Celtic Connections

Roaming Roots Review: Songs for Survival

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

five stars

INTERNATIONAL collaboration may be crucial to the success of Celtic Connections, not least as the first non-Edinburgh event to attract support from the Scottish Government’s Expo Fund, but partnerships forged more locally can be just as valuable and inspiring. The 9th edition of the Roaming Roots Review, hosted as ever by Roddy Hart with his superb band The Lonesome Fire, never strayed that far from home in its recruitment policy, but the mix of guest talent and diverse repertoire made this programme of “Songs for Survival” a vintage year for this troubled one.

The clever selection policy began with Hart’s own opener, a storming version of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Strange Things Happening Every Day, before the band ceded the stage to a revised line up of LAU that saw Kris Drever and Aidan O’Rourke joined by Carrbridge singer-songwriter Rachel Sermanni instead of accordionist and sonic-sculptor Martin Green. If that was a surprise, the trio’s singular interpretation of Neil Young’s Rockin’ in the Free World was a revelation, underpinned by Sermanni’s one-woman-Crazy-Horse acoustic rhythm guitar.

From around 20 miles further in the other direction came David and Peter Brewis of Sunderland’s Field Music, with an acoustic-ish duo take on Do Me A Favour before they joined the house band for the Valentine Brothers’ Money’s Too Tight To Mention – vintage US President-baiting that also cast a jaundiced eye across the pond.

Thereafter a Brewis brother and the ubiquitous O’Rourke were often to be seen and heard adding their own skills to The Lonesome Fire’s expertise to give the musical recipe all the required ingredients for the sequence of singing front-persons. Ricky Ross of Deacon Blue demonstrated his fine taste with Ron Sexsmith’s Gold In Them Hills, while Everybody’s Gotta Live, from the catalogue of Arthur Lee’s Love, was the choice of Beldina Odenyo Onassis, a.k.a. Heir of the Cursed.

The set’s climax, however, came when Hart and his band were joined by Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil for bold, but brilliantly realised covers of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill and Talking Heads’ This Must Be The Place, with Field Music returning for Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure. Many will rave about the latter and about Sermanni fronting the big band for Elbow favourite One Day Like This.

Beyond question this is a concert worth £10 of anyone’s money right now, but when its content escapes from behind the paywall, my guess is that it will be the Neil Young and Kate Bush covers that “go viral”, as they say.

Available to watch via the Celtic Connections website.