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Transatlantic Sessions, Symphony Hall, Birmingham review - folk fusion from Burns to the boss | reviews, news & interviews

Transatlantic Sessions, Symphony Hall, Birmingham review - folk fusion from Burns to the boss

Transatlantic Sessions, Symphony Hall, Birmingham review - folk fusion from Burns to the boss

Scottish, Irish and American traditions are woven together by this Celtic supergroup

Musicians of Transatlantic Sessions on the roadunknown

In its seventeenth incarnation, Transatlantic Sessions - a concert comprising music from some of the finest names in Scottish, Irish and American folk - had its penultimate night of its UK tour in a packed-out Symphony Hall, Birmingham on Friday evening.

At first it might feel like an overly large venue for a group of around fifteen musicians. After all, as the name suggests, the hall’s been designed with a symphony orchestra in mind. However, the velvet curtain which hid the organ gallery, clever use of lighting, and some seriously good sound engineering all came together to lend to the session the feel of a far more intimate gig. That and the cosy rapport the performers had with the audience, despite them being over 2000 in number. 

The stage was shared by numerous musicians, each taking a turn at fronting this multinational folk supergroup. The New-Mexican singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Cahalen Morrison kicked off the session with a couple of tunes, My Girl’s Heavy and Wealth of Sorrow, the latter of which is the title of Morrison’s upcoming album, recorded in just a day and a half in a remote chapel on the border of New Mexico and Colorado. His music is steeped in the traditions of old-time and bluegrass, though is still fresh and innovative. Crossing back to this side of the Atlantic, Irish singer Cathy Jordan, who fronts the Irish band Dervish, took to the helm, singing the traditional Irish song Sliabh Gallon Braes with a haunting passion. 

Next up was American singer and mandolin player Sierra Hull, who, at the age of only 28, is already one of the most accomplished bluegrass musicians performing today. Her track How Long saw her sultry singing beautifully weave over the top of her intricate and virtuosic mandolin playing, while Lullaby was a poignant, sweet song beautifully exuding the pain of homesickness. Scottish folk singer Rachel Sermanni sang her own composition, Breathe Easy with a gorgeously smoky, almost jazzy voice, and gave a lovely rendition of Robert Burns’s Ae Fond Kiss (even if she did get the words wrong in the first verse).Ending the first set was Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel leading the band in a fun and lighthearted version of Bruce Springsteen’s I’m on Fire, the myriad folk influences working perfectly with Springsteen’s melody. 

The second half saw some equally fantastic performances, including Sierra Hull’s Weighted Mind, which sees the singer depart a little from the traditional bluegrass style with a track that’s jazzy, with a lot of Latin flavours, though still true to its North American roots. Double-bassist Daniel Kimbro played with a mellow, jazz-tinged tone while Hull’s ornamentation on the mandolin illuminated the blue notes in the melody. Cahalen Morrison’s Month of May was sung with a powerful urgency, and Rachel Sermanni’s Eggshells was tender and lilting. 

This is a phenomenal group of musicians, and it was a privilege to be able to witness them share a stage. The synchronicity and tightness of the band was incredible and a real sense of musical egalitarianism was present. Some of the night’s most stunning moments were to be found in the two encores, the first being the folk song The Old Churchyard,  sung in exquisite three part harmony by Jordan, Hull and Sermanni with a gently tender accompaniment from Phil Cunningham on Accordion. The second - a set of ceilidh tunes - was a rousing, uplifting end to an evening of spectacular traditional music making from both sides of the great ocean.


Echo every word. Stunning show.

Fantastic concert lifted by Tommy Emmanuel performance before interval, then came lift off in 2nd half. Hall was silent for 'The Old Graveyard' haunting rendition, pin dropping moment.

Wrongly said The Old Graveyard' should be 'The Old Churchyard' in my previous comment.

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