fri 19/07/2024

Transatlantic Sessions, Southbank Centre - an evening of stellar music-making | reviews, news & interviews

Transatlantic Sessions, Southbank Centre - an evening of stellar music-making

Transatlantic Sessions, Southbank Centre - an evening of stellar music-making

The Royal Festival Hall becomes a back porch like no other

Eric Clapton dropped in for a couple of numbers, adding to the all-star line-up

It all ended in great style, the 20th edition of The Transatlantic Sessions which closed out its tour at London’s Southbank Centre on Saturday. The line-up of musicians is, of course, an embarras de richesse: a house band led by Aly Bain, master fiddler and Scottish icon, and Jerry Douglas, dobro and steel guitar maestro, a Nashville legend whose mantelpiece bears the weight of 14 Grammys.

They were joined by the cream of Anglo-American music-making – John Doyle, Phil Cunningham, James Mackintosh and John McCusker among others – each given their moment in the spotlight but mostly content just to share it with their compadres.

And who should come on after intermission to add to this supergroup? None other than Eric Clapton, who “begged to play” with friends old and new. Douglas introduced him as the guy who taught him “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, George Harrison’s paean to the power of universal love. Clapton, of course, played it at the Concert for George but in London this weekend it was played in tribute to two great names so recently lost – Jeff Beck and David Crosby. The audience was ecstatic, and thrilled when Clapton remained centre-stage to sing “Sam Hall”, also in honour of Beck, who took over from him in the Yardbirds. As the last notes faded away amid rapturous applause, he took a seat with the rest of the musicians at the back of the stage.

The eighth and final concert in a tour that kicked off in Glasgow where The Transatlantic Sessions were born, a collaboration between BBC Scotland, RTE and BBC Four, it provided almost three hours of joyful music-making, the ultimate back-porch jam in which the musicians have at least as much fun as the audience, which stomped and whooped in delight and was reluctant to allow the evening to end.

“Waiting for the Federals” got the proceedings off to rollicking start, Douglas having first run through a rapid roll-call of the band as he bounded on stage. Doyle offered an early solo with Ewan MacColl’s “Tunnel Tigers”, taken from the great Radio Ballads of the 1950s. He ceded the stage to Martha Wainwright, who recalled that brother Rufus was still an unknown when the Wainwrights played the first Transatlantic Sessions. She reprised “Goin’ Back to Harlan”, which Kate and Anna McGarrigle had sung at that 1995 show. Wainwright’s other contributions at the Royal Festival Hall Saturday included Tom Waites’ “Take It with Me When I Go”.

Among the newer voices, Amythyst Kiah stood out, a Chatanooga gal who’s played with Rhiannon Giddens on the Songs of Our Native Daughters project. Her contributions included “Firewater” and “Wild Turkey” from her 2021 album Wary + Strange. She describes her style as “southern gothic” but however you think of it she’s worth checking out.
Karen Matheson, lead singer of Capercaillie, glittered in a silver sequinned jacket in honour of her 60th birthday – naturally she was lustily serenaded. Her songs, each prefaced by engaging contextual comments, took us from north-east Scotland to the Western Isles and included a notable reading of “I Will Set My Ship in Order”, a beautiful ballad of unrequited love.

The evening closed with Phil Cunningham’s wordlessly evocative tribute to Ukraine, “The Sadness of It All”, composed for his friend Boris Grebenshchikov, “Russia’s Bob Dylan”, now living in self-imposed exile in Britain. Sets of fiddle and pipe tunes sent people homeward in a feel-good mood. It was quite an evening.

Liz Thomson's website


It certainly was a fantastic night of music. Though there must be a better term than Anglo-American when the musicians mentioned are also Scottish, Irish and Canadian . This is rather the point of the show and its intimate relationship with the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow

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