So effortlessly did ELSA JEAN McTAGGART win over Thursday’s roomful of Hootanannys visitors, she deserves to be crowned a one-woman traditional party machine.But she was already wearing a rather nice tweed flat cap – and the title doesn’t credit the role of piano and accordion-man Gary Lister in the good-time experience.
Originally from Aberfeldy by way of Lewis — and years playing traditonal music in Ireland — Elsa Jean is just back in Scotland after some years living and entertaining in Gran Canaria. And the night saw her sing, play fiddle, whistle and even offer a selection of musical mementoes in her own handcrafted guitar-string earrings and five CDs of music.But with the informal feel of the gig set up by playful banter which included funny stories from her own journey as a musical troubadour, it would have been easy to miss the fact that Elsa Jean’s talents as a player and singer are something special.
She recalled her first experience of Inverness, in flight as a young girl from a romantic break-up with nowhere to stay, pitching her tent by Inverness Castle and being woken early in the morning by a gruff voice ordering her to move on. The welcome was better this time around and a waltz and polka on the fiddle ignited the hunger of the crowd for authentic Scottish sounds and as feet started tapping, Elsa Jean added in a speedy set of finger-testing reels topped by The Flowers Of Edinburgh.
In between, there was the chance to hear one of her own songs which she revealed she is now keen to try and perform more now she is back in this country. Angels Of Edinburgh Park is a sweet taste of her own songwriting, lyrics set to an almost Eastern European-sounding tune with a whimsical tale of angels "in boiler suits with barrows" who keep the park blooming and beautiful.
It was the first chance to hear the singer’s Joni Mitchell-esque voice with a range that can also go thrillingly deep.
And, as in her humorous song Fiddle In The Tax Office, Elsa Jean sang and accompanied herself on fiddle at the same time with apparent ease. Her version of Dougie Maclean’s anthem Caledonia was pure pleasure as she let her voice stretch itself out.The set continued with a tango from Finland, where it’s called satois – "said satwa", she informed the audience. After a set of "skip jigs" with an extra beat that requires dancers to add an unscheduled hop, Elsa Jean planned to create a buzz with which to end the duo’s first half. She grinned: "If you want one more song before the break, I want you to yell "More" when people are coming in — and it’s raining outside now, so I think it will only get busier in here!
"Stay and I’ll have you dancing by the end of the night!"
Back on and it didn’t take long before one of the visitors from America proved Elsa Jean right, as Corinne got up from her chair to perform an impressively-high-kicking step-dancing routine for us all while Esla Jean played fiddle for her.
As the crowd clapped along and inched closer for a better view, Elsa Jean followed up with some vocal gymnastics to give culture-hungry tourists the Scottish sound of some mouth music – or puirt-à-beul – to add to the spontaneous party atmosphere.
Elsa performed a total of hour and half plus, a hearty length of time which I love to see at gigs.
Elsa’s sets of roughly 45 mins each. She began with a slower pace, to get the audience warmed up and engaged slowly. Building up to the faster speed of the second half. I love her Irish fiddler outfit she wore the second half.
She clearly is an experienced musician, as this was apparent in her ability to get a mainly older audience engaged in participating, singing and clapping.
Throughout the gig Elsa also chatted about various things in her life in relation to the songs and her experiences. I just loved that personal touch and the well planned professional effort she made to truly want to make this a special gig for everyone who attended. Elsa and Gary truly did make it special for all of us.
She had her newish Gretsch guitar a large white beautiful beast. Which on her, looked like she would topple right over being so tiny.
The set list was beautifully varied and some that stuck out that I especially enjoyed:
She played Louis Armstrong ‘What A Wonderful World’ on her Gretsch. A song that I was pleasantly shocked she played as it’s not her genre. An unnusual choice to throw in there. Her version of it was just beautiful.
She also had her beautiful half fiddle........ she claims she is still saving up for the other half.
As the gig progressed and second half began the tempo and speed picked up. It was nice to look around the room and see a sea of smiles and laughter.
I love to see a wonderful stage presence and Elsa has to be one of the best stage performances I have seen. She clearly fully understands it’s not just about the fiddle, it’s about performing, movement, entertaining as a person as well as the instrument and she did that perfectly. You could see how much she loves what she does and her soul emanates from her music and that stage presence absolutely affects the audience and their response.
She brings traditional culture to her gigs, a culture to embrace our music of our countries and open our souls up to other countries music too.
I loved her explanation of her song ‘Angels In Edinburgh Park’ and to hear it you wouldn’t never know it was to do with the subject of hiding in the bushes in the park to go to the bathroom had she not explained it you would have got a different vision. I had to stifle my laughter as she explained that song. A beautiful song and I loved the tempo and beat. She did a wonderful cover of the’ Devil Went To Georgia’ . Her talent, speed on the fiddle was beautiful, fast and fiery, her fingers moving like fire across the strings. Truly amazing to watch her, so talented.
I loved the coming home song too ‘Coming Home’ . As she and Gary truly have came home to live, after many years in Spain. Spain will have a little chunk of talent missing now they have left. Some songs Elsa sang and played instruments and some she played the fiddle or penny whistle solely. A nice melded variation. Gary sat on keyboards playing away and adjusting volume and bass as the gig progressed. Joining in singing on one song and was nice to see that too. I don’t see that often couples together it’s so cute to see them both living that dream.
I’m a great believer in everyone opening their mind and soul to all genres of music and taking the time to watch listen and enjoy because each and every single genre and instrument has it’s place. There is no reason at all ,that younger people cannot enjoy listening to traditional style music or music involving string instruments. I would love to see more young people making the effort to just go and experience the talent they are missing. listening to Radio pop and modern music is not opening your soul to the beauty of all music. They are missing a huge amount of talent, by not attending a gig like this. So buy tickets, take along someone you know who normally would not listen to that genre because they may well find themselves loving a new different genre of music.