It’s the last night of Celtic Connections and the big guns are wheeled out for this packed show at The Old Fruitmarket. The doors opened one hour before the support band were due on and by the time your scribe arrived there already was a good crowd packed up front, camped out as it were in order to get a close up view of The Mavericks, and an odd crowd, not one you’d expect at a Celtic Connections gig. Although there were no pink Stetsons on show this was the type of crowd you’d get at a Dolly Parton concert, star quality drawing in the paying public who want a good time and a good time was what the headliners delivered tonight.
As the lights lowered Offenbach’s ‘Infernal Gallop’ (AKA The Can Can) boomed from the stage for several minutes before the band barrelled onto the stage, the crowd going crazy. The eight piece band immediately launched a couple of songs from their latest album, ‘Easy As It Seems’ and ‘Damned If I Do,’ with front man Raul Malo and guitarist Eddie Perez riffing away and the horns blazing over a mighty gutbucket rhythm section. Jeez, this was good but it got better as they played on. ‘Back In Your Arms Again’ was straight from Doug Sahm heaven, ‘Dance In The Moonlight’ rocked excellently and was irresistible in term of wanting to shake and shimmy as the band sounded wonderfully loose limbed with a Caribbean beat and a wheezing accordion solo, the crowd joining in on the La La La refrain. Springsteen’s ‘All That Heaven Allows’ showcased keyboard player Jerry Dale McFadden who was dressed in an outrageous tartan suit topped with a red velvet titfer (and looking uncannily like a slim George Melly).
Several songs in and we’re all revved up but Malo slowed things down and introduced the next song referring to the endless spate of gun shootings in the States before singing the Bee Gees’ ‘How Can you Mend A Broken Heart,’ the first opportunity for his Orbison like voice to really shine. ‘I Wish You Well,’ a song written for his father followed, its Tex Mex colourings an excellent backdrop for his superb singing. A slight reprise then from the partying but they then delved into a wondrous ‘I Will be Yours’ with Malo crooning and serenading the audience including his spoken word part al la Elvis, the crowd by now somewhat apeshit, Malo and the band having wrung out every last sense of passion from them.
The band left to rapturous applause and an encore was (very) noisily demanded and sure enough Malo came back on and sang Dylan’s ‘The Times They are A Changing,’ a very moving delivery especially when he emphasised his disbelief that any Congressmen would heed his call. As it ended the band crept back on stage, an organ motif leading into a surprising delivery of Pink Floyd’s ‘Us & Them,’ don’t ask why, this was the one moment of the night where they lost me, but it was rapturously received by the audience. Next up was the splendiferous and sensuous Cuban slink of ‘All Night Long,’ a glorious celebration of rhythm and Bacardi fuelled nights but then came the moment most folk had been waiting for – that song, ‘Dance The Night Away.‘ If the Fruitmarket allowed fireworks then this was when they would have been set off, a sea of mobiles was cast aloft as just about everyone wanted to catch the moment and, fair enough, it’s a great song. It could have ended there but the band played on with Chuck Berry’s ‘C’est La Vie (You Never Can Tell)’ given a fine outing followed by ‘All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down,’ another Doug Sahm sound-alike and an opportunity for most of the band to solo with a feisty exuberance as guitar, keys, trumpet, sax and accordion all stepped up. An encore that lasted almost as long as the main set, this was a band who seemed to be really enjoying what they were doing and sending the audience into ecstasy. Previously your reporter here had considered The Mavericks as just radio fare, nice to hear but not that interesting. After tonight I’ll be searching them out.
The lottery winners tonight were The Strange Blue Dreams, Glasgow’s coolest purveyors of space age rock’n’roll and twangbilly exotica. Their retro styled transmissions from their very own Twilight Zone had a captive audience (already crammed in having staked their claims for the main act) and their rumbling opener ‘Jungle Drums’ certainly hit a chord with the crowd who cheered immensely at the end, the band hitting that same hip bone shimmying nerve which was anticipating the main act. Some folk had expressed reservations about mismatched support acts and headliners at Celtic Connections via social media but it has to be said that this local band were perfectly placed to warm up The Mavericks’ crowd. The sci-fi rockabilly of ‘Reverberating Love,’ the curious hybrid of skiffle, twang and Morricone that is ‘The Ballad Of The Sun & Moon’ and the sixties styled Roy Orbison meets Phil Spector sound of ‘Electricity’ were as much a celebration of and conglomeration of classic rock and pop motifs as those of The Mavericks and the audience soaked it up.
Obviously pleased to be playing to this packed house the band were excellent and singer David Addison appeared to be in his element, cracking jokes (a good one about the size of The Fruitmarket putting paid to the to the legend of the poor Glaswegian diet, “They must have sold a helluva lot of apples here”). Their last song, the effervescent and exotic Gypsy tinged ‘Anyway,’ had the audience singing along to its La La La chorus (spooky given that The Mavericks repeated this trick later) and as they left the stage it was apparent from the audience uproar that they had won over some new fans, borne out as a queue formed at their merch table at the end of the night.