Review – Phill Cunningham’s 60th Birthday Bash, at Celtic Connections 26th Jan by Danny Matheson
Phil Cunningham 60th Birthday Bash at City Halls 26th Jan 2020
On paper this concert had the potential to be one of the must see gigs of Celtic Connections. It did not disappoint! There’s not much to say about Phil Cunningham that has not been seen before and not many superlatives not previously used.
As a wonderful musician there is no doubt, as a wonderful person it was proven tonight that he is that also. Guests were queuing up to pay tribute to him, so much so that Phil Cunningham commented that, “it was his birthday not his funeral” . That type of humour is indicative of the man. Since his early days with Silly Wizard he had been an inspiration to many and has helped so many young artists in their careers. The latest example of this were two young kids, April and Miles, who he had met previously when gigging with Aly Bain and become friends with. He gave these young siblings the chance to play to a packed audience as part of his guest list and they rose to the situation. April on fiddle and Miles on accordion and piano played and conducted themselves with a confidence and talent that belied their young years. Only someone like Phil Cunningham could see the talent they had and be humble enough to give them centre stage in such celebrated company as was present tonight.
The guest list of musicians was endless, as you would have expected from someone with over forty years in the business. Naturally one such guest was Phil’s partner in crime for so many of those years, Aly Bain. Add to the mix such salubrious talent as Hannah Rarity, Karen Matheson, Eddi Reader, John Mccusker, Kris Drever, Duncan Chisholm, Jarlath Henderson, Donald Shaw and the band Flook. There were many others including, and as a huge surprise to the assembled cast, the Irish band Cherish the Ladies. The “House band”, which included many of the aforementioned musicians, were set up like an orchestra which added to the whole night. We were treated to an array of marches, reels, strathspeys, jigs and slow airs and beautifully sung songs. All of which were performed to the very highest standards. The night was kept flowing by the birthday host himself and interspersed with humorous stories and anecdotes which he is so renowned for.
This was a wondrous night of traditional music. Happy birthday Phil Cunningham who is without a doubt the “Godfather” of Scottish Traditional Music. He is one of our last true great all round entertainers. His musical ability, his wit and humour and the encouragement he gives to other aspiring us second to none.
by Danny Matheson