The Phils and glens

Phil Cunningham is the composer of ‘The Highlands And lslands Suite‘. the world premier of which opens this year‘s Celtic Connections: ‘1 don‘t know how I‘m going to react when I hear it.‘ says Cunningham. ‘lt‘s the first life-long ambition I‘ve ever realised. and though all the parts are done and the arrangements have been written. it hasn‘t actually been performed yet. We’ll rehearse the component groups separately and then put them all together.’ Cunningham counted ISO performers but laughs. ‘I can‘t remember if that includes myself.‘ ()rchestrator Dave Heath conducts the suite which is based on traditional Scottish musical idioms but also includes major elements of contemporary and classical music. The piece has been scored for the 70-strong Scottish Chamber Orchestra. the 40 voices of the Glasgow Phoenix Choir. the Highland Fiddle ()rchestra-with lead tiddlers borrowed from some of the leading contemporary folk bands. On top of all that. there‘s some soloists that you might have heard before like Capercaillie‘s Karen Matheson and Manus Lunny. fiddler Aly Bain. Shooglenifty‘s rhythmic anchorman James Mackintosh. clarsach duo Sileas. and the great Glenuig piping triumviratc of Alan. lain and Doctor Angus MacDonald. (the latter having just won The Clasp. the highest competition honour in piping).

When pressed. Phil admits that the overture is his favourite part. but is very admiring ofGaeIic poet Angus McNicol‘s commissioned song lyrics and looks forward to the Glenuig brothers as a trio. which he has deliberately chosen not to orchestrate or accompany.

And though it remains unheard. even by its originator. invitations have already been received to take it to Spain and New York. (Norman Chalmers)

Phil Cunning/mm 's Highland And Islands Suite. Main Auditorium. (IRCH. Wed [5 Jun.

Phll Cunningham: composed and composing

With a smile to boot

Fronted by Yves Lambert, a Falstaffian vocalist who plays various accordions superbly, but is equally handy on mouth organ and iew’s harp, French Canada’s la Bottine Souriante (Smiling Boot for non-French speakers) create a colossal wall of (acoustic) sound.

Tight as a Swiss banker, the nine- piece band uses no drummer, the incredibly invigorating rhythms coming straight from Ies pieds of Michel Bordeleau. Superb on fiddle, mandolin or guitar, he drives the band along with his astonishing footwork, metal inserts in his smiling boots giving the band its distinctive, eponymous sound signature. Hand-claps, tiny shakers, and a smidgen of snare-drum brush work

La Bottlne Sourlante: literally tee-tapping stuff

occasionally add texture to what must be one of the most rhythmically infectious bands on the planet. They’re all brilliant instrumentalists, and they all sing. Tenor saxman Jean Frechette is the band’s arranger, producing great swathes of very imaginative, ear-bending harmony and punchy punctuation.

Glasgow can expect a repertoire that moves from the Quebecois tradition to old Acadien (Cajun) songs, cafe waltzes, Tom Waits-like talking blues, borrowings from Scots/Irish dance music, a number about distiller’s droop set to a Clen Milleresque swing, Voodoo vocals with the quirky piano of Dr John, and Cumbos that come to a sudden stop, re-igniting a nanosecond later with an explosive energy that’ll threaten the structural integrity of the Kingston Bridge. Listen for the imploding arrangement of the reel ‘Jenny’s Chickens’, no-one can sit still, no-one will remain immune. (Norman Chalmers)

la Baffine Sourianfe, Thurs 16, Sun 19, Mon 20 Jan.

Dashing passions

‘I was in Brittany at the 1993 Lorient Festival,’ says Tony MacManus, young Scots virtuoso of the acoustic guitar, explaining his fascination for the musicians of Brittany and particularly Celtic Connections’ guests Cwerz. ‘I had never heard music like theirs: wonderful layered arrangements where they might play a gavotte, then play a rhythm against it, and a lead line over that, and then have singing on top of all of it. ‘There’s other great bands like Pennou Skoulm, or lien but I found out eventually that all the good Breton bands are made up of mostly the same people!

‘l was asked to join a band being put together for a tour. The idea was for it to be half-Irish, half-Breton, and called Imaginaire Irlandaise. It was a fantastic experience playing with people like Jean Michel Villon and Cwerz’s fiddler Jacky Molard.’ Master of the old-style wooden flute, Villon sadly won’t be at Celtic Connections, but as MacManus points

Tony MacManus and Gwen: mix and match professionals

out, the quality of those who are attending is superb.

‘The Molards are quite something,’ MacManus says. ‘Jacky’s brother Patrick plays the various bagpipes in Cwerz, but it’s Jacky who’s the great composer, arranger and all-round musician - you could say he’s the Donal lunny of Brittany.’

MacManus’s own concert finds Gaelic diva Ishbel McAskill joining Mac Menus and the Molards. ‘My intention is to bring together various musicians of different age groups, backgrounds, cultures and agendas - and play to their strengths,’ says MacManus. ‘l’ll accompany, and hopefully show that it’s one of my strengths.’ (Norman Chalmers)

Cwerz, Sun 19, Thurs 23; Tony MacManus, Sun 19.

Hims and harmony

‘Some songs most songs. i suppose - can get get boring. but never that one. Every time we sing we end with it.‘ Phil Caleley of the wonderfully titled Voice Squad is talking about a great traditional song. ‘The Parting Glass‘. their arrangement of which. in unaccompanied vocal harmony. is one of the most moving experiences in Irish music.

Sought after by everyone to record with them. from Van Morrison and the

The Voice Squad: can make grown men weep

Chieftains to Sinead O‘Connor. the trio have gone their own way over the last few decades. eschewing folkie fashions and complex instrumental line-ups to sing songs from the traditional idiom (although close-harmony singing is a relatively recent innovation in traditional music). in a way that can make grown men weep.

‘We formed from a previous group who had lost their bass singer. a wonderful guy called Brian Leahy who died far too young.‘ remembers Calely. ‘l joined the other two Fran McPhail. who is the lead tenor. and Gerry Cullen. who moved to the bass part. and taught me his second tenor lines for an annual carol concert event in Dublin. We don‘t really have a carol tradition in Ireland but a gang would meet up before Christmas every year to do it. in a non-religious way. Great singers like Finbar Boyle. Paul Brady and Kevin Connif, who‘s now in The Chieftains. So we got together originally for that. And we haven‘t stopped.‘

‘The writer Evelyn Conlan gave us our name. and l suppose our sound owes a lot to the Watersons and the Copper Family - that English style but although we don‘t sing in Gaelic. the basis of our repertoire is just about wholly lrish.‘ He chuckles: ‘Well. we do do Buddy Holly‘s “Rave On“. but that‘s about as far as it goes‘.

The Voice Squad play Adelaide‘s. Thur 23; Strut/it'lyde Suite. Fri 24.

The List 10-23 Jan l99719