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Young Critic Corner | Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton

An Electrifying Scottish Folk Performance


On Thursday the 8th of June, the CatStrand hosted a brilliant trinity of Scottish Folk performers.

Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton, performing with Jenn Butterworth, provided a night of high octane jigs and reels as well as some ethereal melodies, and some laughs between the performances.

The insanely talented trio performed with bagpipes, whistles, guitars, citterns, drums, and electronic accompaniments, creating a holistic performance that felt both ancient and traditional as well as fresh, modern, and new. Most impressive was their seamless switching between instruments in the middle of sequences, sometimes even multiple switches over the course of one piece, and all three were able to pick up and proceed with perfection and seemingly without breaking a sweat.

Ross and Ali, winner of the BBC 2 Folk Awards as 'Best Duo', were without a doubt two of the best bagpipers I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. Their unending energy and skill, as well as their camaraderie, was the heart and soul of the entire night. Jenn Butterworth, who completes this trio, was in her element with the guitar, maintaining a solid performance that served as the spine for their entire set. Jenn proved tonight that Symbiosis III would simply not be the same without her. All three seemed to disappear into their own shared world when the music began, communicating with looks alone, conveying so much with only glances, as if they were creating the melodies in real-time. Comfortable with each other and the crowd, the trio maintained good humour and high spirits throughout the night, often joking between pieces and even engaging in wholesome rapport with some of the audience members.

The energy of their more upbeat music could be felt throughout the venue, not just from the electrifying vibrations, but through the shaking of the seats from the thumping of feet and clapping of hands in the audience. While it was almost a shame that it was a seated event, as many, myself included, wanted to get up and dance as if it were a ceilidh, the inclusion of the more serene and calming slow airs may not have worked as well in that kind of an event.

Speaking of their slow airs, the calmer music brought the audience into a sort of modern mythology of Scotland. It was hard not to disappear into the sounds and picture a montage of the Scottish landscapes, traversing locations both impossibly ancient and yet familiar and modern. Taking us through a series of instrumental epics, the three balanced the tension and release of each sequence with perfection, never letting a tune go on for too long nor moving on before the audience had had its fill.

Dumfries and Galloway was blessed to have had a visit from this trinity of Scottish Folk performers, bringing beautiful and electric music to our little corner of Scotland.

Review by Thomas McClure

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