Celtic Connections

Bothy Culture & Beyond

SSE Hydro, Glasgow

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Keith Bruce

five stars

SAXOPHONIST Paul Towndrow would surely concede that he was a small cog in a big machine here, but he was right on the button with his post-rehearsals promise on social media that the audience would never before have seen nothing anything like this captivating 25th anniversary Celtic Connections show.

Building on the success of 2015’s orchestration of the late Martyn Bennett’s Grit album, an even more lavish edition of the Grit Orchestra, conducted by fiddler Greg Lawson, turned their attention to the ground-breaking musician’s earlier work Bothy Culture, on the 20th anniversary of its release. The music would have been more than enough on its own, but there was a lot more to enjoy as well.

With his individual stylistic panache there is no doubt at all that Bennett would have appreciated the addition of daring aerial choreography and trick cycling to accompany his music. The excuse for the latter, of course, was two-wheeled superstar Danny MacAskill’s use of Blackbird (from Grit) to soundtrack the film of his daredevil traverse of the Black Cuillin Ridge on Skye, a feat here gloriously recreated in a bonkers, and hugely good-humoured, fashion, on a track round the Broomielaw arena, and captured by TV cameras for broadcast on BBC2 on Saturday [February 3].

Crucially, though, all this circus of this did not detract for a second from the music. It took a musician of the diversity of interests of Lawson to put together an ensemble that so successfully combines the top talent of Scotland’s classical, traditional and jazz music worlds. In his introduction, the conductor spoke of the importance of the global reach of Bennett’s musical interests, and it was encapsulated in the Grit orchestra’s basses by Scots-domiciled Russian Nikita Naumov and Brazilian Mario Caribe. There has surely never been a “scratch” orchestra as propulsive as this one, with the interplay between the orchestral string players and the cohort of eight top class fiddlers at its heart.