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Celtic Connections 2014: Jan 18th The Olllam and Ross Ainslie

January 20, 2014

A good half of the audience piled into Oran Mor 0n Saturday night had seen Ross Ainslie in his role as a lynchpin of Treacherous Orchestra at the Old Fruitmarket the previous evening and were in search of another dose of stirring tunes and musical excitement. There was plenty of that in his set, rich with sparkling pipe and whistle playing where the endlessly versatile Ainslie combines the speed and emphasis of rock with traditional warmth and precision.

Like his late mentor Gordon Duncan,  though, Ainslie can also tear your heart with a poignant elegy or a lullaby. Ably backed by fellow Treacherosi Aly Hutton, Innes Watson, Duncan Lyall and John Somerville, with Hamish Napier on keyboards, James Mackintosh had been drafted in on percussion, always a wise move for musicians who wish to ensure their music is underpinned by a foundation of firm rhythms and delicate textures.

Rarely if ever has the integration of the pipes’ pentatonic scale and difficult drones been better achieved, resulting in some lovely and unusual musical moments. Ainslie’s first foray into songwriting, an elegy for his grandmother, beautifully sung by Napier, is hopefully the beginning of yet another musical path for him.

After such a rich musical cornucopia, just about anything else would have been an anticlimax. Anything, that is, other than The Olllam (yes, that’s three Ls). The name is derived from an Irish word for a musical master, and they describe themselves as Neo-Acoustic Celtic Post-Rock, which is as good a description as any. There were chunks of the highest quality jazz, generous dollops of 100% pure funk, a smidgen of West Coast American Doobie Brothers-type AOR, and my notes, increasingly illegible after the audience began pogo-ing enthusiastically, have scrawled references to Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Cinematic Orchestra, Lau and the word “reggae”.

The Olllam is, however, is something new, something different and something rather marvellous. At the end of their music-packed, blether-free set, the audience erupted with one voice in a full-throated hurricane roar. Had this not been in the undercroft at Oran Mor, the roof would have lifted off. Do yourself a favour, visit their store, go to their next gig. You can thank me later.

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