Capercaillie - Live at Ferneham Hall
15 April 2001
Concert Review

Capercaillie Live at Ferneham Hall

Review and HTML © Russell W Elliot 2001
Formatted for 800 x 600 or larger windows
Last updated: 16 April 2001

Capercaillie had another tremendous performance as the headline act of the at the tenth annual Gosport and Fareham Easter [Folk] Festival at Ferneham Hall (Fareham, Hampshire, UK) last night. The closing session of the third of the festival's four days began with two well-appreciated support acts. Apologies from the organisers for a late start due to technical difficulties encountered during the sound check were well received despite the heightened audience interest in the headline act. Ferneham Hall is a lovely and intimate venue--the tremendous sound achieved in the concert was a result of the Hall's already good acoustic quality, good engineering and an excellent sound system.

First up was the award-winning Gaelic singer Anne Martin--from the Scottish isle of Skye--accompanied by harpist and backing vocalist Ingrid Henderson. Anne and Ingrid have worked together since they met as part of a larger ensemble at Celtic Connections in 1996 and have performed as a duo at many festivals throughout Scotland as well as a tour of Holland in 1998 and of the Czech Republic in 1999. This partnership highlights the unique musical tradition of the West Highlands. Their short set included a variety of Gaelic tunes and a couple of rousing walking songs. During the performance it was easy to relate to the description in The Scotsman newspaper as "awesomely beautiful" with her style of singing Gaelic traditional songs coming "straight from the heart." We especially enjoyed Ingrid's backing vocal work on the walking songs and in the rousing harp part in the closing number to their short set. Their website is full of further information and soundbites as well.

Gjallarhorn, with four of their five members in tow, is a world-music oriented folk band from Finland. They were up next, having made their United Kingdom debut in a set performed at the Festival just three hours earlier. The band is fronted by the stunning vocalist and violin player Jenny Wilhelms, a classically trained musician who is presently continuing her studies in Helsinki. Also performing were Adrian Jones (viola, mandola, kalimba), Tommy Mansikka-Aho (didgeridoo, slideridoo and Jew's harp) and David Lillkvist (udu, djembe, darabouka, shaman drum and other ethnic percussion). Jenny explained the origins and themes of each of the songs in the group's short set drawn from their their latest album Sjofn, which clearly sold very well at the festival. The group's songs are full of Jenny's powerful and far ranging vocal work--she has a tremendous voice. The cover artwork for the new album is as captivating as the music. It illustrates a view of Sjofn, an ancient Scandinavian goddess who awakens love and passion between people. The songs "Goddess of Spring" and "Dolphin Calling" were certainly two standouts in their performance; pre-recorded backing tracks provided additional depth to the band's already rich sound. Other songs included the group's unique renditions of Swedish and Finnish folk songs from their Scandinavian homeland. Their well-designed website is full of further information as well as an extensive set of tracks for online sampling.

Capercaillie's headline performance was outstanding in every respect. Fronted by lead singer Karen Matheson, the eight person group consisted of Donald Shaw (keyboards and accordian), Charlie McKeron (fiddle) and Manus Lunny (bouzouki and guitar), Michael McGoldrick (flute, whistles, uillean pipes), Ewen Vernal (six-string and double bass) and James MacKintosh (durms) and another [currently unidentified] musician (percussion). In support of their most recent album Nądurra and sticking with the folk festival's theme, the almost two hour long set was more traditionally oriented--full of rousing jigs and reels--than the 1997 Beautiful Wasteland tour (review).

A fantastic introduction to the rich Celtic sound of Capercaillie and Karen Matheson's vocal prowess, the set opened with the a sweetly sung Gaelic vocal entitled "Mo Chailin" from the most recent album. The band's blend of keyboard and bouzouki is offset by the calling flute and voilin parts. A new arrangement of the title track from the band's prior album--"Beautiful Wasteland"--was one of the more contemporary tunes played during the evening. Capercaillie's lushly produced arrangements of traditional tunes began with an accordian, flute and fiddle-driven theme in "The Cockerel and The Creel." Although made clear throughout their on-stage performance, the artists' musicianship is most evident in these rousing and fast-paced numbers. Donald Shaw's and Michael McGoldrick's fingers move faster than can possibly be imagined; Charlie McKerron is quite fast on his fiddle as well!

Capercaillie uniquely blend fine instrumental performances and arrangements with Karen Matheson's stunning vocals. The Daily Telegraph wrote, "Few women fronting any kind of British band possess a voice to touch Karen Matheson's, remarkable in English but breathtaking when she draws on her Hebridean roots to sing in Gaelic." She has become a Scottish icon and is universally recognised as the finest Gaelic singer alive today. And she is as incredible to see and hear performing on stage as she is on Capercaillie's albums and her solo project, The Dreaming Sea.

Alternating between vocal and instrumentals the set continued with "Finlay's" from Beautiful Wasteland, another slow reel, and the slipjigs in "Argyll Lassies" both from Nądurra. We were especially fond of Karen's evocative vocal work and the accompanying arrangements of the heartfelt ballad "Truth Calling." Further instrumentals performed in the set were highly rousing, drawing quite a few from the audience to dance in the aisles and in front of the stage. The numbers included "Kepplehall, "Seice Ruairidh" and "Rob Roy Reels" amongst others, which quite likely included some new ones.

The main set concluded with "The Tree" from Beautiful Wasteland. Wild applause from the audience--before the final Festival announcements for the day and another afterwards--resulted in the band's return for one encore. An extended arrangement of "Pige Ruadh"--a final Karen Matheson rapid-fired mouth music extravaganza--was performed featuring solo performances by the each of the group members. It was a stunning conclusion to an outstanding performance.

Interested readers should explore these other Capercaillie reviews at Musical Discoveries:

Dusk Till Dawn - The Best of Capercaillie
Glenfinnan - Songs Of The '45
The Capercaillie Collection 1990-1996 [DVD]
The Guildhall - Southampton 29 September 1997 (Live)

Capercaillie, credited with being the major force in bringing Celtic music to the world stage, have indeed returned to their roots, peforming primarily an acoustic-based set while retaining a lush style that produces a vibrant and contemporary sound. With the majority of the artists playing more than one instrument as well, the band's musicianship was supberb and the set clearly illustrated tremendous virtuosity, skill and overall command of their craft. While we might have preferred to hear a few more of Capercaillie's more contemporary tracks, the group's selection of largely traditionally-based tunes delighted the audience, fit the theme of the Festival and supports their latest album. And it made our most recent trans-Atlantic journey entirely worthwhile! We really can't wait to see them again.

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