Saturday, 5 March 2016

Pilgrimer: A Re-imagining of Joni Mitchell's 'Hejira'

One of many concerts at Celtic Connections 2016

On the 16th January in Glasgow's Royal Concert Hall, Pilgrimer was premièred by a stellar cast including Dick Gaughan, Olivia Chaney and Grammy-winning US guitarist Larry Carlton, who played on Joni Mitchell's original 'Hejira' album. Released in 1976, 'Hejira' incorporated Joni's influences - rock, folk and jazz.

Joni's greatest hits were re-interpreted in the second half of the concert. Musicians and singers included Rod Paterson, Rose Cousins, Annie Grace and Scottish Album of the Year award winner Kathryn Joseph, who performed a stunning version of 'Both Sides Now'. Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis sang 'Cactus Tree' and 'River' in English. Musical curators for the evening were Karine Polwart and her brother Steven, with string arrangements from award-winning composer Pippa Murphy.

Hejira reflects migration, Pilgrimer re-imagines Joni Mitchell’s meandering classic album. The Arabic title denotes the prophet Muhammad’s flight from Mecca to Medina in 622 to escape persecution, in fact any flight from danger or hostility. Largely conceived while Joni was travelling alone, Hejira meditates wistfully on what one track calls ‘The Refuge of the Road' with its flipsides of freedom and loneliness.

By the novelist, poet and Scots language champion James Robertson, who has long drawn inspiration from Mitchell’s canon, Pilgrimer boldly adapts the album into both Scots and a Scottish setting. James was encouraged by Donald Shaw, the Celtic Connections director, who wanted to bring more spoken word into the festival. The reworking might be considered risky, especially topical jokes (Forth Road Bridge) and substituting St Columba for Amelia Earhart and Dundee for Memphis. Joni's lawyers are proving less than helpful regarding copyright and reproduction issues. 

Review by Pat Byrne

The List. 25th January. Nicola Meighan review

'Sons of Separation' - Anni Donaldson

'Back to the roots of Celtic Connections' - Jen Stout

Celtic Connections photography by Pauline Keightley 

Joni Mitchell 'Hejira': June 15th 1986. YouTube video

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