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 orchestra.
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 orchestra.
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.
Click Here to read an interesting track-by-track account of the work by Shaun.
Critics reach for superlatives in describing 'The Pilgrim':
"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"
"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."
"The 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.
"The 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