As the long dark days of winter turn into the slightly less long dark days of winter, Celtic Connections appears as a welcoming cultural beacon.
In advance of tonight’s gig, James Grant had promised (on Twitter) to play ‘the “hits”’. Opening his set with Strange Kind of Love strongly suggests that Grant is indeed a man of unimpeachable veracity.
Having arrived on stage about ten minutes later than planned (following an impressive support slot by Yola Carter), Grant confesses after Can’t Beat the Music, “I’ll need to rattle through them, but that’s maybe not a bad thing?” Actually, given Grant’s famously dry wit, it’s a shame. However, the needs of the music outweigh the needs of the patter.
Fraser Spiers enters the fray on harmonica as Grant says, “The start of this is a bit self-indulgent but we’ll get to the song in about five minutes”. It’s actually a lot sooner and a classy version of Looking for Angeline ensues.
Last Ship on the River flows smoothly (as rivers are wont to do) into a gentle and soothing, Lips Like Ether. The much rockier Darkstar follows, kicking things into a higher gear.
Grant announces a song about fathers and sons, before playing My Father’s Coat, which has a subdued and melancholy air until electric guitar soars majestically near the end.
An implicit challenge is issued to the audience. Grant says, “Some people say if you’re over 50 you’re too old to dance”. The splendidly jaunty Up Escalator is Grant’s chosen groove machine, featuring a driving drum beat from Gordon Wilson. Many audience members seem to be deciding if they are still hip, or now in need of a hip replacement. Modest outbreaks of dad dancing is the result. The song ends with a spirited segue into the chorus of Life During Wartime by Talking Heads.
For the encore, Grant teases “…a song that makes a lot of people feel uncomfortable. That just makes me like it even more.” Surprisingly after that build up, it’s not a cover version of The Birdie Song, but rather, the atmospheric Pappa Death. Nothing says you respect your audience quite like terrifying them.
Fortunately, those now feeling the need of spiritual comfort receive it, via a timely visit from the Hallelujah Man.
Redemption rocks, in more ways than one.