With ominous red lighting dripping over the already blood-red chairs of the Strathclyde Suite it seemed that the scene was set for an evening of gloomy ballads depicting the heartache of lusting after a lost loved one or the terrible murderous acts one believes is perfectly fine in the name of love. Fans of such ballads were certainly not disappointed as Iona blended ballads and more contemporary material expertly.
A suspenseful mood is present in the room as a recording of the spoken word of Stanley Robertson describes and evokes the importance and necessity of keeping the oral tradition alive. As the crowd sit in awed silence Iona opens the evening with a beautiful rendition of Away From My Window - the title track from her album, due to be released in March. The song tells the story of an ancient Bonny and Clyde partnership which evidently didn't end well. After all it is a ballad. From the outset, Iona has us hooked.
The night continues in a more light-hearted fashion as Iona interacts and jokes with the crowd (which is full of Northeasters) and encourages them to sing along to the chorus of her next song, the popular bothy ballad Guise of Tough. A song which the whole band clearly enjoys performing. And of course, the crowd oblige to Iona's request without much more need of encouragement as the infectious on-stage chemistry of the band soon fed into the audience. Particular highlights of this toe-tapping song were the harmonies in the chorus between Iona, Simon Gall and Ross Miller and a tremendous Mandolin solo from Graham Rorie.
Iona follows on with the first single from the upcoming album the love song The Banks of Inverurie. With just vocal and a broken chord backing from guitarist Innes White this track and arrangement allow Iona to showcase her voice. Being a Northeaster myself, it is really great to see music and songs from an underrepresented part of the country being interpreted with such class.
The evening continues on with another North East Love ballad. Bonny Udny has been one of Iona's staple songs for a few years and is a little different to the way her tracks are usually arranged. Starting off with just piano, fiddle and voice this track has two contrasting halves with the instrumentation in the latter part of the track building to a climatic end. That's right, Bagpipes.
As Iona explains Take Me Out Drinking by Michael Marra, exhibits how, as the album was recorded she became more inclined to put her own spin on songs by some of our countries greatest singer-songwriters. This track had a great contemporary feel to it and had some beautiful harmonies as well as some Bluesy, Americana vibes from Charlie Grey on Fiddle and a thumping deep bass-line from Charlie Stewart on upright bass. Definitely a sound I could put on in a room with no folkies without any fear.
Iona begins her penultimate number The Swan Swims by encouraging the audience to join in on the songs catchy refrain, however, she needn't have done, as by this point she had the crowd in the palm of her hands, eager for more tales and tribulations and yet sad that this mightily impressive set was coming to an end so quickly.
The evening comes to an end in dramatic fashion with Ross Miller bursting into the final song, the popular Pit Gair - which features an arrangement of Mrs Campbell of Shinness - on the pipes in an unmistakable Old Blind Dogs type fashion. This final number shows off the immense sound that the band is capable of and brings the night to an epic close.
I can't emphasise how wonderfully touching it was to hear songs about Udny, Inverurie, Gamrie and other songs associated with places I know so well growing up. I'm not gonna lie by the end of the concert I was longing to be home in Aberdeenshire.
Away From My Window is a testament to the work that Iona has put in gigging, touring and crowdfunding in order to make the album possible. If you weren't able to grab a copy at Celtic Connections get your Pre-Order in now. You will not regret it.