After some rather awkward support from sacred harp singing husband and wife duo Cath and Phil Tyler (that’s Tyler not Taylor, no pop tinged DIY from PAWS fronting skate enthusiast tonight) that we’ll just say isn’t many people’s cup of tea, following The Deep Dark Woods’ raucous but underwhelming performance you are left with that feeling that things can only get better.
And with tonight’s headliner nothing less than sublime is expected, yes it’s Bill Callahan who many would argue is the biggest pull of this year’s Celtic Connections once hometown heroes are removed, however the journeyman singer-songwriter cuts a solemn figure centre stage with his band seated around the large stage.
That is soon forgotten as latest album, Dream River, ‘hit’ ‘The Sing’ unleashes Callahan’s strong baritone and accomplished, although not striking, presence upon an eager Glasgow crowd.
It quickly becomes clear that Callahan isn’t a man who will indulge in idle chit chat, he instead lets subtle charm and wit come across through his impressive collection of tracks that most come from reasonably recent but non the less excellent releases.
However, an early standout comes in the form of ‘Dress Sexy at My Funeral’, the only track dating back from his days under his Smog alias.
This charming vibe continues throughout the set but there are points when you become far too aware of the hard floor beneath your feet and all of Callahan’s subtle brilliances can’t save you, for ultimately this isn’t light-hearted stuff.
In fact at points in can be excruciatingly miserable at times and leaves you desiring a seat by a fire with a stiff drink in hand rather than hard flooring under your feet and a watery pint; perhaps a compromise to the Concert Hall, this isn’t standing stuff after all, while some things held in Celtic Connections base venue definitely could have benefited from an unseated venue.
For any criticisms, the main one being the 14-track set seems to trail on far too long, Callahan’s charismatic subtleties and enthralling vocal stories are enough to let you get re-lost in the music, at least for moments at a time, the whimsical ‘America!’ instilling a cheeky hint of disco after the particularly heavy subject matter of ‘One Fine Morning’ being one particular example
Bill Callahan is an enchanting and calming presence, on record his tracks roll by in a soothingly beautiful manor that just oozes charm, whether the tracks are subtly humourous or sheer miserablist, but maybe a Saturday at the ABC, where outside on Sauchiehall Street the apocalypse Callahan sings of seems to be ensuing, isn’t been the best choice; this is definitely one that could befit from a much comfier setting.
Words: Iain Dawson
Photos: Ingrid Mur