The Shee

The Mitchell, Glasgow

15 January 2016

Well. That surpassed all my expectations, and wasn't like any Shee concert I've seen before (and I've seen 10 of them now). I went to see The Shee, and I would have been happy with just that because they've never disappointed me, but I got so much more.

Before I can review this properly, I need to explain the concept. Each of the six members of The Shee asked one other musician to compose a piece of music for the group. The six pieces would form the basis of this concert (and their next album). The list of composers reads like a who's who of the folk music world (and, incidentally, includes some of my favourite musicians). The idea was so great, I couldn't resist making the trip to Glasgow to hear the results. I knew I was going to love it.

What I didn't know was exactly how the evening would be formatted. Each of the composers (bar one) was present and each performed a duet with one member of The Shee before introducing their composition and letting the band take over.

Kathryn Tickell played a dazzling set of tunes with Shona Mooney (both on fiddle). Martin Simpson (Martin Simpson!) sang Louisiana with Laura-Beth Salter. Andy Cutting played a duet with Amy Thatcher — I don't think I have ever in my life heard a melodeon/accordion duet before, and it's my new favourite instrument combination. Olivia Ross sang a duet with Chris Wood. Rachel Newton sang an unaccompanied duet with Karine Polwart.

It was like having a folk supergroup parade one-by-one across the stage. Honestly, I feel like I didn't pay enough for my ticket.

But in each case, the members of The Shee felt like equal partners. Despite the disparity in experience and "name" recognition, the younger partners in each duet demonstrated that they deserved to stand up there with the big names. Which I knew already, of course. That's why I've been following this band for the last eight years.

One thing that did work particularly well was having each guest do all the talking when they were on stage. Because each one has a wealth of (often hilarious) anecdotes, and a natural presenting manner and rapport with the audience that ... well, no disrespect to the members of The Shee, but the difference was noticable and maybe that's the area where the difference in experience does count.

When it came to the new compositions, three songs (one for each of the band's singers) and three instrumentals, I can't describe everything after only one listen but I was mesmerised by every one.

They were a very varied and, largely, un-Shee-like set. Kathryn Tickell's was probably the one that came closest to a "typical" Shee tune, because it was arranged to show the band's main strength — that they have six lead instruments — and they were all given an equal chance to shine in this long and complex piece full of unusual tunes. The other pieces were perhaps less typical for the group's style, but every piece suited them and sounded fantastic, and made for a varied and constantly surprising set.

Add in the five duets, and the two Shee songs that the band opened with before introducing the guests (Troubles and ... I think it may have been Northern Frisk?) and the whole concert came close to two hours long. Plus an encore of all eleven musicians playing Chilly Winds which was on The Shee's first album (but an old Kingston Trio song, I think, so probably already known to a lot of the guests?).

The whole concept of the show was inspired, and I suspect won't be repeated, and I feel really privileged to have been there for it.

Just absolutely perfect.