Another year of the Danny Kyle Open Stage competition has come to an end. All that’s left are for the 6 winners to be announced and the “winners concert” tomorrow night. There was a strong showing of musicians from Orkney this year; all of them ended up on my favorites lists. For such a small island, they have an amazing music culture up there. Once again, I would like to thank the folks at Celtic Music Radio for broadcasting the Danny Kyles. CMR is one of the finest sources of folk and traditional music I’ve come across and it’s run entirely by volunteers.
Here are my Week 2 favorites, in chronological order:
Hannah Graham and Josh McGregor – Fiddle/guitar duo originally from Orkney. Exquisite playing! You can listen to it here.
Zoë Bestel – When I first read that she was a ukelele player, I almost wrote her off. I’m glad I didn’t. This 15 year old singer/songwriter/ukelele player has more brilliance and talent than many twice her age. I was blown away. Listen to her set here.
Do yourself a favor and check out all of these performers. It’s so rewarding to come across new artists and watch them grow and evolve into even more amazing musicians. Cheers to another successful Danny Kyle!
Every year, I look forward to the Danny Kyle Open Stage competition that takes place during Celtic Connections in Glasgow. It’s a fantastic opportunity, not just for up & coming artists to gain wide exposure, but to hear some amazing musicians that I might otherwise miss. My music collection has grown substantially over the years, thanks to the Danny Kyles. Of course, I have to give a huge Thank You to the folks at Celtic Music Radio, who make it possible for me to listen to the Danny Kyle from 3,000+ miles away.
After last year’s stellar DK, I wasn’t sure that this year could match it. I needn’t have worried. The caliber of performances is even higher. I listen to a lot of traditional and “new trad” music, so in order to catch my fancy, the music has to be top-notch. Of the 13 groups that I adored from this first week, 11 of them are trad.
Here are my favorites, listed more or less in chronological order:
Matt Tighe – A young fiddler from London who plays in an Irish style. A lot of talent in this lad. You can listen to his set here.
Cairngorm Ceilidh Trail – Unbelievably talented group from the Highlands. I’ll be surprised if they’re not one of the winners. You can hear their set here.
The final week of the Danny Kyle Open Stage ended this evening and it featured performances by a lot of extremely talented artists. In fact, the field of competitors has been amazingly strong and I don’t envy the judges their task of narrowing down the group from 73 to just 6 finalists. Below are my favorites artists from this past week and, before I list them, I want to give a huge shout out to Celtic Music Radio, a wee station run entirely by volunteers, for broadcasting the entire run of the Danny Kyle each year.
In no particular order:
Thalla – A spectacular trad group from Plockton. Their set floored me. You can listen to it here.
Maggie & James Nicolson – These youngsters are only 13 & 14, but have more polish and musical talent than many twice their age. You can listen to their set here.
St. Ambrose High School Traditional Band – These youngsters are dazzling! They have great musical futures ahead of them. You can listen to their set here.
Give them all a listen. You will be hearing a lot more from these folks in the future.
Another Celtic Connections festival is upon us and with it, the nightly Danny Kyle Open Stage performances. For those unfamiliar with the Danny Kyle, it gives emerging artists the opportunity to showcase their talent before a live audience and a panel of judges, as well as via the radio, thanks to the wonderful folks at Celtic Music Radio. The six overall winners of each year’s Danny Kyle get a gig at the next year’s Celtic Connections. It’s a fabulous forum to hear what’s on the horizon.
The following are my favorites from the first week of Danny Kyle performances, in no particular order:
The Sally Simpson Trio – Unfortunately, this group does not have any sort of a website. The members are Sally Simpson, fiddle; Michael Ferrie, guitar; Catriona Hawksworth, piano. I loved this group! You can listen to their set here.
Pauline Alexander – Singer-songwriter hailing from Glasgow. Something about her reminds me of Yvonne Lyon, an extraordinary singer-songwriter from Greenock. I really enjoyed her songs. You can listen to her set here.
Do yourself a favor and check these folks out. You won’t be disappointed.
Fiona Cuthill and Stevie Lawrence have been musical partners for a long time, working together in such bands as Whirligig, Canterach, and Rallion, among others. A Cruel Kindness is their first album as a duo and is a mixture of old friends and new acquaintances. Those familiar with the duo’s work with Rallion will recognize a few of the tracks, which have appeared previously on Rallion’s albums. Here, however, they are given a fresh start with new arrangements and guest musicians. The melancholy of “Waiting for Dawn” is lightened by Fraser Speirs’ harmonica and Brendan McCreanor helps turn “Back on Track” into an all-out jam.
The real gems of this album, though, are the new compositions. Fiona Cuthill is a truly gifted composer. Even simply-arranged tunes have an underlying depth and complexity to them. They have that indefinable thing that commands attention and, at times, takes one’s breath away. Stevie Lawrence helps bring those tunes to life with his virtuosity, whether on guitar or bouzouki. Their long partnership has allowed them to really explore the nuances in their music. Together, they create a magic that is greater than the sum of their parts.
The jigs and reels allow them to stretch their legs and hint at their love of rock music. “Andy D’s Reel” from “The Seven Sisters” set is a rollicking, toe-tapping reel and though “One for Brendan” from “Unfinished Business” may have failed as a pipe tune, it’s a fantastic fiddle tune and features truly top notch fiddling. However, it is the title track, “A Cruel Kindness,” that is worth the cost of the album alone. Opening with the sublime harp of Rachel Hair, the throatiness of Cuthill’s fiddle takes the listener on an emotional journey into that well of sadness and hurt created by unintentional words and acts.
A Cruel Kindness is an outstanding debut that shines the spotlight on Cuthill and Lawrence’s abounding musical talent.
To visit Fiona & Stevie’s Facebook page, click here.
I’ve been waiting a long time for Annlaug’s debut album, November, to come to fruition. Demos of sparse fiddle tunes and songs had captured my attention and I was curious to see where it would all lead. November is everything I had hoped it would be and more. It’s sophisticated, engaging and musically diverse.
Featuring a Who’s Who of Scottish folk musicians (Mattie Foulds, Inge Thomson, Martin Green, Aidan O’Rourke and Anna Massie, to name a few), plus string arrangements by Kim Edgar, November delivers a powerhouse of sound and artistry.
Annlaug’s musical versatility is evident in the array of styles presented here. Rock, Americana, folk and traditional flavors are married beautifully on this album. Having primarily heard her fiddle tunes up to this point, I was surprised, and pleasantly so, to discover that the majority of November is sung. Regardless of style, Annlaug’s self-penned lyrics paint an intimate portrait of the songwriter. It doesn’t really matter that the lyrics are in Norwegian (English translations are given in the liner notes) because her voice ably tells each story.
The entire album is brilliant and it was difficult to choose favorites. That said, my favorites are “Hakestad,” which showcases Annlaug’s exquisite Hardanger fiddle playing; “Songen Eg Skulle Ha Skreve,” with its gorgeous strings; and the two traditional lullabies: “Suril Luril” and “Till Till Tove,” which closes the album with a sparse, haunting arrangement.
With November, Annlaug has established herself as a force to be reckoned with on the contemporary folk scene.
To visit Annlaug’s MySpace page, click here.
Joy Dunlop has been a strong advocate of the Gaelic language, both as a teacher and as a performer. Those roles continue on her debut release Dùsgadh (Awakening). Sung in Gaelic, with liner notes in Gaelic and English, Dùsgadh offers listeners a guided foray into the world of traditional Gaelic song.
Though the material is traditional, the delivery is fresh and vibrant, reminding the listener that this is indeed a living language. Sultry jazz grooves, string crescendos, luscious piano and even step dancing layer behind Joy’s crystalline voice. While the puirt a beul and upbeat songs are performed brilliantly, Joy’s real strength is in the songs of love and tragedy. Her voice beautifully transports us deep inside each story. We feel every nuance of love, wistfulness, despair and grief.
The standout song for me is the closing track, “Thig Am Bata,” a take on the Two Sisters tale. It is heartbreakingly poignant and left me breathless. I found it to be the perfect conclusion to this album.
Joy Dunlop’s Dùsgadh (Awakening) is an amazing debut that promises even greater things to come.
To visit her website, click here.
To visit her MySpace page, click here.
The final week of the Danny Kyle Open Stage (as well as Celtic Connections itself) has passed and there were a few more stunning gems performing their hearts out. I recommend checking them all out – I think they all have fantastic careers ahead of them!
Fiona Driver – fantastic fiddler from Orkney who is also a very prolific composer.
Enez Trio [Tristan Le Govic] – Centered around Tristan’s harp playing, they have a full, rich sound.
Seonaid Aitkin – Amazing fiddler who spends most of her time as a classical violinist.
Rachel Sermanni – Really delightful singer/songwriter who performed with a couple of friends.
Parsec – These lads have mad skills! All hail from the University of Limerick.
Kilairum – This group came to my attention early last year. Their music is a blend of trad & jazz.
Lurach – Great trad group that performs Gaelic song & music.
Kirsty and Katie Lawrence – Incredible trad musicians from the Isle of Man. I found their stage presence refreshing and funny.
All of their performances can be found over on Celtic Music Radio in their “Listen Again” section.
The first full week of Celtic Connections has come and gone and with it, the first week of the Danny Kyle Open Stage. The wonderful folks at Celtic Music Radio provide the live broadcast each day (5pm BST/11am CST), which I’ve made an effort to listen to, as well as a recording of each act’s set in their ‘Listen Again’ archive.
In the first week, I’ve heard 8 acts that have totally blown me away. I think they’re all fabulously talented and I’m excited to watch their careers grow. They all have MySpace pages, where you can hear some samples, or head over to Celtic Music Radio to hear their live gigs.
The Helen Currie Band – singer/songwriter whose songs have an understated intensity about them
Elaine Davidson – singer/songwriter with a gorgeous alto voice. Accompanied on the live gig by Danny Hart
Eilidh Patterson – another singer/songwriter who is altogether lovely
The Bevvy Sisters – Fantastic swing/gospel vocals!
Tyde – great trad music trio
Sporran Again – funky, electric ceilidh band that is wild fun!
Stushie – very talented group of youngsters. Mostly trad but some contemporary.
4 Square – folk band with great vocals and spot-on playing
Prior to stumbling across this album, I had only heard Gjermund’s work with the traditional Norwegian super-group Majorstuen. I was curious to hear the direction he ventured on his own. What I found was a sumptuously intoxicating album.
A few of the pieces on Ankomst are given a very traditional treatment, especially “Brudemarsj” and the album’s one song, “Sukkersøtt”. However, the majority of the tunes feature Gjermund’s divine fiddling interwoven with gentle jazz piano and bass.
I rarely describe albums in terms of sex appeal, but Ankomst definitely has it. There is a dreamy sensuality, almost a sultriness that runs through this album. The opening trio of tunes, “Arrivals,” “Midnattsdrøm,” and “Regntung Dag” invite you into the reverie, which is really only broken by the bonus track “Kitchenpolka,” a fast-paced, somewhat jarring conclusion to the album.
With the exception of that last track, there really are no weak areas on Ankomst. While each track can definitely stand on its own, I’ve found it a much more fulfilling experience to listen to the album as a whole. This is an excellent album to get lost in at the end of the day.
Those attending the final weekend of Celtic Connections 2010 can see Gjermund perform with Majorstuen on 30 Jan. and 31 Jan. with his trio.
To visit Gjermund’s MySpace page, click here.