an album I had out called Home.” The song is moodier and feels more country in tone than his previous songs tonight and is met with rousing applause. Tuning his guitar for the next song of the evening Colin muses how great it would be to have a guitar tech, “but then you wouldn’t get all my spirited banter” which the crowd and myself have enjoyed immensely. The guitar tuned he plays new single California from his new EP The Anchor a song about wanting to be anywhere else except Lewis “where it rains constantly”. For his last effort of the evening he brings out tonight’s main act Rachel Sermanni to sing with him on another track from the new EP called Easy Way Out. The two compliment each other well and the audience enjoys every second of it. Colin MacLeod distinguishes himself tonight as not only a great musician and songwriter but also as an expert raconteur, having the sold out event almost transfixed during his set.
After a brief spell the lights go down and Rachel Sermanni comes on in an oversized hat and says dead pan into the microphone, “I’m not going to say Jennifer made me wear the hat”. Wrestling with her guitar and being joined by Jen Austin also in a bizarre hat, she finally begins this evenings set with songs such as Two Birds from her new EP Everything Changes and Breathe Easy from her debut album Under Mountains. The former sounds almost like a dirge accented brilliantly by Jen’s piano on the chorus to go straight the latter. Rachel’s music is showcased perfectly in tonight’s surroundings, every note can be heard and echoes throughout the great hall. The crowd cheer as Rachel brings Colin MacLeod back on stage explaining, “We toured with Colin throughout the UK for a few weeks and realised we needed more electric guitar”, Colin quips “So you got a folky!”. The piano sounds and the band play Bones which again comes across angry and eerie with red lighting and is augmented by the looming Organ above the stage. The audience are enthralled again the settings their in playing their part. Rachel remarks after “Well, that was fun, Its funny how when you play an angry song you notice more colours, like I now see more reds. I wonder what my next colour will be?”. Colin is now seated at a lap steel guitar as the trio play To Wait To Wit To Woo followed quickly by Sleep. The band vacate the stage as Rachel gets ready to perform solo for only the second time tonight on another new track from her EP which we are informed was recorded in New York called Lay Oh followed by what we are told “The most evil of the songs”, Blackhole for which Colin and Jen return for and help create the wonderfully sinister sound for the track. The song ends and Rachel waves to the ceiling as the song is sent to “song heaven”. Rachel pauses and in a reflective mood reminds us of the space we are occupying and how young we are compared to the various fossils, art work and other trinkets that occupy the Kelvingrove Art Gallery. The mood is now set for the very reflective Marshmallow Unicorn followed by a powerfully dramatic rendition of Waltz which the crowd shows their appreciation for. The end is nigh as Rachel thanks her audience and her band “Jen Austin on piano and Colin MacLeod on everything else”, before playing the last song of the set, the title track of her new EP Everything Changes.
Before long Rachel returns to the stage at the demand of her audience with her cohorts and thanks the crowd again saying what a great start to the tour before adding, “I’m going to play a song For A Fox and then a drinking song”. Both go down a storm the drinking song being an Adam Holmes cover sets everyone up for an upbeat Friday night. An excellent and unique end to my stint at the festival. See them if they come to your neck of the woods.