Greeting the barrier as the opening act, hailing from “New Scotland” Nova Scotia, was punk folker Joel Plaskett. Even though he was solo for the first couple of tracks Joel put so much energy through the performance even those initially disinterested were tapping their feet.
He really came alive when members of his backing band ‘The Emergency’ joined him on stage with a three guitar onslaught – bringing the noise with ‘Deny, Deny, and Deny’.
The set consisted mainly of tracks from his last album ‘Three’, a triple disc of 33 tracks with titles that tend to repeat themselves (‘Surprise’ is titled three times). Highlighs came from the Ben Folds-esque ‘Rewind, Rewind’ Rewind’, played with a shitty keyboard purchased from “the Canadian equivalent of Cash Converters” and ‘Through, through, through’ that was reminiscent of early Elvis Costello. Overall he provided a great dose of last night Celtic Connections energy.
Next was a surprise for all – as it wasn’t on the bill – with Foley Stewart strolling onstage, almost not wanting to get the crowd focused on him. What followed was a set of Jeff Buckley-light, electric guitar tunes. With a nervous demeanour filled with tunes of angst and depression – this proved a stark contrast to what had come before. This was reflected in crowd disinterest, but it’s safe to say teenage girls will love him.
A highlight of the set was ‘Winter in Atlanta’, coming across as something Nirvana would have thrown into their slower moments. A promising performance and with a bit more confidence he may have been able to take control of an audience, but the Fruitmarket made him aware that he was not what they were looking for.
“Isn’t this exciting?” proclaimed Fran Healy as he finally walked onstage to the expectant crowd; kindly pointing out right off the mark that he will be playing Travis songs at the end of the show. With formalities out the way Fran and band (even a wee orchestra!) unfurled ‘In The Morning’ from his solo record ‘Wreckorder’.
What followed were, well, all the tracks from ‘Wreckorder’. But not in order. This included the impassioned ‘Fly In The Ointment’ and art-school inspired single, ‘Buttercups’. Whilst the album comes across slightly weak and lifeless, it was refreshing to see the songs given a dose of vibrancy live.
Fran proved to be a charismatic and amiable host throughout the night, giving the crowd lashings of banter, comparing playing without his Travis-kin like cheating on your wife and his worries about Paul McCartney playing on his debut solo album “What if his bass lines were shit?”.
Finishing the main set with a rousing rendition of album closer ‘Moonshine’ that finally made the audience pay heed to the new material, after which the band left Fran a lonesome figure onstage. Clearly it was time for the Travis material and the enviable host asked the floor to make the decision on what numbers should be played.
The audience instantly twisted into the liveliest they had been all night – like Fran had thrown a piece of meat to a pack of hungry wolves. A particularly stirring rendition of ‘Turn’ followed, and a glistening acoustic ‘Sing’ went down well with all – as did Fran lambasting of an audience member who kept asking for “songs I hate”.
Tonight was a real showcase for the differing styles of music played throughout Celtic Connections and proved a fitting end to the festival, the only downside being a rather subdued audience who weren’t willing to go along for the full ride.