Live Review – Edinburgh Folk Club ****

One act’s loss is another’s gain. With Canada’s David Francey – originally booked for this Edinburgh Folk Club date – having postponed his UK tour until next year, there was something pleasingly karmic about the Paul McKenna Band stepping in as a substitute, after their own gig here was cancelled amid last winter’s snow.

Working at the helm of his five-piece line-up since 2006, McKenna is a young Glaswegian singer, guitarist and bouzouki player, whose arrangements of traditional, contemporary and sometimes original songs – interspersed with the odd instrumental set – also feature David McNee (tenor guitar/bouzouki), Seán Gray (flute/whistles/guitar) and Ewan Baird (bodhrán/cajon).

Their foremost asset is unquestionably McKenna’s voice, already an instrument of vividly individual distinction, and though I sense he has further to grow into it, even now its vibrancy of timbre, intensity of tone and fluency of ornamentation only made that a more exciting prospect.

That’s not to imply any shortage of quality in his bandmates’ contributions, which also took in backing vocals, amid densely layered patterns of multiple picked strings, imaginative duetting between Gray and MacMillan, and punchy but nimble rhythm work.
While some numbers, Like Ewan MacColl’s The Terror Time and Lionel McLelland’s The Silent Majority, would have benefited from sparer, slower backing, McKenna’s choice of material showed laudable ambition, and he scored the considerable compliment of an enthusiastic audience singalong in the chorus of his own recent composition, Dreams of Darien.

Sue Wilson

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