Issue 6 10/98
These two acts couldn't be more disparate. One is 26, has dreadlocks and hails from Edinburgh, the other has been an international start of Celtic music since the seventies, is ...erm... follicly challenged, shall we put it, and sings in Gaelic and English, which is slightly strange, as he's French. But if you asked me which concert I enjoyed more, I wouldn't be able to tell you.
Truly. Both musicians were on top form, the material they played left the audiences chanting and clapping for more, and believe me, if it's one thing French audiences are good at, it's clapping their way to the music. A truly humbling experience for me, who thought a little intrepid foot-tapping and singing along to the tunes was good enough.
The language barrier wasn't an insurmountable one either. Martyn Bennet introduced his band, said they were there to play some new and experimental music, generated by pipes, fiddle, synthesizers, guitars with pedal effects and distortion probably stolen from the set of 'Star Wars', and the (dominantly) French audience lapped it up enthusiastically. And the concert hadn't even started yet! Once he got going though, it wasn't hard to see what all the magazines are raving about. Yep, they've all been hailing Martyn as the hottest new talent in the frontiers of Scottish/Celtic music. Even his Nova Scotian counterpart, Ashley MacIsaac, could not compare. A four-piece band could not have produced more intoxicating, rhythmic, spell-binding, mind-soaring, trance-inducing Celtic/ folk music. Martyn himself was truly a virtuoso, playing fiddle, highland and uilleann pipes, tin and low whistle and bagad, switching from one instrument to the next with fludity and effortless ease. He didn't even miss a beat! With two albums to date, this is definitely an artist to watch out for. (You can find a review of the newer one of his albums in this issue, note by the editor.) Don't say I didn't warn you!
Alan Stivell, on the other hand, is a musician with such a vast experience and expertise in Celtic music that it's gained him a devoted following of fans over the years, across Europe. Thus, the exciting promise of an unforgettable evening hung in the air, as the audience waited patiently for him to come on stage. It didn't even matter that the opening act was a lone German piper with ridiculously high white stockings and bells to match, called 'Arthur'. The crowd were happy enough to look at the array of instruments lugged on and off stage, whilst the soundcheck guy kept tapping the mic, saying '1,2,3...' , yes, in French.
When he finally came on stage, Alan Stivell looked 100 times more hip than I expected. Dressed all in black and sporting a casual ponytail, the master of the Celtic harp launched into a track off his new album, 'One World', which was a collaboration with Youssour N'Dour, Paddy Moloney, Khaled and other gurus of the World music scene. With the overwhelming influx of new talents on the Celtic/Folk/World music scene, going to a concert by one of the founders and invaluable contributors of this music makes you appreciate it all the more, and understand why their distinctive musical style and virtuosity has influenced and inspired the younger generation of musicians.
My dream line-up for the biggest concert in the history of mankind? Martyn Bennet on bagad and fiddle, Alan Stivell on harp and pipes, Shane MacGowan on booze-slurred vocals, Davy Spillane on uillean pipes, Steafan Hannigan on bodhran, Mike Scott on guitars and vocals, and Nick Cave (?!) on demonic howls, growls and what else have you. Well, it doesn't hurt to dream, does it?
Drawings by Annegret Haensel; more infos on the artist in the editorial.
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© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 10/98
All material published in FolkWorld is © The Author via FolkWorld. Storage for private use is allowed and welcome. Reviews and extracts of up to 200 words may be freely quoted and reproduced, if source and author are acknowledged. For any other reproduction please ask the Editors for permission.