Perhaps due to their previous encounter with Celtic music culture via their attendance at The Shetland Island Folk Festival in 2015 Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys approached their first Celtic Connections with some fervour. Their sold out show on the third night of this year’s festival was actually their third appearance having performed at Thursday’s opening celebrations and then pitching up for Friday’s Late Night Sessions (although it was Saturday by the time they came on stage). Thankfully there was no evidence of burnout or alcohol fuelled ennui when they took to the stage tonight as they parlayed their modern take on bluegrass with Lindsay Lou in fine voice and the guys in the band pretty much on fire as they skipped around the mic and swapped instruments.
Part of a new wave of bluegrass influenced bands who mix it up with scintillating signature changes that have jazz or even classical roots along with an almost pop sensibility in their song writing Lindsay and the guys wove their way merrily through a set taken in the main from their latest album Ionia. The band (Lindsay, Josh Rilko, Mark “Huggy Bear” Lavengood and PJ George III) joshed around as they settled where each would be (and playing what) around the single microphone but the music was deadly serious. A pair of covers from the album allowed the band to display a command of old rag time style and Gospel music with Criminal Style (by Josh Grebe) a bit of a roustabout while The River Jordan (May Erlewine) flowed as sweetly as the titular river. The latter offered Lindsay her first real opportunity to display her impressive voice as she wailed like Aretha as the song climaxed but overall it was the undulating rhythms of songs such as Everything Changed and Hot Hands that allowed the band to flourish. Hot Hands in particular was tremendous as the instruments delicately danced around each other.
A song co written by Lindsay and The Stray Birds’ Maya de Vitry, Shining In The Distance, allowed for some audience participation and in the vein of current events it was a ray of hope with Lindsay’s vocals really beaming here. However it was on the encore of Smooth & Groovy that she really let loose as she dived into a smoky blues vein with the band slinking excellently along.
Support for the night was from Louise Bichan, an Orkney fiddler who has composed a suite of songs and tunes based around her grandmother’s time in Canada in the fifties. Out Of My Own Light (AKA The Margaret Tait Project) was inspired by Bichan’s reading of her grandmother’s diaries of the time and was delivered tonight as an audiovisual performance. Her band (fiddles, guitar, cello, keyboards, double bass and occasional Moog) mixed traditional sounding airs with a more experimental touch that at times recalled Schoenberg and even Mike Oldfield. With dramatic mood, tempo and volume changes on show it lurched around somewhat and Bichan’s readings of the diary in the interludes were rushed at times, a result of nerves one supposes. Overall however it is an impressive project and hopefully it led some folk to look into the recorded version.
On a final note it transpires that on day 4 of Celtic Connections Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys appeared at the late night Festival Club. Real troupers then.