Capercaillie UK Tour

The Guildhall - Southampton, England - 29 September 1997

Concert Review © 1997 Russell W Elliot

Last Updated: 04 October 1997

About a year ago, a fellow Clannad fan brilliantly suggested I hear Capercaillie. Since that time we've grown quite fond of this well-established progressive Celtic band from Scotland. They have had nine successful albums, including a television soundtrack, plus a significant contribution to a major motion picture soundtrack. We were overjoyed to learn of their first new album in two years, entitled Beautiful Wasteland, in their fanzine earlier this summer. Their lead vocalist, Karen Matheson, released an excellent first solo album in 1996. Recorded in Spain, Beautiful Wasteland was released on 08 September 1997 and Capercaillie's supporting UK tour has now just concluded.

Fortunately, the nearby Southampton Guildhall was on the circuit and we bought our tickets early enough to sit in the centre section of the fifth row. David and Mandy Shanks who publish the fanzine drove down from the tip of Scotland for the gig -- one of the four they would attend on this tour -- and it was great to finally meet and exchange Capercaillie, Renaissance and Scheherazade musical stories. David and Mandy also introduced us to some very serious Capercaillie fans, most of whom sat in the front row and had a very good time. Our review follows.

At 8:00 PM Ricky Ross, formerly from another Scottish band we were told is called Deacon Blue, stepped on stage and attempted to warm the crowd up with heartfelt songs he sang while either playing on piano or guitar. Perhaps it was the anticipation of Capercaillie that led to our impatience and anxiousness that the opening act would conclude.

The road crew rearranged the stage and set up Capercaillie's countless instruments while the technicians exercised the lights and "smoke" machine to ready the atmosphere for the band's entrance. At 9:00 PM, almost on the dot, the stage went dark while a recording of "M'ionam" -- the opening track from Beautiful Wasteland -- began and the band took their positions on the stage. Capercaillie is a large band -- eight people in total. When they are in position before you, the anticipation of the music they are going to make is second to none. Karen began to sing with the tape and eventually the band took over for the tape and their sound was daunting. Capercaillie is a seriously great progressive Celtic band with a unique sound and a power that is second to none.

Capercaillie are:

Karen Matheson - Lead Vocals
Charlie McKerron - Fiddle
Manus Lunny - Bouzouki, acoustic guitar, backing vocals
John Saich - Bass, acoustic guitar, backing vocals
Donald Shaw - Keyboards, accordian
Wilf Taylor - Drums
Chimp - Percussion
Michael McGoldrick - Flute, uillean pipes, whistle

The band played sixteen tracks during their main set and returned after cheers and applause to do two more in the encore. Here is the set list from the show which we have annotated with the album that each may be found on where we have been able to.

M'ionam (Beautiful Wasteland)
Hollybush / Rob Roy
Co Ni Mire Rium [Who Will Flirt With Me?] (Beautiful Wasteland)
Nil Si I nGra (To The Moon)
Kenny Macdonald's Jigs (Delirium)
Miracle Of Being (Secret People)
Ailein Duinn (Rob Roy Soundtrack and To The Moon)
Kepplehall (Beautiful Wasteland)
Pige Ruadh (Get Out)
Shelter (Beautiful Wasteland)
Claire In Heaven (To The Moon)
Seice Ruaridh (Secret People)
The Harley Ashtray (Secret People)
The Tree (Beautiful Wasteland)


Coisich a' Ruin & Cockles Reels (Get Out) and (Delirium)
Baith & 9/8's

Overall this was an outstanding show with the band providing a good mix of their new material with songs played on previous tours. Karen Matheson is a terrific vocalist to see and hear perform live. She has a tremendous stage presence and when she gets going, there are very few vocalists that can top her. And while the whole band works extremely well and each member contributes significantly to the band's overall sound, Michael McGoldrick (tin whistle, flutes and uillean pipes) and Charlie McKerron (fiddle) were two of the stars of the show in our eyes. Their speed and precision were absolutely the best.

For us the top songs performed were "Shelter," "Claire In Heaven" and "Coisich." These are some of our all time favourite tracks by Capercaillie and it was great to hear them performed live with Karen Matheson just yards from us. The power of the band was evident and her vocals were crystal clear. Karen's unique "mouth tunes" were also great and we can't figure out how she does these and were quite pleased that they were included in the set. Her speed and precision are unequaled. The other songs were also great with stunning performances by the entire band.

This was an outstanding concert in many respects, however we were a bit disappointed with a couple of things. In general, the engineering was not up to the standard of the band's performance. The mix was off through most of the show with only a couple of songs engineered with the instruments balanced among themselves as well as with Karen's vocals. Some might blame it on the boxiness of the venue but the mix was worse than that. On the other hand the sound was clear and free of the annoying buzz or hiss found sometimes even when the mix is up to scratch. We were happily surprised that the sound wasn't deafening as it can be in a progressive Celtic live performance but it could have been a bit louder.

While they have an broad range of tunes to draw from, Capercaillie is in their heart a Celtic band with an extensive repertoire of jigs and reels. We felt the concert's balance between these tunes and Karen's ballads and more accessible songs was slanted more towards the jigs and reels. While we enjoy these some, we were likely in the majority that evening who prefer the other tunes more. However, there were plenty of people that filled the aisles and others that swarmed to the front of the venue to dance and physically demonstrate their enjoyment during the jigs and reels. It is unlikely there is another band on the face of the earth that can do these sorts of tunes with the precision, range and sheer power that Capercaillie does. They are incredible.

This was a truly great concert and representative of world-class live progressive Celtic music, which in our definition includes the sounds of Clannad and Iona (from England), for example. We'll be sure to catch them again when they come to southern England next time and certainly recommend their live show to enthusiasts without hesitation. We would also recommend listening to their new album if the opportunity arises.

Beautiful Wasteland
Image © Survival Records 1997

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