Live Review
Timewaves, Celtic Connections 2004
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

"Sunday Herald", 8th Feb 2004

After another record-breaking year, Celtic Connections recedes into hazy memory. However, the festival's last night had a surprise up its sleeve - the premiere of Dick Gaughan's first-ever orchestral composition, a continuous 90-minute suite of 12 sections arranged single-handedly by its composer.

Timewaves - Love Song To A People's Music was performed by the Orchestra of Scottish Opera, together with Gaughan on guitar and vocals, Brian McNeill on fiddle, Patsy Seddon on clarsach, Wendy Wetherby on cello, and an eight-strong vocal chorus comprising Archie, Ray and Cilla Fisher, Rory Campbell, Mary MacMaster, Karine Polwart, Alyth McCormack and Heather MacLeod.

It came extensively annotated, via a programme penned by Gaughan, which laid out what seemed at first an impossibly ambitious structure which addressed the historical development of Scottish music across its various constituent traditions, and its relationship with external styles and influences. Not to mention such issues as the cultural effects of Presbyterianism, the conflict between romantic and realistic views of Scotland, and the impact of the Industrial Revolution.

Seemed, that is, until the music got under way, whereupon, it all made sense. From the opening line of Ane Auld New Sang, sung by Polwart, which itemised traditional music's ability to articulate humanity's full experiential spectrum, from the mundane to the profound, Gaughan for the most part succeeded brilliantly in translating his ideas into music.

In several sections this was realised by setting up a shifting series of dialogues, or arguments, both within the orchestra and between it and the traditional players, pitting different idioms or motifs against one another with dexterity and sophistication.

Elsewhere, Gaughan took a more direct approach, as in his own lead-vocal number The Children Of Our Street, a tribute to generations of past tradition-bearers which incorporated a list of names, from Jeannie Robertson to Johnny Cunningham.

While the piece contained scrappier or wobblier moments, Gaughan's crowning achievement was to turn the "problem" of reconciling folk and orchestral modes entirely on its head, making it instead the central creative dynamic of the piece, by both playing to and celebrating the respective strengths of either side.

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