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Salsa Celtica

Live: The Dukes Arms, Presteigne

by Ian Mann

March 30, 2006


The band was promoting their fourth album " El Camino" (The Road) and on first listening this is an excellent recording and a fine souvenir of their live show.

You have to hand it to Pete Mustill. Not just content with producing the invaluable arts listing magazine “Broad Sheep” for the Anglo/Welsh Border area, he also promotes some remarkable gigs in the small border town of Presteigne on a regular basis. As a musician himself he has good contacts in the industry and always books quality players. Chart toppers Nizlopi used to play in Presteigne on a regular basis but after last Christmas I wonder if we’ll see them again! 

February saw singer/songwriter/guitarist Michael Chapman grace the back room of The Dukes for a superb solo gig. Chapman is something of a forgotten man these days but in the 70’s his backing band featured the late Mick Ronson before Ronno left to join David Bowie. If there was any justice Chapman’s reputation would be up there with John Martyn and the late Nick Drake. However he seems to like things just the way they are.                                                                                                             

Last night ten members of Salsa Celtica sandwiched themselves into the Dukes with enough musical instruments to equip a small shop. En route between concert appearances in West Wales and Worcester Pete had persuaded them to come and play in the back room of a pub for a bit of fun. The cost to the punters? Like all Sheep Music gigs a bargain £3. It would cost you £13 to see them in Worcester.

This Edinburgh based collective achieve the remarkable feat of combining traditional Scottish and Irish music with Latin American songs and rhythms and making it work brilliantly.

The bands four “folkies” started things off with a short set of Scottish jigs and Irish reels before retiring to the bar for a well-earned pint.

The “Salseros” then took over for half an hour of Latin songs featuring the strong singing of Lino Rocha and the incisive soprano sax of Sue Mackenzie.This was all underpinned by Latin Percussion -congas, bongos etc. (no kit drums) and by the keyboards of Phil Alexander.Alexander had played the folk set too - he must have been gagging for a pint by now.

Another break. It had all been very enjoyable so far but I still wasn’t sure how the disparate musical strands were going to fit together.
The third set started with the ” folkies” again. It must have been the beer but they seemed to have shifted up a gear. Banjo player Eamonn Coyne was particularly prominent as was fiddler Kenny Fraser who also doubled on whistle.

Things really ignited when Ross Ainslie put down his bouzouki and picked up the Uillean Pipes. There’s something elemental and primal about the pipes and from hereon the music took on another dimension .The rest of the band joined in and soon all ten were playing together with a phenomenal spirit and joie de vivre with Steve Kettley also on soprano joining McKenzie in a twin pronged sax attack. The Celtic elements dovetailed with the Latin and suddenly we all knew how it fitted together. It was like being transported to an after hours session in a pub in County Clare and to downtown Havana - all at once! It certainly didn’t feel like Presteigne on a Monday night!

What an amazing gig. Mention should be made of de facto leader Toby Shippey who contributed trumpet, percussion and vocals and had a hand in the writing of all the material in collaboration with various colleagues. Star instrumentalists were arguably Sue McKenzie, Eamonn Coyne , Phil Alexander who held things together and the amazing but unassuming Ross Ainslie who trebled on bouzouki and whistle and really kicked things off with the pipes. Lino Rocha also sang magnificently.

The multi-national band included Scottish, Irish, English, Venezuelan And Cuban musicians .Not surprisingly it was Irishman Coyne who had the most to say between songs!

The band was promoting their fourth album ” El Camino” (The Road) and on first listening this is an excellent recording and a fine souvenir of their live show.

Next month (April 5 ) The Dukes hosts folk musician and local resident Benji Kirkpatrick (guitar/bouzouki/vocals). Benji has collaborated with folk/rock giants Oysterband and with Mercury Music Prize nominee Seth Lakeman. He is also a member of those rising stars the folk/roots supergroup Bellowhead. In short a class act.

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