Celtic Connections

Karine Polwart & Kris Drever with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra

King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

SONGWRITERS who present their efforts in bold, adventurous contexts, Karine Polwart and Kris Drever are also social historians who are adept at putting their own lives in the context of much wider human experience.

All of which made the presentation of their work on a theatre stage with over 60 musicians – their own trios plus the SCO under conductor James Lowe – a feast of musical storytelling.

The range of those tales was vast. On Holocaust Memorial Day, Polwart’s remembrance of the Kindertransports that rescued young Europeans for a life in the UK – a song co-written with Drever’s colleague in the band Lau, Martin Green – was the most appropriate way for the full emotional power of the musical machine onstage to be unleashed. Later she fed her teenage anxiety over the UK Government’s risible Protect and Survive anti-nuclear civil defence plan into a sequence of songs oddly linked not by musical connections but by the spectacle of Grangemouth petro-chemical plant.

In the hands of CND, that slogan quickly became Protest and Survive and found expression in Glasgow’s George Square, the site of the workers’ revolt 100 years ago that was also being remembered at the weekend – and in Polwart and Drever’s encore celebration of the Red Clydesiders at the King’s.

Another centenary this year is that of the scuttling of the German Fleet at Scapa Flow, an event Drever has commemorated in song, and which had the full orchestral treatment here. His own song of migration, Ghosts, was another standout with the strings, winds and brass, as was Polwart’s Salter’s Road, in some ways the starting point for her award-winning Wind Resistance show.

Importantly both Pippa Murphy and Kate St John, who made the arrangements for the evening, were brought onstage to share the bows. We are blessed with such a fine body of professional musicians working in Scotland, and orchestral concerts has been a major feature of this year’s Celtic Connections programme, with high quality results – and it would be good to imagine that a good proportion of these scores go on to have further performances elsewhere.