Published: 31/12/2015 09:31 - Updated: 31/12/2015 10:29

Hogmanay feels like home for Capercaillie's Karen

Inverness Hogmanay headliners Capercaillie
Inverness Hogmanay headliners Capercaillie

WORKING on Hogmanay is nothing unusual for Celtic supergroup Capercaillie – but it is also no great hardship.

"We always like to work at New Year," singer Karen Matheson said.

"It’s always a fun time to be around people and quite a nostalgic time too. Capercaillie used to be known as ‘the Hogmanay band’. I used to get into taxies in Glasgow and the drivers would say: ‘I recognise your face – are you the wee lassie that does the Hogmanay show?’ They probably thought that was the only time we ever worked, but I suppose we were known as the face of Hogmanay.

"I think, in our 30-odd year span, we have only not worked on two Hogmanays, and I was pregnant on one of them."

The band first came together at Oban High School where Matheson was a pupil alongside band founder and husband Donald Shaw, but over the decades they have also been frequent visitors to Inverness, so are looking forward to seeing some familiar faces at the Highland Capital’s Red Hot Fling, which takes place just behind their regular haunt, Eden Court Theatre.

"Inverness is a great place to play. We have good fans there," Matheson added.

"Some of our best gigs have been at Eden Court. It’s always great fun."

And as Hogmanay veterans, Capercaillie are already prepared for what the Scottish winter has in store for them.

"We’ve done lots of outdoor performances at Hogmanay and we’ve done Princes Street in Edinburgh a few times, George Square in Glasgow and Stirling, so we know the score," Matheson laughed.

"One year I bought all the boys these fingerless gloves. Not so great when you are playing an instrument, but they keep you warm in between times. We’ll be carried away by the excitement.

"Because we released an album for our 30th anniversary, At The Heart of It All, the set will probably be a lot of that stuff, but we might do some old favourites for nostalgia reasons because it’s Hogmanay and people will recognise because it is an Inverness audience. There will be a smattering of everything, but I think we can afford to be a bit nostalgic at Hogmanay. People like that and you don’t need to go hell for leather and churn out all the upbeat stuff."

Karen's latest solo album is the first to be entirely in Gaelic.
Karen's latest solo album is the first to be entirely in Gaelic.

What will be missing are songs from Matheson’s most recent album, which is not a Capercaillie release but her fourth solo album, Urram (Respect).

"It was a different line-up of musicians and we approached it very differently," Matheson explained.

It also comes with an international flavour including Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita and Indian sarod player Soumik Datta, as well as string ensemble Mr McFall’s Chamber.

"It is quite different from Capercaillie and a lot more mellow. It was great fun to do, just as something different. And Seckou and Soumik are coming over in January to play with me at Celtic Connections," Matheson added.

Capercaillie themselves also have a history of collaborations across cultures or musical styles, from Guinean vocal duo Sibeba to Soul II Soul member Will Mowat.

The same collaborative spirit is also visible in the Celtic Connections Festival, which Shaw has been artistic director of for almost a decade.

"We have always been a bit experimental. We have always wanted to push boundaries," Matheson said.

"In the last 30 years, folk music has evolved in different ways. When we started, there was very little out there. It was an open book and that was part of the excitement and the success of it. We’ve played a number of Womad Festivals all over the world and that almost gave permission to do what you like with traditional music, wherever it be from."

Despite those international links, the album draws on Matheson’s own family history and links to the Western Isles and is the first of her solo albums to be sung completely in Gaelic.

"It’s a nod to my genealogy, if you like," Matheson explained.

"When my parents passed away, I found a lot of old stories and I was driven by that.  I was going to do an album that was mix of English and Gaelic, the way I did it before, but I felt I was on a different path this time."i

Capercaillie headline the Inverness Red Hot Highland Fling at the Northern Meeting Park, this evening. Also appearing are Breabach and Skerryvore with comedian Craig Hill resuming his duties as MC for the event. Entry is free and gates open at 8pm.

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