Two C-words rolled together, which brought a lot of joy, and maybe relief, to many people at the start of the year. Whether you’re glad to get out of the house, or you’re an artist and it’s a chance to meet with fans and maybe sell some merch to bring money in, Celtic Connections matters.
There are some other big C words that we don’t need to dwell on here, but in the context of this gig, we can’t dismiss the most recent addition to the list of big C-words. Covid.
Stina Marie Claire’s solo project was born of necessity, a product of the feverish early days of lockdown, with everyone floundering and hustling. A more involved Patreon project evolved into a fan-assisted EP, and the 2022 Celtic Connections festival was supposed to be the big blowout for the release.
The January lockdown of last year scuppered that, so with a 12-month-long delay, Glasgow finally offered the chance to commemorate, celebrate and offer closure to this era of the artist’s life.
If there was one good thing about the delay, it was the inclusion of Raveloe on the bill. If the headliner was set to showcase work that deserved a final bow, the support act created a setlist that showed what was to come. With a debut album scheduled for release this year, what better way to lay the groundwork and get back to playing with a band?
One notable highlight was ‘Countertop’, a retelling of the time the songwriter ran away from home. A shout-out to her brother before commencing the track reinforced its authenticity. The consistency of the material was a highlight, but overall, it’s how it all seems so effortless for Raveloe that makes it so appealing.
Now, there’s no doubt a lot of blood, sweat and tears poured into the songs, but on stage, the harmonies and melodies flowed and mingled easily, running as sweetly as the first February pint for those who remained on the wagon in January.
While a considerable element of storytelling deserves to be unpicked and unpacked at home or with headphones on, the set was still raucous. Aided and abetted by a large part of the Poster Paints lineup, Raveloe also called on some extra friends to round out the sound, elevate proceedings and replicate the acoustics of the forthcoming album.
There’s a lot to look forward to.
And then onto the headline act, and on an interesting note for an artist closing in on ten years in the game, it’s likely one of the most significant stage ensembles Stina has found herself in (at least when performing in her own right). Far more recognisable as a solo artist or part of a duo (or even as a trio on rare live occasions), the stage was bustling like Sauchiehall Street on a Friday night, opening up with ‘The Human Condition’.
The song was a clear standout from the EP, and it was, nearly 18 months after release, fully grown and supplemented by strings and keys. Anyone who worried the switch from the Honeyblood moniker for the more personal approach would blunt Stina’s familiar sense of hooks, earworms, and melodic charm could relax; everything was in its rightful place.
Swiftly following with ‘Just ‘Cause You’re Lonely’ meant half of the EP was featured in the opening two songs, but it felt like a good call. The honesty and earnestness of the songs made them ideal material for a more swooning backing, and these songs (and more) coming out as an extended version of the EP is an enticing prospect.
Still, a headline act cannot rely on a four-song EP alone, with ‘Bud’ taking us back (nearly) a decade, a very different world. Long-term favourites such as ‘Sea Hearts’, ‘Tarantella’, and ‘She’s A Nightmare’ were twisted, but never tortured, into a new shape. And for those who’ve experienced a Honeyblood show before, the element of ‘music as therapy’ remained in place.
Then again, if you can’t open your heart in front of strangers on a Friday night in Glasgow, this might not be the city for you. In a hundred different ways, terms like ‘Someday I’ll get to be disgustingly happy’ would have been uttered across the chilly and yawning sandstone landscape that night, and Stina has always been a relatable artist for the ups and downs in life.
From ‘Braid Burn Valley’, charting the days long before a music career was forged, to ‘Nobody’, hopefully coming out soon, it was a career-spanning set that found time to hint at the future. With Gill Higgins from CLR Theory on keyboards and backing vocals, Alice Allen on cello, Laura Wilkie on violin and Craig Harkness on drums, there was strength in numbers, leaving mob-handed for the finale.
The Sundays cover of ‘Here’s Where The Story Ends’ is never a bad place to leave things, and of course, the line ‘It’s that little souvenir of a terrible year’ was virtually the bedrock of that lockdown EP.
We’re in a different place now and hopefully moving forward. The same is true for Raveloe and Stina Marie Claire, proving there is still plenty to remain optimistic about in 2023.