Lyra Celtica

Live Review | The Regent, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson

In case you were wondering, Lyra Celtica is not a brand of indigenous Scottish sportswear, but a vehicle for the virtuoso accordion playing of one time BBC Young Traditional Musician of the Year, Lynn Tocker.  Accompanied by Frankie McGuire on a variety of percussion and whistles and Mark Canning on guitar, Lynn showed her credentials as a brilliant piano accordion player throughout two superb sets tonight at the Monday Music Club.  As something of a wannabe guitar player myself, I could just about see what Mark was doing, albeit that bit faster than I can manage, and as a child, equipped with mums knitting needles and the arm of the sofa, I had a good idea what drumming was all about, but the piano accordion to me is a total enigma.  I had no idea tonight what Lynn was doing, but it sounded good.  Lynn cut her teeth on the instrument from the tender age of nine and worked with a whole bunch of extraordinary musicians in her home of Northumberland.  Being exposed to the likes of Willie Taylor, Joe Hutton and Will Atkinson, as well as being a member of Kathryn Tickell’s band did no harm for the young musician, nor did her triumph in 1987 when she won her prestigious BBC award.  Tonight the trio were on good form and played two excellent sets to a small and quiet but appreciative audience.  Bare footed, Lynn switched from dazzlingly raucous jigs and reels (Scottish, Irish and French Canadian or somewhere closer to home) to emotive and tender ballads, during which she lovingly laid her head upon her instrument, in a gesture of complete tenderness.  “Floating from Skerry”, a beautiful composition with a beautiful title, comes from the less than beautiful experience of a fifteen year old’s boat trip to Shetland with a stinking hangover, such is the manner in which tunes come to the head of Lynn Tocker.  Frankie McGuire drives the sound along alternating between bodhran, bongos and jembe, as well as providing sensitive low whistle and penny whistle accompaniment.  I was looking at all the strange percussion instruments at Frankie’s feet and noticed one that looked remarkably like a screwdriver.  I was looking forward to hearing what sound it made, only to discover later, that it was indeed just a screwdriver, presumably for tweaking the drums!  Frankie is also a fine singer of ballads and The Queen of Argyle was one of the highlights of the set.  The band also premiered a new song called “When I Go”, with its potent Native American imagery.  I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this band as much as I did.  The years of listening to instrumental Celtic music from the Bothy Band, Planxty, Moving Hearts, Clannad, Capercaillie and an endless list of pretenders may have taken its toll on my sensibilities, but up close and very definitely live, who could not enjoy it, really?