There was a choir in the audience as well as small choir onstage as Stirling’s Gaelic speakers, their island origins noted in a special greeting, turned out to hear Cruinn’s first performance at the town’s Tolbooth.
Choruses were swelled without too much encouragement but the main focus undoubtedly fell on the Highland quartet whose singing weaves their four personalities together into a wonderful group sound comprised of still very noticeably distinctive individual tones. The winsomely high keening of Fiona Mackenzie both contrasts with and complements Rachel Walker’s calm, handsome timbre and likewise James Graham’s beautifully smooth, pure intonation alongside Dubliner Brian Ó hEadhra’s richly characterful baritone.
This is the sound that represented the Gàidhealtachd at this year’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and the song that took them there, the gorgeous, impassioned Manus Mo Rùin with Mackenzie’s singing evoking a bagpipe melody against Ó hEadhra’s shruti box drone, was just one of the songs that showcased Cruinn’s strong emotional core. Walker’s singing of Griogal Cridhe, lamenting the executed Red Gregor of Glenstrae, got right into the soul of a grieving, wronged widow and Brian Ó hEadhra’s translation of a Hungarian love song into Gaelic, sung to his guitar accompaniment, was another deeply moving item.
It’s by no means all sad and bitter tears, however, and work songs and rowing songs, together with the tale of the young woman married – but not for much longer - to a much older man ensured that the darkness was balanced with lighter, celebratory and mischievous moods, all of them arranged, some a cappella, others to apposite piano and guitar playing, to highlight a truly superb vocal team.