Mary Ann Kennedy Glaschu - Hometown Love Song
Review by David Smith
Glasgow, Scotland has long been a hotbed of popular music, with such bands as Franz Ferdinand, Mogwai, Belle and Sebastien, Chvrches, Primal Scream, Travis, and so many others working to get noticed in both the 20th and 21st centuries. Awash in this bounty of great rock and pop music, what can often be ignored is the city’s rich and varied history with traditional folk music. Some of Britain’s oldest folk clubs like the Star Folk Club, Partick Folk Club, and the Ben Nevis all call Glasgow their home, and have made significant contributions to the city’s musical reputation.
Glasgow is also host to the annual Celtic Connections Festival every January for the past 25 years, and for 17 days, the best Celtic music from Britain and Europe comes together to create the largest Winter music festival in the world. Glasgow is also the hometown of traditional Gaelic singer and BBC Radio and Television Scotland host Mary Ann Kennedy. Ms. Kennedy is always a presence at the festival, doing live broadcasts for BBC Radio 3, and singing with other performers. The festival is also a hotbed for collaboration and growth among musicians who are often hearing and playing with musicians from other countries for the first time. Many of those musicians will make Glasgow their home, hoping for continued musical adventures.
Kennedy was brought up in a Gaelic speaking household. Her mother is also a traditional singer (called a ‘tradition bearer’), and is descended from the Campbell clan from the Isle of Skye, off the coast of northern Scotland. Ms. Kennedy studied classical harp and piano as a youngster. By the time she studied for a Master’s degree at the Royal Northern College of Music, her thesis was the study of ‘puirt a beul’, commonly known as ‘mouth music’. This is a vocal style of music which rhythmically simulates the sounds of musical instruments and was employed when there were no instruments available. This style of music is still very popular in the shrinking Gaelic areas of Scotland and Ireland.
Since 1993 Ms. Kennedy has presented a wide range of radio and TV programming around the Gaelic language and traditional Scottish music. She is currently the host of BBC Radio 3’s ‘World on 3’, a program devoted to music from all over the globe. She has also maintained a career as a folksinger, beginning with the folk band Cliar in the 1990s, and continuing to this day as a solo artist.
Ms. Kennedy has also written a book,’Fonn,’ showcasing the music and history of her mother’s family, the Campbell singing dynasty. She is also writing a book about Glasgow’s immigrant community’s musical contributions to Glaswegian song.
Which brings us to her new CD, Glaschu - Hometown Love Song. Much like “St Mungo, a Celtic Suite for Glasgow” composed by William Jackson, and “Glasgow” by Findlay Napier, this showcases a traditional musician paying tribute to a hometown which still holds a huge influence on their lives and their music. Glasgow has undergone many transformations in the 20th and 21st centuries, but has remained home to a great many young and experienced musicians comfortable in their surroundings, and a cheaper alternative to Edinburgh’s or London’s high rents.
Glaschu is an album of many moods, from the bouncy opening track, “The Glasgow Shinty,” to the spoken word of “Orange Parade in Glasgow” and “Sauchiehall Street, Friday Morning,” to Ms. Kennedy’s stark vocals set to Jarlath Henderson’s Irish piping in “Song of the Saltmarket.”
"Òran don Cluthu"
This is a mostly Gaelic traditional album, but also features a few experimental flourishes such as the herky-jerky rhythms of “Òran don Cluthu" (Song for the Clutha, which features the Brooklyn trio The Wiyos), the wailing cello in “Song for Glasgow,” and the lone saxophone playing to Ms. Kennedy’s strong and dramatic voice in “Storm on the Broomielaw,” as well as the country-tinged “Peter the Picture.”
On “Horo tha Mi fo Smalan Dheth" (Statues, a Goose, and the Morning After), Ms. Kennedy’s vocals are joined by many other voices, creating a rhythmic waulking song historically used by remote communities to help in the process of shrinking tweed. The absolutely lovely singing on “Song for Glasgow’ is a highlight of the set.
Almost all of the album is sung/spoken in Scots Gaelic, reflecting the language spoken in Ms. Kennedy’s home growing up. She has a lovely voice, and her enthusiasm for recording these songs in tribute to her ‘Glasgee’ roots is obvious, and makes this an excellent contribution to the Scottish traditional canon.
Ms. Kennedy has created a loving tribute to her hometown which succeeds as a musical testament to her love and appreciation for a city which both gave her birth, and fostered her creative juices. Glaschu is a very strong statement from a woman who has lived in and loved the city and is proud to show it off to her listeners. - David Smith