This review originally featured in The Skinny.
It might appear odd to pair lo-fi Scots alt-country with melodic electro dance-pop, but Celtic Connections’ programming of recent years has been pleasingly eclectic. Perhaps raising an eyebrow from the trad-folk and roots purists, tonight showcases some of the finest new music to originate from the country’s north east.
A reasonably scant crowd gathers at The Hug and Pint, one of Glasgow’s best small venues. The 100-odd capacity room can be cramped and sweaty when stuffed full, but this evening there’s breathing space to comfortably appreciate the sounds. It’s fairly quiet – this is one of many evenings over the packed Celtic Connections period which feature multiple excellent gigs at the same time in venues across the city – but those in attendance are well rewarded with a night of diverse beauty.
Fair Mothers is essentially the solo moniker of Aberdeen’s Kevin Allan, who seems at times a tentative performer. But with the backup of Pete McConville on electric guitar, and gorgeous vocal contributions from Kathryn Joseph for a chunk of songs from Marcus Mackay-produced debut Through Them Fingers Yours and Mine, Allan’s vulnerability sits more comfortably.
The confessional Burns is subtle and unguarded in its simplicity, whilst the stripped-back folk of Glitterball is bleak but beautiful, with Joseph’s instinctive harmonies injecting an uplifting warmth. Blind is superb, proving just how well the two singers voices complement each other. Similarly, set closer What Have I Done is a fitting finale – a lovely, delicate waltz full of heart and heartbreak.
Sarah J Stanley’s HQFU project combines mesmeric visuals, intelligent electronica and stunning vocals akin to Everything But the Girl’s Tracey Thorn. Despite dark lyrics, it’s music to move to and the crowd responds accordingly. The blips and beats of highlights Dust & Dirt and Poison pulse through the veins like the elation that follows a cleansing cry.
Fair Mothers and HQFU demonstrate the strength and difference of the new sounds of Scotland. At either end of the musical scale, both acts deserve a wider audience, and with any justice they’ll soon see that reward.