Thursday evening’s concert was, in short, packed full of high quality music. A whole range of styles were on show, as well as a selection of Glasgow’s most beautiful and best sounding venues. First off was Ross Ainslie, at the Old Fruitmarket.
Ross was joined by his Sanctuary Band, comprising of Paul Towndrow (Saxophone), Greg Lawson (violin), Steve Byrnes (guitar), James Lindsay (bass) and Hamish Napier (piano). Ross explained that many of tonight’s pieces were from his new album Vana, written after returning from a wellness centre in India with the same name. As the music began, you could immediately see that the band are very comfortable playing together, as if there’s an unspoken understanding between them all. Ross’s tunes, whilst clearly rooted in the Scottish trad style, employ bits and pieces from other musical worlds. His melodies often take unexpected turns, but there’s a kind of peaceful beauty that’s always there somewhere.
The highlight for me in Ross’ set was ‘Tune for Everyone’; a lovely, joyful piece, as welcoming in its manner as the name would suggest. It’s melodies like this that keep me coming back to his compositions – be it to play them myself or to listen – so it was a pleasure to be introduced to one I hadn’t heard before.
The mood of Ainslie’s whole set was well captured in the final piece, ‘Hope in the Chaos’, with its dynamic swells and expansive sound. The rhythm shifts created a feeling of undulating tension and uncertainty, but this was balanced with a sense of security in the melody; all of this carried by a confident full- band arrangement. All in all, if this performance is anything like Ross’s new album, Vana is definitely worth a listen.
Beth Malcolm was the next performer, with beautiful visuals recorded at the Royal Concert Hall. After seeing Beth’s winning performance at the Danny Kyle Open Stage last year, I was looking forward to hearing her new work.
Her song ‘Leavin’ Loch Leven’ – itself an award-winning piece about Mary Queen of Scots – showcased her heartfelt, committed manner. Beth grew up near the loch, and you could hear her strong sense of the area’s history by the detail in the song’s lyrics.
Malcolm accompanied herself on piano, and this combined with her voice was more than enough to carry the songs. Her vocal phrasing is particularly creative, with engaging melodies matched carefully by the piano lines. The only disappointment for me this evening, in fact, was that we only got to hear one piece from Beth; she’s certainly one to keep a look out for.
Next we were in the Barrowland Ballroom. Mànran were the third act to play, with two sets. The band’s modern, energetic take on the traditional style has been well-honed in their ten years of being together, and the new setup gives them even more variety to play with.
The arrangement for their second song, ‘Ailein Donn’ was especially captivating. It started off with a bass & drums driven beat, a dark, intriguing platform for singer Kim Carnie’s beautifully smooth vocals. I’d never heard a sound quite like it for a Gaelic song, and it worked well.
Siobhan Miller and her band were next, as we moved to the City Halls. I’ve been listening to Siobhan’s new album All Is Not Forgotten for months now, but even still, it was a joy to hear the songs performed in a live setting. The group began with the title track, an imaginatively arranged piece in which Siobhan reflects on the small but important things in life.
I was impressed at how the band – with John Lowrie on piano, Euan Burton on double bass, Innes White on guitar and Charlie Stewart on fiddle – were able to match the sound of the recordings, with their smooth sound and attention to detail. But they did so effortlessly.
I was happy to see ‘While the Whole World Sleeps’ – one of my favourite songs of last year – in the set, with its lilting melody and beautifully-written lyrics. ‘What You Do With What You’ve Got’ (written by Si Kahn) was also a nice surprise, with Lowrie’s driving piano accompaniment giving it a lively groove. I’d never heard this song live before, and was struck by the insightful lyrics.
It was time for the final act of the night. In what was the most energetic set I’ve seen so far in the festival, Talisk kicked off with ‘Beyond’, the title track from their latest album. The sound they achieve with just the three of them is quite something, each of the trio making the most of their instrument and a variety of electronic effects.
The group’s final piece, ‘Dystopia’, was a fitting end to the whole show. Both the unexpected dynamic changes and softer sections had aspects that reflected Ross Ainslie’s music from earlier in the evening. Talisk, in their fifth consecutive year at the festival, once again showed that they are a machine of a band, capable of a formidable sound.