Findlay Napier + Boo Hewerdine + Eddi Reader, @Celtic Connections, The Mackintosh Church, Glasgow, 20th January 2018

It’s fitting really that the first Celtic Connections show Americana UK attends this year is a celebration of Glasgow. Glasgow of course is home to Celtic Connections which, in its 25th year, has put the city firmly on the musical map with over 300 shows in 20 venues spread over three weeks. Tonight it’s Findlay Napier presenting his latest album, Glasgow, a celebration of his 20 years of living and working in the city and the venue is a listed church built by the renowned architect, Charles Rennie MacIntosh.

Flanked by fiddler Gillian Frame and Donna Maciocia on keyboards, Napier played most of the songs from the new album with detailed introductions regarding their genesis- a Radio 4 documentary for example inspired St. Anthony’s Digging A Hole, a darkly humorous song about gravediggers. There’s a grim edge to Wireburners, written after seeing a short film on homeless people scavenging scrap metal while There’s More To Building Ships is a salute to Glasgow’s heritage on The Clyde which points out another heritage, asbestosis, bestowed on the long suffering workers. Napier sings these melodic songs with a fine clear voice allowing the words to sink in.

It’s not all darkness however. A natural showman, Napier has the audience in stitches at times with his jokes and asides while his cover of Cod Liver Oil And The Orange Juice is a huge crowd pleaser with the audience singing along. Other covers, all relating to Glasgow, such as Emma Pollock’s Marchtown and Julia Doogan’s Glasgow are more reverential but there’s also room for songs about the infamous Locarno Ballroom, love blossoming in a chip shop (with a Justin Bieber twist) and, from an earlier disc, 52 Des, a song about an ostentatious drug dealer with a flashy car. Michael Marra’s King Kong’s Visit To Glasgow meanwhile paid tribute both to the city and to the late Dundonian songwriter.

Napier took us through his 20 years in the city with uproarious tales of his student days, his job wiping up the vomit of night clubbers and his time in the East End before talking about his musical career. Here he paid tribute to his “mentor,” Boo Hewerdine, who came on stage to play guitar with Napier. He then introduced his special guest, Eddi Reader, with whom he has toured. Taking the stage, Reader, accompanied by her husband (and a Trashcan Sinatra) John Douglas, reminisced about family parties in the 60’s when everyone present sang a song. Adopting a “pub singer” voice she offered several examples of the favourites back then such as Doris Day and Frankie Laine and she also had the audience laughing away. She ended the piece with a glorious rendition of her mum’s favourite song, Moon River, with Hewerdine joining in. Napier and the band then returned to the stage with all six musicians closing the show. After The Last Bell Rings was another chance for a sing-along before another Michael Marra song, Mother Glasgow,  closed the night, its refrain of Let Glasgow Flourish ringing out. A glorious end to what was an uplifting show.

Author: Paul Kerr

Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.

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