A review: the Scottish musician Mairi Campbell uses song for interpretation and improvisation

a review by Hildegard Ginzler
Sinzig, 2nd May 2018

‘Culture from the Vaults’ has been thoroughly refreshed by Monika Recker-Johnson. And that, despite the fact that the guest performer from Scotland, Mairi Campbell, is little known in these parts. In the British Isles, however, the multi-talented musician, singer and composer is celebrated. Her voice is known throughout the world, having sung ‘Auld Lang Syne’ in a scene in the Sex and the City film.

Campbell has already appeared at the vaults in 2017. In an impressive return she expressively combined her own songs, folk and other songs, accompanying herself on viola and piano. Original, focused and self-effacing she instantly drew attention to the world of the songs. We heard ‘If my true love will not come I will surely find another’ between lines about wild mountain thyme and heather.

Campbell goes wonderfully unrestrained into the heart of the song. She transports us through the vicissitudes and emotions of life from the serious to the light-hearted. It all works. It’s as if these songs were written on her body, such is her relation to them – even when she reports ‘a different sky is what I need’ and ‘goodbye grey’, adding, suddenly mischievous, ‘hello Germany.’

Singing enticingly and with warmth, Campbell is soon joined by the audience. With a turn of the hand, she turns them into them into a choir on ‘She glows like the sun’, making a backdrop of sound. She intones the song over it, and has the audience and the vaults vibrating together. We are often invited to join in during the concert. She also loves to improvise. She has scarcely announced an improvisation, than she is shaping it virtuosically, adventurously and with a touch of roguishness. The thread of improvisation runs through the evening, whether she is meandering musically or playing with her voice, before finding a resolution.

Campbell studied viola in the 1980s in London and used the instrument innovatively for playing traditional music. In Sinzig she pulled out some surprises, such as a song about the death of a young man and with it alluded to the recent accidental death of a 15 year old in Nierendorf. Grippingly she sang of the senseless sacrifice of war, coaxing from the viola harsh and trembling sounds. The song was dedicated to her grandmother, Marjorie Anderson, who in 1945 followed her husband to China, returning to Scotland four years later as a widow with two small children. Although widowed early in her marriage, she often spoke of her husband.

Love is at the heart of much of Campbell’s work. Before the song ‘If I should meet my Maker’ she expressed the hope that we could concentrate less on damnation and sin, and more on love. And in the melancholy ‘Recession Song’ there were flashes
of the Beatles’ ‘All you need is love’.

The audience experienced what it is like to live with self-determination, as Campbell brought folk music into the light and won them over with her intelligent, well-executed and witty presentation.

This review originally appeared in the General-Anzeiger Bonn

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.