The final Friday evening of the 2013 Celtic Connections festival saw the first of two performances from the annual event ‘Transatlantic Sessions’. The long running TV show of same name, was first brought to the concert stage in 2004 as a special event for Celtic connections and has been a permanent fixture ever since. For the past three years there has been a tour of the event straight after Celtic Connections festival.
This year’s Sessions kicked off with some good old-fashioned jigs and reels from the house band, which as usual included musical directors Aly Bain and Jerry Douglas with John McCusker, Michael McGoldrick, Danny Thompson and many more. Guests are invited to perform and bring 2 or 3 of their songs to the show. The first guest this year, Teddy Thompson, was an interesting choice I thought. Every year on both the concert and TV series there is always one singer-songwriter who is totally different to anyone else on the bill, and you always wonder how are they going to fit into this?
In my opinion some of the performers from outside the Traditional folk genre do not always work on the show, although there are very few of these. I’m happy to say that Teddy Thompson worked perfectly. Although from a famous folk family Thompson’s solo work has drifted away from the folk scene, taking his own direction and establishing his own fan base, of which I am one. Obviously mindful that his backing band included mostly traditional folk musicians, Teddy’s second song for the evening was Dear Mary,a song which he wrote with his mother, Linda Thompson. Describing it as the ‘folkyist thing he could think of’, the song was the opening track for Linda’s 2002 comeback album FASHIONABLY LATE, a great song choice.
Teddy remained onstage to provide backing vocals for the next guest, Scottish singer Emily Smith, whose song choices included Archie Fisher’s The Final Trawl.
Transatlantic Sessions has always been about getting the performers to join in with each other and not to just do their own bit with the house band. The trio of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Emily Smith and Aoife O’Donovan, from Crooked Still, provided beautiful backing vocals on each others material throughout the evening. As well as the guest singers there were also regular contributions from members of the house band. Musical director Jerry Douglas led the band in his own composition Gone to Fortingall. Douglas wrote this tune after filming the last two Transatlantic TV series in the highlands of Scotland in the area which he now loves and would like to live.
Bluesman Eric Bibb brought a different vibe to the stage. With his wide brimmed hat, distinctive voice and rousing guitar playing he treated us to gospel, traditional American Going Down The Road Feeling Bad and of course the blues. While on stage Bibb remarked ‘I feel embraced’, in fact we all did. Everyone in the 17-piece band expressed their delight at being part of this patchwork of musicians.
The house band also included some of the top American roots musicians, most notably Old Time fiddler Bruce Molsky and Cajun musician Dirk Powell, who incidentally produced Eric Bibbs 2012 album DEEPER IN THE WELL. Molsky’s main contribution tonight was a duet with Aoife O’Donovan singing Pretty Saro which I believe is an old time version of a song covered by Martin Simpson, Batchelor’s Hall.
Probably the most anticipated appearance for a lot of people was a Transatlantic debut for Mary Chapin Carpenter. Mary Chapin’s songs for the evening seemed to be the most transformed. I Have a Need for Solitude from her 2010 album AGE OF MIRACLES was given the addition of a McCusker/McGoldrick style riff. Transcendental Reunionfrom her latest album ASHES AND ROSES was, I hear, totally different to how they had rehearsed it. Instead of the planned ‘full house band works’ it was delivered to us totally stripped down with just McCusker, O’Donovan and Danny Thompson. By the look on the drummer’s face, not even he was aware of this change! This demonstrates the ever changing arrangements and one suspect that each night of the tour could be slightly different to the last. All 17 musicians were on stage for the finale, Mary Chapin led her classic Down at the twist and shout, absolutely incredible.
Photos by Phil Carter