Denmark-based trio Dreamers’ Circus began Saturday evening’s show, with a live set recorded in Copenhagen.
The Nordic band – now 10 years old – have released their latest album Blue White Gold to celebrate the anniversary. I heard them in their earlier days in Aberdeen, supporting Lau, and even then you could tell they were something special. Their 2019 performance at Celtic Connections – an incredible show to a jam-packed St. Andrews in the Square – showed how much they’d developed. The audience loved them then, so I’m sure many will be happy to see them return this year.
The trio have backgrounds in folk, jazz and classical music, and their music is a fascinating blend of these genres, although perhaps most rooted in folk. Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen’s fiddle playing is excellently controlled, as could be seen from the beginning; he commands an amazing level of clarity and projection from the violin, and makes it look easy!
One of the real strengths of Dreamers’ Circus – something that hits me every time I see them – is in the arrangements. The care that’s been put into working out how best to present each tune. The melody will jump between the accordion and fiddle, changing as each player takes their turn, and a variety of instruments are used to add harmony (among them, a cittern, a ukulele and an organ synth).
There was a fun surprise when Ale (who usually plays cittern) played Rune’s violin for a tune, with some style. It so happens he’s played fiddle for years, but I don’t think many will have known this.
The trio ended with ‘A Room in Paris’, a good introduction to their sound for anyone unfamiliar with their music. I still remember the noise that erupted from the room when they finished this piece in 2019, and I certainly hope they’ll be back for a repeat in years to come.
Kathleen MacInnes was next up, and like Dreamers’ Circus, her set (from Glasgow City Halls) was very nicely recorded, in a way that made you feel very close to the ‘stage’. Kathleen – who began with a song called ‘Mo Reul Geal Chiùin’ – has a lovely, relaxed manner to her singing that puts you at ease. You could close your eyes and imagine you were at an island ceilidh, as she sang the soft ballad.
Mike Vass (on tenor guitar & fiddle) and Mhairi Hall (on piano & flute) were each given a chance to shine, their own playing adding to the peaceful nature of the performance. For the final song, Irish singer Michelle Burke joined them all for the hymn ‘A Thighearna Dhia’. It was a beautiful moment in the City Halls, with Michelle and Kathleen finishing off the song a cappella.
The third act of the evening were Ímar, a 5-piece band based in Glasgow who formed in 2016. The group’s members hail from a variety of locations – Ireland, the Isle of Man and Suffolk as well as Glasgow – and they draw from this cultural mix to form their distinctive sound.
Beginning with the opener to their latest album Avalanche, the band’s energetic, tight sound was apparent from the off. There was an Irish tinge to the first tune, and I enjoyed how the bodhrán and guitar formed the backbone of the set. The tunes were played at a blistering pace, but with such smooth ease that you were still able to enjoy each melody.
In contrast to the first set, their final number started with a stunningly plaintive version of the Irish melody ‘Slane’ (also known as ‘Be Thou My Vision’), with Tom Callister’s fiddle playing really catching my attention. Despite having heard that piece countless times, I felt like I was hearing it anew. The group then shot back into a last set of reels, once again played with remarkable collective expertise.
Last to play in this show were The Womanly Voices of Jodhpur RIFF, in a set that was recorded outdoors at 4am in Rajasthan, India. This meant that you could see the sun rise behind the performers, which made for a spectacular backdrop.
Jodhpur RIFF comprised of 8 musicians, singing folk and spiritual songs from different parts of Rajasthan. The group included two mother-daughter duos, with one of the daughters – Sushila Devi – being the first female from the region to play the khartal on an international platform. This, as I soon found out, is a handheld percussive instrument made of wood; the sound is a little like that of castanets. The sarangi – a bowed string instrument not unlike a violin – was also fascinating to see and hear.
Not being able to understand the language of the songs allowed me to focus on other aspects of the music, and it was fantastic to hear harmonies that were so different from what I usually listen to. The performers were enjoying themselves, with smiles all round, which is always a joy to see. The singing in the last two songs was particularly impressive, and as the sun came into view and the music faded away, I was sad to see it end.