Sister John @ The Hug & Pint, Glasgow, 28 Jan
Tonight's show sadly isn't flawless, but Sister John put as much love into what they do as any other band on any Glasgow stage tonight
One of the great things about Celtic Connections is how it shows off the full range of Glasgow gig venues, from the glamour of the Royal Concert Hall down to the venue for tonight’s show, the small but perfectly formed Hug & Pint on Great Western Road.
Tonight’s headliners released one of the best Scottish debuts of 2017 with Returned from Sea, their first collection on the fantastic Last Night from Glasgow co-operative record label, and this evening’s show feels like a victory lap for the band, surrounded by friends and fans.
First up though it’s time for another LNFG artist, Edinburgh’s Annie Booth. Backed by a three-piece band including an acoustic bass Booth delivers a stripped-back show with an early highlight in the great Why Do We Get On? Booth is obviously nervous, having to be reminded that she has an album on sale, but the rolling groove of Over My shows she could have an interesting future following in Two Door Cinema Club’s chipper indie groove.
Unlike Booth, Sister John are traditionalists, hewing closer in spirit to Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen than to anything released after the millennium. The dark fiddle on Backstreet Swimmers, with its menacing chant of 'You’re in the wrong line buddy', has a touch of Nick Cave’s demonic Bad Seeds, while Hot Water’s claustrophobic vocal incantation shows off the group’s neat trick of slinging repeated refrains over interweaving guitar lines.
The quartet are obviously glad to be here, thanking Last Night from Glasgow for making it all happen and joking with the audience about everything from Camus to the state of the Glasgow buses.
Sadly these frequent digressions are necessary because musically nothing seems to go their way; from interfering air con to instruments going out of tune, the set is dogged by a succession of bugbears, none the fault of the band but which conspire to upset the flow of the show. It’s a shame because their performance is frequently a match for their great debut, with Try to Be Good tackling imperial overreach and forgotten people on a track inspired by the singer’s visit to Syria, and the country-influenced Rider on the Hill showcasing the four-piece’s vocal harmonies.
Sadly with the show over-running and work in the morning, some of the crowd have begun to drift away before the final track of the night, a faithful cover of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower backed up with howling fiddle. It might not be a flawless show but Sister John put as much love into what they do as any band on any Glasgow stage tonight.