The only time I heard something of similar intensity before was at a wedding, where a very tall built man burst out in an even taller voice, clearly being up for smashing the lead glass windows with molodically shouted psalms and hymns in gaelic. But more on that later.
Wednesday evening at the Ironworks was part of the “Inverness Mod”, a weeklong festival all over town, dedicated to aspects of gaelic culture. I had seen Willie Campbell a few times before, but not with this band. I gambled a bit, thinking I surely can get a ticket there on the night, which fortunately was the case.
Upon entering I saw the stage was big, one and a half meters high and at around eight meters wide, accordingly the hall was pretty large. A few minutes past eight there was barely enough attendance to fill all the chairs, which were to my bewilderment placed around small, round tables, maybe 20 of them. A large bar was at the other end of the room, with calm staff handling not too much of a thirsty crowd.
Having sat down at the wee round table with my pint of Guinness in a plastic cup (yeah), the lights went dark and a man in a checked shirt went on the stage. I couldn’t see him holding an instrument, so when he raised his voice I expected him to announce one thing or another. As he spoke gaelic for the first minute, before repeating what he said in enghlish, I took a while to get the gist. No instruments required.
I had come to see Willie and the band and only noticed then and there that there was a support act. This was not enough to prepare me for being pretty much stuck to the chair (legs and feet dancing away at times) for the next forty odd minutes. Thinking back it feels like a physical thing, being almost paralysed by the soundwaves chiselled into dark space from Duncan MacKinnon’s mighty vocal chords. The fact that my grasp of the gaelic language is currently non-existent probably only added to the experience, surely it did not blur the magic. In between songs he would briefly, in english and gaelic, say a few words about what’s next, before leading his voice through, what to my ears were strange, and unheard melodies, sung with deep soul and great passion. I found myself unexpectingly stunned and, as you can tell, enjoyed it.
Shorty past nine the vibes were picked up by the main act. Willie Campbell and the Open Day Rotation joined into what Willie recently called “happy, REM-like Popsongs”. There was no need for sympathy for heartworking musicians because of the low turnout. They were unbothered by a venue that could hold 10 times more people, but played for each other, and greatly so, allowing a relaxed atmosphere for everyone. The band, at times seven of them, never lacked intensity, the sound was great and the audience, albeit seated, loudly got engaged.
I toyed with the idea (and files) of uploading a clip or two of Duncan and Willie, but decided against – a shaky video with very poor audio comes nowhere near the experience, instead – go see them yourself, whenever you get a chance.
When I thought of writing this, I planned on mentioning someone else from the vast musical cosmos, weaving it in well, alluring to find out more. Turned out I couldn’t fit it in, hence the debauch, in a nutshell:
PS: treat yourself and discover Martyn Bennett’s music. And maybe don’t go for ‘Handshaker Stomp’ on youtube straight away, to quote a friend “it’s a bit like something from a bad acid nightmare, Irvine Welsh style”. There is not much available on records or online, but some truly great tracks, such as (Blackbird, from “Grit”).