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Issue 71 - Glusstonberry to Celtic Connections

Scotland Magazine Issue 71
October 2013


This article is 5 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Glusstonberry to Celtic Connections

?Tom Morton finds Scotland is alive with music

Glastonbury? Didn’t quite make it this year. Apparently some rather elderly gentlemen played a headline set that impressed many of the young people present. The Creaking Bones, I think they were called.

I was at a far superior event, much further north, with a - and this is doubtless coincidental - similar name. Glusstonberry, it was called, after its location (Gluss, not far from Ollaberry, in the North Mainland of the Shetland Isles. You can catch some highlights if you go online and search for the festival, and then explore the various wonders that the onsite TV crew captured.

Every act, every band, indeed everything including the food, was local. Nothing was imported save one large marquee and the excellent singer songwriter Chiara Berardelli, who is not from Italy, as her name may suggest, but from Glasgow. There were 25 live musical acts, from heavy rock - who could resist the epic Stallions Of The Highway, from the fishing island of Whalsay - to jazz, folk and of course fiddle music. Closing the festival on Sunday - 1500 people attended, by the way - was Fullsceilidh Spellemannslag, which, being roughly translated, means ‘Get ready to have such a good time that you won’t be able to speak, let alone pronounce this name’. There are no less than 11 of them, including (count ‘em) seven fiddlers, among them Maurice Henderson from the legendary Fiddler’s Bid, who are worldwide heroes of the folk festival scene. Fullsceilidh themselves are well traveled within Europe, and have an excellent new album out called 500 Sessions.

The weather was kind - still and warm, a miracle even in summer Shetland - the location magical, in a secret valley even many Shetlanders had never travelled to. And what can I tell you about the food and drink? How about five grilled king scallops, massive, for £3.50? The beer from Britain’s most northerly brewery, which is called Valhalla? The reestit mutton? The fish soup...

But it was the music that truly stunned me, the range, the depth, the sheer effervescent quality. And I live there. Shetland is steeped in musical tradition, much of centred on the fiddle, but there was Steven Robertson’s parody pop, Jorum’s deft bluegrass folk, Chloe Robertson’s spiky, sunny songs, First Foot Soldiers energetic rock, Dig Deep’s sonorous indie. Where had it all come from? Education, certainly. Shetland has in the past made sure that some of the money gained from its involvement with the oil and gas industry has gone into instrumental tuition in schools, though this is now being cut back. But there is also a simple love of music, of playing together, of playing for other people, and an appreciation of music, whatever the style. As long as it’s good. It’s an island thing.

If you come north to Shetland for music, you could start with one of the festivals - Glusstonberry won’t be happening again until 2015, but annually there are individual folk, blues, accordion and fiddle, jazz and heavy metal festivals. The folk festival has an international reputation and has attracted artists such as Elvis Costello, steel guitarist Al Perkins and of course the isles’ own Aly Bain.

But it’s a long way to Shetland, even from the central belt of Scotland, and perhaps you fancy a wee winter break in a big city. In that case, you should be looking at Celtic Connections in Glasgow, every January, which in 2014 will for the first time use the brand new and massive (12000 seated capacity) SSE Hydro venue, by the River Clyde. Two huge Hydro concerts during Celtic Connections will be the much-anticipated reunion of 80s stars Del Amitri, supported by another 80s Glasgow band, The Big Dish, and, on Robert Burns’ birthday, 25 January, a special International Burns Concert featuring star names from Scotland and beyond. But Celtic Connections, despite these, the largest concerts in the festival’s history, is about much more intimate events as well. The Festival Club sees musicians from all over the world collaborating in spontaneous outbursts of seen-only-once creativity. More than 300 gigs span the city and take in many musical styles, unified by their Celtic roots...and by performance in this most Celtic of Scottish cities. And I’m not talking about the football team.

My programme on BBC Radio Scotland prides itself on being rooted in Scotland, on discovering new talent, and celebrating the sometimes forgotten brilliance of artists from the past. Sometimes the strength in depth of Scottish music, in all its manifestations, astonishes me. Hearing the glossy, heavily accented pop funk of Jesse Rae (the man in the kilt and war helmet who shot a video atop of the Brooklyn Bridge, and appeared to throw a broadsword from there to Urquhart Castle - the proof can be seen if you look the event up on the internet, you realise that this Borders farmer wrote Odyssey’s worldwide smash Inside Out. That takes you to the Average White Band’s astonishing Dundonian funk, and thence to the late, great Michael Marra. The wondrous ambient soul-pop of the Blue Nile still tugs at the heartstrings, while Aly Bain’s Margaret’s Waltz always transports me to Shetland, no matter where I am in the world. And then there’s the Scottishness of AC/DC (the Youngs born in Kirriemuir), the urbane Eurorock of Simple Minds, the verve and panache of Blazin’ Fiddles and so much more.

Just the other day one of London’s top rock’n’roll managers suggested I check out an Edinburgh acoustic act called King Eider - a kind of Edinburgh-based Arcade Fire with less angst and some Mumfordesque bounce - whose lineup includes cello and fiddle as well as guitar, bass and drums. Impressed, I asked them to record a session for us, only to find that we’d been trumped by none other than Gaby Roslin, who had heard them practising in a park and asked them play on her BBC London show. We recorded them anyway, and they sounded magnificent, fresh and almost supernaturally professional. You can expect hear a lot more from them. As you can many ‘bubbling under’ Scottish performers such as Paul Tierney (‘Lonely Tourist’) Withered Hand, RM Hubbert, Joe McAlinden (‘Linden’) Rachel Sermanni from Carrbridge, and many more.

It’s impossible to do more than hint here at what joyous life there is in Scotland’s music scene. Perhaps Glusstonberry gives the most encouraging picture of what can happen in a small community where there is both talent and the resources to develop it. But in Scotland as a whole, the love of a fine tune, a good night out and a great song is bred in the Caledonian bone. You’re more than welcome to come and have a listen, or sing and play along.