Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jim Malcom at the Heartland Gallery

There has been a terrific Celtic music series running here in Urbana-Champaign for the past several years. As Dean Karres, who runs the series, told me on Sunday night, they have been extremely fortunate in being able to bring top Celtic talent into town. Tommy Peoples, David Munnelly, Paddy Keenan and Ged Foley? Yeah, I would say so!

On Sunday night, the featured act was Jim Malcom, the former lead singer for the Old Blind Dogs, one of the two or three best Scottish bands out there (and a group that I, sadly, have yet to see live). The performance was at the Heartland Gallery on Main Street in Urbana, a convenient two-block walk from my house.

Jim came out ready to play and ready to engage: a lament about Scotland's having been knocked out of World Competition concluded with, "And you made it in, isn't that right? And you don't even care!" He spoke of his hometown of Dundee, noting that the jute produced in Dundee had been used to make the blankets for both the North and the South in the U.S. Civil War and also both the French and Germany armies in World War I. Keeping us up-to-date on the implications of current immigration laws, he said, "To work in the U.S. I have to get a cultural visa -- a P-3 -- and so I have to 'faithfully and accurately represent the culture of Scotland'... So it's doom and gloom from here on out!"

His voice was in fine form from the opening "Lochanside" to his version of Andy M. Stewart's beautiful "The Valley of Strathmore," the melancholy "An Hour in the Gloaming" and the historical "Battle of Waterloo," the playing of which once earned him boos -- his only ever -- in France. The original "From the Clyde to the Susquehanna" was a terrific song about a Scottish miner coming to the United States to be a farmer and ending up back in the mines -- in Pennsylvania -- instead.

The set ended with Robert Burns' "A Man's a Man for A' That" (which Jim used to sing with the Old Blind Dogs) and the strange claim that Jim was going to disappear because of an important teleconference but had found Robert Burns himself -- still alive in this the 250th anniversary year of his birth -- to fill in.

When the second set started, lo and behold, there was Robert Burns, offering to sing a few songs and wondering if he would be able to figure out how to play Jim's guitar and harmonica. Starting with the uptempo "Rantin Rovin Robin," on which we sang a chorus or two, and then the famous "My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose," the rest of the set was all Robert Burns.

"Deil's Awa wi the Exciseman," "The Shepherd's Wife" and the beautiful "Now Westlin Winds" were all highlights. After a little limberjack interlude, the show closed with "Auld Lang Syne" -- not with the common melody used on New Year's Eve but instead with a melancholy little tune that provided perfect closure to the evening.

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