FolkWorld Live Review 2/99:

The new look (and sound)

Fresh power from Old Blind Dogs and Anam

at Celtic Connections Glasgow 1999

By Michael Moll

The Festival Club is one of the greatest features of Celtic Connections Festival. Every night when all the official concerts are finished, at about 11.30 p.m. the Festival Club programme starts, with many major bands playing in the intimate club atmosphere. You can be sure that once you are there you won't be home much before 4 a.m. or even later.
The festival club is also a popular place for the better-known bands to try out if the new programme or line-up works in front of an audience. This year, two old hands of the Celtic scene could be seen (one of) the first times in their new line-up on stage - and for both the Old Blind Dogs and Anam it's been very successful.

Old Blind Dogs 98, Press photo On a Friday night in the packed Festival Club, the Old Blind Dogs, one of Scotland's popular folk bands, had their first-ever appearance with the new singer. Just four days before, Celtic Connections had featured the last concert of the old Dogs (to be seen on the pic) in the Fruitmarket.
The old singer, Ian F Benzie, is now, sadly, retired from the band. He has been the Dogs' lead singer since the band's start in 1990; and he with his charismatic singing will be missed by the band members and fans. Also leaving the band is Fraser Fifield, the brilliant piper and sax player - Old Blind Dogs with sax were a totally new dimension; Fraser moves on to concentrate on other musical projects.

Old Blind Dogs; photo by The Mollis So this evening we have the new OBD singer on stage, singer/songwriter/guitarist Jim Malcolm (recently featured in FolkWorld), along with the other new Old Blind Dog Rory Campbell of Deaf Shepherd fame on small and highland pipes and whistles. The percussion part is being taken over by Iain MacFayden. And the familiar Dogs still left are Johnny Hardie (fiddle) and Buzzby McMillan (electric bass, low whistle).

Jim Malcolm in a session; photo by The Mollis Amazingly enough, the sound is still the typical Old Blind Dogs sound. When I heard of the new line-up, I thought, well sounds good, but it will be something completely different. But still it IS the unique Old blind Dogs sound. Although Jim Malcolm brings naturally also some of his individuality into the band, the songs are still arranged in the OBD manner; and it seems that the songs are mostly traditionals. While Fraser's sax is missing, Rory still can take over very well - his talented inputs on pipes and whistles make up a big part of the great sound. And, yes, the unique OBD percussion, for most of the band's time until 1997 by Davy Cattanach, gives still under the guidance of Ian MacFayden the special heart beat to the music.

It's really impressive how an old established band can manage to exchange three charismatic musicians and still have the same appeal to the audience. I still love this band, and I guess most Old Blind Dogs fans will agree when they experience them.

Anam had three nights later one of their debut appearances in new line-up, closing the Festival club on Monday Night - ehm - Tuesday morning. Aimée Leonard, formerly bodhrán player and female singer of Anam, who has been seen all over Europe playing bodhrán at the Eurovision song contest 1997, has left the band. She does plan to continue singing, teaching and playing music. The band will sorely miss Aimée.

Anam; photo by The Mollis Instead of her, Anam is joined this night by their new Scottish Gaelic singer/songwriter/bodhrán player Fiona Mackenzie from the Isle of Lewis known through her appearances in Seelyhoo and - with her sisters - in the band MacKenzie; and Anna-Wendy Stevenson, a fiddle player from Edinburgh who also plays with Calluna and the Anna Murray Band. The rest of the band sees the familiar Anam faces of Brian Ó hEadhra from Ireland on vocals, songwriting and guitar, Treasa Harkin from Ireland on button accordeon and Neil Davey from Cornwall on mandolin and bouzouki.

Although often Anam are said to be an Irish band, in fact it is a true Interceltic band based in Edinburgh. Their music has aspects from as diverse Celtic traditions as Irish, Scottish, Cornish and Breton, and that just makes the music exciting. Up to now, the band has been hugely successful, with world tours and a major record deal in Asia with JVC label.

Fiona and Brian; photo by The Mollis Their new line-up seems to be the strongest they have ever had. Fiona MacKenzie adds with her beautiful voice to Anam's music a new dimension: Songs in Scottish-Gaelic language. So now Anam have both songs in Irish and Scottish Gaelic; and Fiona and Brian both also write songs in 'their' Gaelic. The two voices harmonise very well - they are not too similar, giving the songs that bit of edges that was before sometimes missing in the Anam sound.

Instrumentally, Anam are now also on their heights - with the introduction of Anna-Wendy, the fiddle makes a welcome addition to Anam's sound, making it still much richer. Neil Davey's Bouzouki is these days also an important feature in the great sound of Anam.

For me, Anam are now with their new line-up one of the very best bands on the Celtic scene, and we can look forward to their further works. Expect an interview with Anam in one of the next issues!

Just as a short note: Aimee, Anams former member, was also seen regularly at Celtic Connections: She was one of the friends at the concert of Catriona MacDonald & friends, and I enjoyed in particular also her duo set with Blues singer/songwriter Rory MacLeod - godd stuff.

It's been a bit of a re-emergence of the Scottish scene for me, with very successful line-up changes of two of the most popular bands from Scotland both staying true to their music. A happy affair.

Photo Credit: All Photos by The Mollis; from Top to Bottom:
The old face of Old Blind Dogs, press photo; the new face of Old Blind Dogs, at the Festival Club; Jim Malcolm in Session in Edinburgh; the new face Anam at the Festival Club; Anam's Brian and Fiona at the Festival Club.

This is one of a whole series of live reviews from Celtic Connections - watch out for the other ones both in this and the next FolkWorld issues!

Infos for a possible future festival available at: Glasgow Royal Concert Hall homepage with Celtic Connections

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