During a hectic Fringe, it’s not uncommon to find harassed reviewers jumping from venue to venue with scant knowledge of the next act on their schedule. And so it was that I arrived at Assembly Rooms with the vague impression that Karen Matheson was a comedian. As a mature audience assembled outside the grand ballroom, however, it became evident that if Matheson was a comedian, she must be an unusually wholesome one. As this benighted reviewer was soon to discover, Matheson is no wholesome stand-up – she’s a wholesome singer, and and not just any singer, but one blessed with a voice as sweet as Scottish honey.
Karen Matheson – as Wikipedia later explained – is an acclaimed Scottish folk singer, better known for her work with Capercaillie. For this evening’s solo performance, she is backed up by a male ensemble on the guitar, double bass and keyboard.
A hush descends over the reverent audience as Karen Matheson approaches the mic and begins to incant beautiful spells in Gaelic. The vast majority of those present have no idea what she’s saying, but even if it were her weekly shopping list being reeled off it wouldn’t matter; this is enchanting stuff.
Low notes rumble through the venue as the double bass is plucked deftly. At the side of the stage, James Grant’s shimmering guitarwork ascends heavenward, mingling with the dulcet tones of the Gaelic songstress. Overhead the chandelier coruscates as it deflects the mellifluous sounds that are dissipating into the ornate plasterwork.
Perched atop a set of wedge heels, Matheson chats amiably between songs while the audience listens intently, as a good folk audience should. The band change from a slow lament to a joyful jig, with the keyboard player switching to accordion. The lush, warm sounds created by the adroit foursome is a testament to Scotland’s rich folk tradition.
If Burns were alive to hear their arrangement of his poetry, one fancies the bard would be touched by Matheson’s sweet yet sonorous tones, breathing new life into his oeuvre. Matheson sings a tale of the cotton mills, and a touching song about her son which is steeped with emotion.
If you like your music snarling, sweaty and parent-unfriendly, you’ll likely be less disposed to Karen Matheson’s sedate folk music. However, even the punkiest of reviewers would have to admit to being in awe of her ethereal voice.
I may have no idea what she’s singing, but I know it’s hauntingly good; so much so that I feel like Odysseus, tied to the mast so that I can hear the blissful song of the Sirens. When we think of the most beautiful languages of the world, we usually envisage French or Greek, and yet in song, Gaelic might just be the bonniest of the lot.
I leave with Matheson’s voice ringing in my ears, and an inclination to refrain from ship sailing that evening, lest I be lured onto the rocks by the siren song of an enchantress.
Since our last attempt at a rating system (scoring video games out of 79) was such a raging success, we’ve decided to adopt an entirely new system for the Fringe: each show’s rating will be represented as a shooped reaction face. Of a cat. Because…well, just because. We’ve got an entire folder of this cat’s RFs, and it seems only right to put them to good use, helping people make an informed decision about the merits of each show. Let kitty be your guide, cos that’s as close to a rating system as you’re gonna get.