The theme of this powerful suite is
the spread of Celtic Christianity during the dark ages, a theme
as Shaun says "when people we today call saints journeyed either
as ordinary passengers from one Celtic region to another, or as
voyagers into the unknown, traveling as wind and current took them,
placing their fate in the hands of the gods."
The saga of these hazardous sea voyages
- with all their fears and exultation - is brought to life on the
concert stage by a Scottish pipe band, Irish and Welsh harpists,
Galicia gaitas, uilleann pipes, the bombardes of Brittany, two vocal
soloists and a narrator together with a 120 strong choir and the
In stunning progression, players and
instruments representative of the seven Celtic countries and regions
- Wales, Scotland, Brittany, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Cornwall
and Galicia - are highlighted against the backdrop of a classical
Several passages evoke the wild power
of the sea, the connecting element between Celtic people. Amongst
the most evocative of them are 'Storm at Sea' sung in medieval Irish
by the Sean Nos (Old Style) singer Iarla O'Lionaird and 'A Walk
in the Water' featuring uilleann pipe master Liam O'Flynn. 'Ymadawiad
Arthur' with lyrics from the Welsh epic poem, describes the death
and last journey of King Arthur. Cor Gardrer Garth, the Welsh choir
who first performed this piece in Lorient have since added this
song to their regular repertoire. The stirring musical confrontation
between the City of Glasgow Pipes and Drums and the Glasgow Philharmonic
Orchestra, 'Briochan and Columba', has similarly become a popular
annual fixture in Glasgow.
Two songs specially written for Rita
Connolly are placed at the end of the work, movingly reinforcing
its spiritual dimension, 'The Deer's Cry' (aka. I Arise Today) and
'A Ghrian' (Hymn to the Sun). The sense of journey and the setting
are given further expression through short readings of poetry from
medieval times, translated from Old Irish and accompanied by the
unique sound of the metal-string Irish Harp.
The Pilgrim was originally recorded
live at its inaugural performance at the L'orient festival in 1983.
But as this is an ever evolving suite by the time it came to be
recorded in Glasgow' Royal Concert Hall in 1990 extra tracks were
included while others were sidelined. In addition tracks that could
not be included on vinyl releases were re-introduced when it was
released on CD. At the start of the decade there were a number of
performances scheduled for The Pilgrim and Shaun used these concerts
to rearrange some of the tracks as well as write some new material,
which he included on the 'May We Never Have To Say Goodbye'
CD which is now available for download from iTunes and Amazon.
Here to read an interesting track-by-track account of the work
Critics reach for superlatives in describing
"Davey's work manages to be both brave and populist.
The sequence in which the City of Glasgow Pipes and Drums squared
up to the Philharmonic Orchestra was simply stunning"
"A musical experience of Stunning emotional power"
"An enthusiastic crowd of 7000.... called for encore after encore"
"It is not only an immense achievement musically and spiritually,
but is the outworking of one man's vision to squeeze life and a
sense of culture from the footnotes of history."
"A journey to perfection"
"A thing of beauty and considerable emotional
force...For once the standing ovation was awarded on merit."
"There is simply no classification that can be
put on a work of this calibre...extraordinary music."
Pilgrim fascinated 3700 spectators and pinned them to their seats.
They in turn demanded two encores and gave the musicians a standing
ovation. Shaun Davey can be proud of the updating of his work, it
was simply superb.
Created in 1987 at the request of FIL, The Pilgrim has become a
well known musical myth among followers of that genre. This year
Shaun Davey reworked it for the 30th year of the Festival and all
in all it was the concert not be missed.
The Pilgrim is the story of St.Colomban who travelled throughout
the Celtic nations where he encountered not only suffering and cruelty
but also hope and beauty. There is no doubt but that the music brought
the 3700 listeners on a superb voyage of the imagination marked
with wonderful Celtic imagery and carried by Gilles Servat's narration.
Rita Connolly seduced with her gentle voice, like Liam O'Maonlai.
And what can be said of the other soloists, talents such as Liam
O'Flynn on uilleann pipes, Andre Le Meut and Josik Allot on bombardes,
and Helen Davies on Celtic Harp, not to mention the 180-strong choir
and the FIL orchestra accompanied by Bagad from Lorient
Ouest France 14/8/00
"A standing ovation for at least
five minutes from 3000 spectators. Rarely in 30 years has a festival
show evoked such enthusiasm. On Saturday evening in the big Kergroise
marquee, The Pilgrim made hearts reel. How can one not be lyrical
about an evening whose lyricism swept away all reticence? It's true
that the first moments of the concert were almost close to being
becalmed, but very quickly the first squalls flurried and the skiff
of Kergroise suddenly so fragile is carried along on a delicious
musical peregrination. One couldn't be prevented from applauding
between each movement though it's not the norm because it (the music)
was too strong, too moving, because it was too beautiful.
Certainly, for many, it was more than the shock of discovery; the
fusion of orchestra, choir and traditional instruments dated back
20 years to The Brendan Voyage. But on Saturday evening it was far
better than The Pilgrim of 1087, more accessible and more intense.
From the banks of the Emerald Isle to the Iberian coast, crossing
over the diabolical sea of Albion and the smiling Armorican, the
listener / pilgrim , in his currach rode on the sea plains for two
hours, often buffeted by the winds of Celtica and sometimes caressed
by the gentle sun of Ponant. At any moment one could meet the body
of King Arthur en route for fascinating Avalon. Yes, one was there,
at the heart of these myths which bathe the coasts of the Atlantic
be it by the grace of collective consciousness or by a simple flight
of uilleann pipes.
The classical instruments soften where the bagpipes, bombardes or
gaitas grate and the traditional instruments bring the former the
savagery they lack. Fusion, one would say, total fusion gave the
whole thing a completely new colour and brilliance without equal.
This without mentioning the voice, certainly that of Rita Connolly
and Liam O'Maonlai, that of Gilles Servat narrating and the 200-strong
choir - without them The Pilgrim would not have that human depth,
this gift which moves us so profoundly. It's necessary also to salute
the performance of Guy Berrier, the conductor, who made that music
with the strange lineage his own with startling mastery. The whole
crew of this musical voyage were themselves the climax of the event.
WHAT INSPIRATION! WHAT ENERGY!"
Le Telegramme 14/8/00
The performance of The Pilgrim at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.
THE PILGRIM was originally commissioned
by the Lorient Interceltique Festival in 1983 to celebrate the kinship
of the Celtic people. To Date it has been performed at the festival
four times with a special millennium performance in August 2000.
Irish performances began at the National Concert Hall; Dublin in
1984 and, at the end of 1990, THE PILGRIM was specially performed
at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall to mark the passing of European
City of Culture from Glasgow to Dublin on December 31st 1990, a
performance of 'The Pilgrim' at the Royal Glasgow Concert Hall marked
the occasion and the work was again recorded live. This second recording
forms the basis of the revised and extended version of the work
(Tara 3032). THE PILGRIM had its US debut at Chicago's Metropolitan
Hall, in aid of Old St. Patrick's Cathedral, in 1999 with Frank
McCourt as Narrator.
The year 2000 saw three performances
of THE PILGRIM, the concert at the 30th anniversary of the Lorient
Interceltique festival which was narrated by leading French singer
Giles Servat was the highlight of the festival, while the concert,
narrated by Oscar-winning actor Ben Kingsley, at the Blanchardstown
Centre, Dublin in March won for the center the prestigious 'Purple
Apple Marketing Award' from the British Council of Shopping Centers
(BCSC). September 2000 saw a very special performance of THE PILGRIM
at the Gaelic language college, Sabhal Mor Ostaig, on the Isle of
Skye as part of the St. Columba Initiative. This concert was on
a much smaller scale to suit a more intimate venue. The role of
the orchestra was assumed by the 12 piece BT Scottish Ensemble with
a 14 piece choir drawn from the Glasgow City Choir. This combined
with an array of soloists and The Pilgrim Band proved to be every
bit as powerful and exhilarating as the extended lineup. Such was
the response to the Lorient festival performance that the concert
was re-staged at the 2001 festival to and audience of 5000.
spectators rise as one in an ovation that is spontaneous, enthusiastic,
poignant: "The Pilgrim ", on Saturday evening in Kergroise, was
a triumph that one sees very little of." Jean-Jacques
- Le Telegramme
"For the finale
the audience are on their feet, clapping hands while singing. No
less than four encores are required, without counting the choral
society, taking a refrain once again. Public as musicians, each
one finally having to leave, with their heads full of images to
dream all in music." Aurélie
Notar - Ouest France