Although “knackered” after finishing off the last tour with Travis, it wasn’t long before the band’s frontman Fran Healy set about writing and recording his debut solo album. Entitled Wreckorder, tonight the charismatic singer played the album in its entirety along with a handful of Travis numbers suggested by the Celtic Connections crowd.

With the help of his three-piece backing band and string quartet, Healy put in a entertaining shift thanks to some well-crafted songs and a pleasing stage demeanour.

After a couple of promising openers, Shadow Boxing raised the bar, the song’s dark meandering melody making the slow-burner an early highlight, as was Sing Me To Sleep which benefited greatly from the addition of local singer/songwriter Vivien Scotson (chosen by Healy’s mum via Facebook).

The Travis or “busking” section of the show as Healy put it, didn’t get off to the best start with a faltering rendition of Turn, the singer struggling to convince on the song’s high notes. However he did fare better on Sing, the Travis hit drawing a sustained chorus of approval from the crowd.

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If music is the food of love, and let’s say we know this for a fact, then the Red Hot Chilli Pipers are a deep-fried Mars Bar – like the infamous Scottish dish, the Chilli Pipers are a novelty that’s hard to stomach.

At times surreal, constantly laughable, tonight’s two-hour show had to be seen to be disbelieved. From the black fashion kilts to the awkward choreography, the bouts of tartan techno to the choice of songs, no element of tonight’s arduous ordeal did anything to further the cause of Scottish music.

In their matching outfits and with their choreographed moves, which consisted primarily of pointing and swaying, the core pipers often looked like they were auditioning for a part in a Scottish version of the Full Monty.

Safe covers like Clocks, Chasing Cars, Everybody Dance Now and a medley of Rocking All Over The World and Eye Of The Tiger didn’t help matters either. Neither did the difficulty of keeping a strangled cat in tune or their pantomime delivery which, when combined with the music, made tonight feel like the wedding from hell.

In his 25-year 25-album career, Howe Gelb, the man behind Giant Sand, has married a multitude of influences. Country, rock, jazz, blues, punk and psychedelia are just some of the sounds that have made Giant Sand a continuously shifting proposition.

So as you’d expect tonight’s appearance at the ABC, part of this year’s Celtic Connections festival, saw Gelb and his Danish four-piece backing band play an eclectic set that dazzled as much as it disappointed.

The best tracks were those that took the audience on a journey. Hugely evocative lyrics coupled with darkly hypnotic rhythms made numbers like Shiver and Monk’s Mountain truly spell-binding. The latter in particular, punctuated with ragged bursts of distortion as the song reached its gloriously chaotic climax, was quite mesmerising.

However, with such a varied background Gelb’s ability to hold the crowd’s attention at times failed him, especially during the sedate jazz of Time Flies, but it was the increasingly frequent moments when Chris Rhea and Dire Straits sprang to mind that made tonight your archetypal hit and miss performance.

CHEMIKAL UNDERGROUND
ABC1, Glasgow, January 31 * * * *

Tonight’s 15th birthday celebration for Scotland’s most respected label may have featured eight acts but if truth be told it will be a night memorable for just one band, the latest addition to Chemikal Underground’s rostrum, The Unwinding Hours.
The brainchild of former Aeroegrammers Craig B and Ian Cook, the five-piece’s display was little short of jaw-dropping, no mean feat given this was their debut performance.
Perfectly bookended by the epic Knut and as singer/guitarist Craig B put it the “really quiet then really loud” Final Hour, it was a flawless twenty-five minutes and one which sets the band up nicely for the imminent release of their self-titled debut LP.
Elsewhere on the bill it was the Phantom Band that stood out with sprawling, multi-layered instrumental Crocodile the pick of their headlining set. As for the rest of the line-up only Emma Pollock really made much of an impact, thanks to a set of all-new material, the highlight of which was Hug The Harbour.

THE LOW ANTHEM
The Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, January 28 * * * * *

One of the picks of this year’s Celtic Connections, tonight’s performance by Rhodes Island’s The Low Anthem didn’t disappoint – reverential silence engulfed a busy crowd intent on savoring every moment of the quartet’s set.
And rightly so as this was one of those rare evenings when resisting the charms of the band was futile. A night when spines tingled, spirits soared and time seemed to evaporate.
Apparently they’d had a less than successful show the night before but as Anthem leader Ben Knox Miller put it they’d “shaken off the rust”. Few would dispute that after this display. Song after song drew wide-eyed adoration and sustained applause from the Old Fruitmarket audience.
Alongside the truly beguiling Charlie Darwin, songs like Ticket Taker, Senorita and The Ghosts Who Write History Books came alive in a way that eluded the band, not only on their last visit to Glasgow, but also on wax. Authentic, endearing and entirely captivating, tonight The Low Anthem showed just what they’re capable of, and in considerable style too.

JUSTIN TOWNES EARLE
ABC1, Glasgow, January 27 * * * *

Another Celtic Connections show and another puzzling choice of venue as the cavernous surrounds of the ABC1 played host to another meagre crowd. Possibly chosen in order to cater for seating, the hall felt distinctly sterile before the arrival of tonight’s support Justin Townes Earle. But within moments of the tall Nashvillian, and son of ‘hardcore troubadour’ Steve, taking to the stage – complete with mandolin/harmonica-toting sidekick Cory Younts – Earle’s Southern warmth and charm had started to work its magic on what was a receptive audience.
Earle’s music, at its purest, wouldn’t be out of place on the Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack – it evokes the spirit of a pre-war America as imagined on the silver screen. It was at its most emotive on They Killed John Henry and particularly Mama’s Eyes, both setting the tone in style for what was a thoroughly absorbing display by the edgy yet charismatic singer.
Rounding off proceedings with the title track of his latest album, The Good Life’s honky tonk swing ensured the warmest of responses from the crowd and brisk business at the merch table.

CERYS MATTHEWS
ABC1, Glasgow, January 25 * * *

In recent years Cerys Matthews has been better known as a reality TV star than a recording artist. After the acrimonious demise of Britpop boomers Catatonia, and a brief repatriation to the States, Matthews returned home and appeared on I’m A Celebrity.
The choice of comeback-route wasn’t a great surprise at the time, but two years on it seems somewhat incongruous, a fact the Welsh songwriter seems ready to accept if her anti-reality TV quips are anything to go by tonight.
Those chats between songs provided much needed filler throughout as with the distinctly reserved crowd seated, and low in number, the complete lack of atmosphere that plagued pretty much all of Matthews’ performance would have been unbearable.
Save for guitarist Kevin Teel’s occasional bluesy country flourishes it was a set that offered little real excitement, instead the fifteen or so tracks taken mainly from Matthews’ Nashville and folk inspired solo career, came and went in easy, inoffensive style.
The darker Americana of Weightless Again showed Matthews and her four-piece band in the best light but the inclusion of Road Rage seemed somewhat out-of-place alongside her less poppy more Celtic-fare.

DREVER MCCUSKER WOOMBLE
ABC1, Glasgow, January 16 * * * *

Last night’s torchlight parade from George Square to the steps of the Concert Hall marked the start of the sixteenth Celtic Connections. Tonight however the eighteen-day event really kicked off with Glasgow playing host to numerous gigs across the city. Undoubtedly the pick of the bunch was the appearance by Drever McCusker Woomble.
The trio, accompanied in part by Heidi Talbot, guitarist Boo Hewerdine and Ewen Vernal on double bass, played a crowd-pleasing selection of songs from both their individual repertoires and last year’s collaborative effort Before The Ruin.
After gentle opener Silver and Gold, the packed ABC1 crowd were introduced to Irish singer Talbot. It didn’t take long for the striking singer to make her presence felt, her distinctive vocal providing the perfect foil to Roddy Woomble’s restrained delivery and giving new single Into The Blue real depth.
The highlight of their eleven-song set came courtesy of All Along The Way, John McCusker’s wistful violin coupled with Woomble’s more emotive vocals helping elevate the song.
A couple of fairly non-descript folk numbers could have derailed proceedings somewhat but ultimately they did little to dampen the spirits of what was a hugely receptive and appreciative crowd.