Unusual Suspects Encore
at Sydney Marine Terminal,
Sydney, Cape Breton
(14 October 2006)

This year, there was only one show to see at the close of Celtic Colours, and a mighty good one it was! The Unusual Suspects concert was one of the best performances I have ever seen. It was a combination of many different genres of music, including Celtic (of course!), rock, jazz and even a bit of a classical sound at times because of the set up on the stage, which looked like a small pops orchestra. There were also bright lights and a fog machine!

The show featured more than 25 wonderful Celtic performers, including Corrina Hewat, Gordie Sampson, David Milligan, Corrine Polwart, the Barra MacNeils, Nuala Kennedy, members of Beolach, and many more! It was incredible. I was overwhelmed by the amount of talent throughout the show.

Since I play the fiddle, I'm usually more into tunes than I am songs, but in this concert setting, I enjoyed listening to both. In the first half of the show, my favorite song was one performed by Gordie Sampson and members of the Barra MacNeils. I liked it because it was done completely a cappella, which was quite a difference from the others that included so many instruments.

The Barra MacNeils were featured quite a bit in the first half. Another great moment was when the family got up and showed their dance steps. It received the loudest cheers and applause that I had heard up to this point.

The second half of the show began with a piano piece called "Celtic Colours Spectrum," performed by David Milligan, who happened to be one of the directors of the show. He is a brilliant Celtic-jazz pianist, and this piece showed what he can do and, given the title, it represented the entire show really well, from slow, lyrical passages to fingers flying over the keys to jazzy chords. It was brilliant.

Next, there was a standoff between the horn section and the pipes section. (That's right -- there was actually a pipes section in this orchestra!) It started off with the pipes droning to a bass solo and then kicked into high gear, with horns and pipes trying to blow each other away. I have to say I considered the final score to be a tie, and judging by the standing ovation that the set received, I think the audience agreed.

Another song I really enjoyed was "Water Lily," which was written and performed by Karine Polwart. She explained she wrote the song for Collin MacKay, and it can be heard on one of her earlier albums, Faultlines. It has a beautiful melody line, and Polwart's voice is very soothing.

My favorite moment from the whole show was when the Barra MacNeils fiddled together. It started out with an air, played by Kyle, and then kicked into the infamous "Tullochgorm," which is one of my favorite tunes. This set was very entertaining because there are a couple variations in the tune where there are two high notes, and then it goes back to being low. Well, every time they hit these two notes, some of the performers would stand up and flail their arms in the air. It showed that many of the artists have a great sense of humor, and the audience really got into it.

At the end of the performance, Corrina Hewat, another show director, thanked the audience for coming and said, "You have a big fiddle ... now, where's your big harp?" Then, she introduced Wendy MacIsaac, who kicked off the last set with a rousing reel. By the end of the set, the whole group was playing and the combination of all the instruments was dynamite. It was so great that the audience demanded more from the performers. So, for an encore, they performed a slow song called "Follow the Heron Home," which was followed by some pipe tunes, during which many of the Unusual Suspects were wearing pointed witch hats.

This show was the most fun show that I attended at Celtic Colours 2006. It was definitely a great way to end the festival.

by Kaitlin Hahn
11 August 2007