As a Scot in London is a Scot and in London, January is the perfect month for some self-indulgent, misty eyed nostalgia of the kind practised by those members of the Caledonian Club who dream about Scotch pies being available at Selfridges a la Stanley Baxter.
A Scot in London is not a member of the above illustrious establishment so I had the choice between a few tartan ceilidh, some extremely overpriced Burns suppers or a concert called Burns Eclectica. The latter is part of a series at the Barbican called Eclectica and seems to have the remit of ‘whatever we haven’t really thought of putting together before’ ranging from Jazz to opera singers singing blues songs.
Last week the organisers had asked Ayrshire composer James McMillan to curate an event. He invited Shetlander Chris Smout and Dundonian Catriona Mckay (although for some reason he insisted on calling her Catrona) to play on the fiddle and harp respectively and then afterwards he had Salsa Celtica.
I had seen Salsa Celtica before at the Fruitmarket in Glasgow and at the time I was stunned. The combination of pipes, banjos, timbales, fiddle playing and son left me thrilled and delighted, although I took it as a sign of my increasing age that it was the first time I had been to a concert where the only drugs anyone was on were actually prescribed by a doctor.
I have a general aversion to folk music, my first phrases in schoolgirl French were J’aime la music pop et la musique classique mais j n’aime pas la musique folklorique. I have images of bearded men in Arran jumpers singing about the massacre of Glencoe or red haired ladies with kilts down to their ankles strumming on harps in some 1970s time warp.
I was fully prepared for the above experience from Chris and Catriona as the last time I had seen Salsa Celtica I had endured their support band stoically as some boy band from Uist with a median age of 70 whistled and wailed their way through one of the longest hours in living memory. I was extremely pleasantly surprised. Catriona arrived in a short dress knee high boots and a sequin jacket – no tartan to be seen, and proceeded to get sounds out of a harp that I didn’t know were possible. It was at various times a guitar, a banjo, a drum and seemed to be on many occasion at least two instruments. Chris, dressed all in black, played the fiddle without recourse to the stereotypical droning so beloved of 70s folkies. They both looked as if they were doing their favourite thing in the whole world and that their only hope was to infect the audience with some of their genuine pleasure. From the sounds of the applause and the nodding of heads they succeeded. I now have full faith in the demise of the Arran jumper and the floor length kilt.
Salsa Celtica were as enjoyable as I expected, but I don’t think they will be saying the same about us. The venue had no bar during the show or at the interval, the floor just below the stage was covered with tables and chairs. The Venezuelan lead singer explained that they were used to no chairs and people dancing and drinking. Having an occasionally rather shell shocked audience who appeared to have been expecting Jean Redpath and My Love is like a Red Red Rose applaud very loudly and happily but not move any which way was a real disappointment to them.
The evening started with the Edinburgh conga player telling us the songs they were about to play were from Burn’s little known tour of South America (well he was planning to go and work as an overseer in Jamaica before his poetry was published). To the complete incomprehension of a large section of the audience he went on to say that it didn’t matter as we would have a good time and as Burns was mostly steaming anyway, he would have approved of the event.Salsa Celtica were playing a sold out gig at the Fruitmarket on Saturday 24th with a well stocked bar and no seats. I am sure Burns would have approved far more.
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