Review: Le Vent du Nord at Celtic Connections

First published in The Herald on 19 January, 2015

It would be a stony-hearted listener who wasn’t charmed, thoroughly, by Le Vent du Nord. These four indelibly cheerful Quebecers have been touring the world together for more than a decade and still appear to be having a whale of a time. They’re wonderfully uninhibited at showing it, too, in a way that can take us dour Scots aback. From any less lovable a quartet, the cheeky antics of accordionist Réjean Brunet or the persistently daft jokes of hurdy-gurdy player Nicolas Boulerice might induce eye-rolling. There’s a polish to their stage show that might grate against the earthy grain of their music — if that music wasn’t delivered with such robust spirit. Le Vent du Nord are the genuine article: a vibrant, big-hearted slice of Quebecois culture, happy banter and all.

Beneath all that is a serious commitment to traditional French-Canadian music, in which national pride and romance quickly bubble to the surface. All four of the group are superb singers: their voices are rich and buzzy and they roam through beguiling minor-mode harmonies with irresistable verve. There’s a camaraderie to their call-and-response songs that made the Old Fruitmarket feel like a village barn in the Gaspésie. The instrumentals are fearless, too, with furious reels flung from hurdy-gurdy, accordion and fiddle and powered by deft foot-tapping percussion from Olivier Demers. The forms are traditional but the tunes are fresh and the energy downright relentless.

We’d already heard several snippets from the quartet at this year’s Celtic Conncections and by Saturday night a couple of their songs and stories were starting to sound familiar. But an augmented line-up made for a proper sense of occasion (luxury backing indeed from top local fiddlers Patsy Reid and Megan Henderson) and guest solos from singers Julie Fowlis, Emily Smith and the excellent accordionist Sharon Shannon were a nice touch. There’s a more-the-merrier chutzpah to Le Vent du Nord — and it’s mightily infectious.