Celtic Connections

Songs of Separation

Mitchell Theatre, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

five stars

MY Hebridean island travel itinerary has not yet included Eigg, but I imagine it to foster an environment of relaxed creativity, and the creation of the Songs of Separation album (released on Navigator Records this Friday) by a group of ten contemporary female folk artists over just six days last summer, is compelling evidence for that. Bassist Jenny Hill assembled a group from England and Scotland who took the initial referendum-inspired theme and hugely expanded the perspective, both historically and geo-politically. The resulting 12-song collaboration is a fine disc, but it is a comparatively subdued, experience by comparison with the show the women put on live.

With a brace of clarsachs and a quartet of fiddles onstage, and a cracking rhythm section of Jenn Butterworth's metronomic guitar, Hill's jazzy bass and Eliza Carthy adding kick drum to her fiddle and vocals, and flute, box and banjo also to hand, this was an evening of instrumental riches with vocal arrangements that made it truly special. Fine solo, duo and trio singing combinations emerged from the ranks to fill out the concert, but it was the work that they had created as an ensemble that made the pinnacles in an evening of highlights. Those included Gaelic song on either side of the interval, led by Mary Macmaster, Carthy's Cleaning the Stones, a lament from the point of view of a solitary goldfish with a glorious, twisted melody, Kate Young's Sea King, with its vocal score of many hues, and Rowan Rheinigans' Eigg-inspired Soil and Soul. Where Karine Polwart, Carthy, Young and Rheinigans had combined their talents, on Over the Border and Road Less Travelled, we were hearing newly-minted political songwriting of the highest order.