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Ceol Cholasa – Year Ten

Well, where did those ten years go? Yes, Ceol Cholasa celebrated its tenth year and what a cracker it was. It all kicked off with a few fringe events to mark the occasion. The first of these was a guided walk around Garvard Point with Pedie and Dave and it was well attended (although not by me). Then Tuesday afternoon saw a beautiful concert in the new Heritage Centre in the old Baptist Church. The lovely set produced by Sophie Ramsay on guitar and vocals, and Sarah Smout on cello and vocals was a perfect fit for this fine old building. Their rendition of Auld Lang Syne brought a tear to many an eye and their encore, an a cappella version of The Parting Glass, was a delight.

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Tuesday evening saw us return to the Church (some of us an hour early, thanks Liam) for Dave & Pedie’s talk and slideshow entitled “The Last 100”. Some great old photos were shown on the screen as Dave talked us through them and Pedie talked and sang. So many of my relatives from years gone by appeared on the screen it was an emotional night.

The final fringe event on Wednesday afternoon was entitled “A Taste of Colonsay” with a lunch of local foodstuffs enhanced by some tunes and some poetry reading. The food was delicious. There were, among other delights, lamb, venison, lobster, oysters and best of all mouth-wateringly good haggis rolls. I have to say I ate more than my fair share of them. The event was brought to a close by the poetry readings. Richard, Colin and Shonagh read lovely pieces inspired by the land around them but, not for the first time, Pedie stole the show. His poem about life in Machrins was a spine-tingler and tears jerker at the same time and eloquently captured Machrins in days gone by. It was a fabulous event, topped off with my first taste of Wild Island Botanics Gin courtesy of Colonsay Brewery. It was lovely.

The festival proper kicked off on Wednesday evening with the ever popular Local Talent Concert. This was notable for being the first time Liam had sung a solo at a Ceol Cholasa event. By the end of the week, he was an old hand at it. The highlight though, has to be Izzy’s long and ultimately successful search for the next note in the middle of her solo tune. It was an endearing moment in a great wee concert.

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Anthony-John Clarke, a singer-songwriter from Ireland was the main act on Wednesday evening and he put on a great show. Not only did he sing some heart-felt and amusing songs, he was also the funniest man ever to appear at Ceol Cholasa.  His stories had the tears of laughter streaming down the cheeks and songs like The Broken Years brought forward entirely different emotions. It was an absolute joy of a concert and a great start to Ceol Cholasa 10.

The first night of the Festival Club was next on the agenda and it was a nice gentle session to whet the appetite for the magic and mayhem to come.

Day Two started with ever popular Failte Concert, a chance to meet up with old friends and enjoy the craic along with some great music. The music was provided by Pedie, Caitlin & Liam and Sarah & Sophie with a reprise of some of Tuesday’s set for a new and appreciative audience. The second part of the event was a talk by Di Alexander, with readings from his book, “A Potter’s Tale”, and some stories of Colonsay in the 70’s. It was another emotional and highly entertaining session and Di’s signing hand got a good work-out at the end.

The first concert of Thursday evening was The Machrins McNeills and as I was part of it I can’t say much except it was joy to play on the stage with Seumas, Caitlin and Liam in such great form. I will use a quote from Niall Brown on Facebook and say no more. Niall said “The Machrins McNeills were superb – the best I have ever heard them”.

The main act of the evening was Mike Vass & Mairearad Green. Both have appeared at the festival before but this was their first time as a duo. They have both composed some wonderful tunes over the years but, for this project, they have delved into the annals of Highland music and come up with some of the old and largely forgotten tunes. They were, as you would expect, played beautifully with the Gaelic Air being particularly outstanding. The highlight though, was probably The Earl of Hyndford’s Reel, a super-fast, extra-complicated tune which at least one of them managed to get through unscathed. It was a fine performance from Mr Vass and the “Sound of Wester Ross” herself and I am looking forward to listening to the album many times.

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It was then time to head up the road for an unusually early start to the Festival Club and it was a beauty! Some of the guys from Inyal were in full swing when we got there and they were soon joined by Caitlin, Liam, Jen and others as the session grew. It was a pleasure to listen to while catching up with friends and enjoying a small refreshment. After a while, Niall suggested that we move through to the back room and have a go at a few songs. We were joined by a select group of a dozen or so and it developed into one of those great sessions that only seem to happen by accident. Niall was in top form and fielded requests like a pro. Songs from Jim Reeves, Glen Campbell, Don Williams and many more were produced and I chimed in with the inevitable Sonny along with Lucy Jordan and The Great Divide. Seumas joined us for some Corries and Gaberlunzie and we had a ball. Later, as the session that was rather unfairly called “The Young Ones and Jen” wound down, Liam and Keir joined us for some more great songs. It was a cracking night altogether.

The first of the lunchtime open mic sessions was next and although it wasn’t the best attended, it was still highly enjoyable. Seumas & I did a few and a lot of the regulars did their bit too and it was great to see.

The first hall concert of the day was Donald & Jen MacNeill Uncovered. They were introduced by Liam who certainly proved that he is almost a match for Pedie at the acerbic introductions! Pedie & Jen produced a great selection of cover versions with my highlights being Close Your Eyes and the emotional Comedians and Angels. They also did a couple of Pedie’s own songs and Blue Sky, Blue Sea, with its reference to sharing a drink and a song with old friends, was particularly apt after last night’s session.

A complete contrast next with the young experimental trad music act Inyal and they were sensational. The synth and drum backing could be felt through the spine and the juxtaposition with the trad elements of fiddle, smallpipes and whistle was brilliantly done. Their music has so many layers that I immediately wanted to see the show again. The addition of Josie Duncan’s vocals gave the whole thing another level and the Gaelic Air was beautiful. It was a truly remarkable debut.

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The gaps between these concerts were, as ever, filled with an array of local food and drink. The Brewery and the Hotel kept the drink flowing. Gavin and the somewhat cruelly named “Burger Bitch” kept the burgers coming. Margaret’s pies were as delicious as ever and the food in the hotel was lovely. All these things going on behind the scenes help to make this festival great.

The first concert of Friday evening was by Keir ‘n’ the Community. Local shopkeeper and sound engineer (and soon to be Festival Tsar) Keir Johnston was joined by Pedie, Caitlin and Liam and they produced a storming set of Americana that brought the house down. Among the many highlights, there was one of the best moments of the entire festival, when Keir sang Warren Zevon’s Mutineer backed by Caitlin on the keyboard. It was absolutely beautiful.

Next on stage was the Queen of Ceol Cholasa herself, the one and only Kathleen MacInnes. Kathleen appeared in year one and this was her fifth appearance. It was every bit as good as the first four. Relaxed, beautiful singing, expertly backed by Mike Vass and Mhairi Hall, this was a gentle reminder of the depth of talent at this festival. It was about as far removed from Inyal as you can get but it was equally enjoyable.

The final act at the hall on this Friday evening was another returnee from year one. Iain MacFarlane was in Kathleen’s band that year. This time he had joined forces with Ewan Robertson of Breabach and Ceol Cholasa newcomer Dermot Byrne on button box for an absolutely crackling set of tunes and songs. The stories were equally entertaining and when Ewan & Iain sang about Ingie Mhor and Meggie Bhan the tears of laughter were back again. It was another extremely enjoyable set.

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The Festival Club was busy and the craic was flowing along with beer. The session in the main bar was going well but we were a bit disappointed that some of the visiting artists hadn’t arrived to join in. Seumas, Niall and I moved into the Log Room for a few songs and this time we were joined by Alan Davis for some great guitar work and Elaine for some classic jazz. It was another great session and I looked up at one point and discovered the other room was suddenly filled with Elephants and MacFarlane-ites. The session that then started was one of the great ones. Iain was in top form conducting the company and leading the chair dancing as Ceol Cholasa reached a new level of magic.

With great difficulty, I made it back to the Hotel for Saturday’s Pedie-led lunchtime session and it was probably the busiest open mic we have ever had. John gave us the much-requested North West Passage, Stephen became an honorary Machrins McNeill, Mike Vass sang Avril Lavigne and Jen, Pedie and Morna brought chills to the spine with a stunning rendition of Only You. It was a great session.

It seems that Ceol Cholasa is not complete without an appearance by Jenn Butterworth and she was first on at the hall today, accompanying the unbelievably talented fiddler Ryan Young.  Ryan’s performance was majestic and he could almost make the fiddle talk. Jenn’s sensitive accompaniment allowed Ryan to take us through an amazing array of tunes. It was the second sensational debut of the festival.

The second concert of the day saw Keith make a rare appearance onstage alongside Pedie to introduce the first band ever to play at Ceol Cholasa. Rallion marked the occasion by starting off with a reprise of the first song ever sung at the festival all those years ago. They went on to produce a set of songs and tunes that had the feet tapping and the mind going back to the distant days of Ceol Cholasa 1.

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A quick break followed with time for a burger and a very restorative ten minute nap and then it was time to go again. Lorne MacDougall and Friends were the next act on. Lorne has been visiting Colonsay for many years and his piping skills are not in doubt and he showed them off in style. He was, in my opinion, let down a bit by his band. David Foley was excellent on bodhran and Darren and Kathleen’s singing was as good as ever but the rest were, to me, a bit off their game. Having said that, Lorne was very good and they still managed to produce THE moment of the festival for me. The Gaelic song sung by Darren and Kathleen was a majestic piece of work and had me weeping. It was a truly moving and special moment.

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It was then time to welcome back another of the survivors from the first Ceol Cholasa, the Karine Polwart Trio. They gave us a set of beautifully crafted songs that were expertly played and delivered with genuine warmth. Steven’s understated and sometimes overlooked guitar work and vocals and Inge’s ability to produce the most beautiful backing sounds are the perfect backdrop for Karine’s vocals. Picking a highlight is an impossible task but the surprise was undoubtedly a beautiful version of Video Killed the Radio Star. The Buggles at Ceol Cholasa? That has to be a first!

Next up was the act I had been most looking forward to seeing and I am pleased to say, they didn’t disappoint! The Elephant Sessions were just amazing. Alasdair’s mandolin and Ewan’s fiddle are the base for the fantastic tunes but it is the guitar of Mark, the bass and synth of Seth and the drums of Greg that lift these boys to a whole new level. The standard of musicianship is incredible and the hall was absolutely jumping in a way not seen since Manran. You could say it is easy to get a standing ovation when everyone is already out of their seats but there is no doubt that the Elephant Sessions deserved it. What a show!

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You would have thought a lie down was needed after that but Greg was co-opted to join Murray on the accordion and Caitlin on the guitar to keep the dancers going as the Ceilidh got under way. A great selection of tunes was produced and the dancers did them proud as the night in the hall drew to a close.

The Festival Club seemed very busy to me but when the Ceilidh ended, the place was suddenly bursting at the seams. Another MacFarlane led session developed with the Butterworth jukebox also in full swing.  Just when it seemed a song session was not going to happen, Seumas was called over to sing and suddenly it was on. Singing Steal Away with Pedie and Jenn on guitars was probably the best thing I have ever done at the festival. Singing Sine Bhan with Niall and Seumas maybe wasn’t but it was damn good fun. Then, in the midst of the chaos, a moment of sheer beauty.  Iain on fiddle, accompanied by Pedie on guitar, played the slow air The Flower of the Quern. It was an amazing moment of absolute musical brilliance and one that I will never forget.

The final afternoon began with another lovely concert by Kathleen, Mike and Mhairi. The songs were all familiar and beautifully performed as always with the highlight being the ever-popular Reul Allain a’Chuain.

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The Karine Polwart Trio were up next for their second performance of the weekend and it was a belter. This was a totally different set from Saturday which included a lot of the old classics, including my personal favourite, Follow the Heron. The trio were immaculate as always and the 80’s got another run out with John Farnham’s You’re the Voice and a sumptuous version of Billy Bragg’s A New England. It was a gem of a set and probably cemented Karine’s spot as the top act of the festival. Her unaccompanied rendition of Freedom Come All Ye as an encore was the perfect end to a perfect set.

Then came the handover of power with Keir being appointed as the new Ceol Cholasa organiser. He made a nice speech and was joined by Jen to present a scrapbook, which had been signed by most of the festival goers with their memories of past years, to the outgoing organisers, Pedie and Keith. Although Jen’s speech meant that the boat was almost in, there was still time for The Elephant Sessions to give a last glorious set of magical tunes. After all these years, I still get the feeling of disbelief. Here I am, on Colonsay on a sunny Sunday afternoon in September and I am watching the Elephant Sessions in our village hall. Unbelievable!

It was then time for the grand finale and Pedie was joined by Liam & Caitlin for a rendition of Where Have all the Flowers Gone while Keith stood, looking rather happy, between Karine and Kathleen.

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Pedie then persuaded Iain back to the stage for a reprise of the Flower of the Quern and it was another great performance.

Karine then led the assembled artists in a hurriedly-penned song to the tune of Sunshine on Leith. It was a beautiful moment as we all sang “Sailing away from Scalasaig Bay, we will be with you: Here’s to the Chiefs, to Pedie & Keith….” It was another in a long line of magical moments. All that was left then was one last, MacFarlane-led tune set and that was the end of Ceol Cholasa 10.

It has been said many times over the week but it cannot be said enough. Pedie & Keith are due tremendous praise for what they have achieved. There are many helpers but without Keith’s original idea and Pedie’s drive to make it work, none of this would have happened.

I was trying to think what it is that makes Ceol Cholasa so special. The music is outstanding but that can be found at other festivals. The answer, I believe, is the people. People like John, Allison and Stephen joining in the open mic session, the Scousers and the Weegies with their infectious enthusiasm and laughter, Cathy & Martin with their incredible raffle ticket selling skills and the many other regular visitors. Then there are the locals. The staffs at the Pantry and Hotel who work tirelessly to keep us all fed and watered. Seumas and Niall delving into the memories to sing long-forgotten songs. Caitlin and Lickable Liam ready to break into a tune set at the drop of a hat. Jen, with her manic enthusiasm belying her advancing years. Along with the countless others that help to make this a great festival, it all adds up to a truly magical experience.

I will leave the last words to the one-man Ceilidh that is Iain MacFarlane. He said “it’s a special wee festival on a special wee Island.”

So say all of us and here’s to the next ten years.

 

Hughie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Oban Live 2017 – Thunder Over the Bay

A weekend of music, fun and manic dancing

Oban Live is over for another year and it was another magic weekend of great music, great weather and great company. The usual suspects were there,(although some were missing). Lee, a veteran from Skerryvore Decade was back, joined by Lauren whose exuberant dancing fitted perfectly with the group. We were also joined by the ladies who became known as “the three Germans”. Names are a bit difficult here as Mr B decided to introduce us all with false names (I was Nigel Johnson for the weekend). There was the unlucky one, who spent day one in the first-aid tent and A&E, the bubbly one (who may have been called Stephanie) and the always dancing (and frankly, quite gorgeous) one who was probably called Ellie. They certainly added to the madness and the dancing was superbly manic. Indeed, during the Skipinnish set, anyone who came within a few feet of our group was grabbed by the arm and swung round. Most seem to enjoy it; some even came back for more!

On to the music then and it was, as usual a fine mix of styles. As we are getting older (noooo!) we paced ourselves and missed some of the opening acts each day. We arrived just as Ceol An Aire & the Argyll Ceilidh Trail were starting off. These youngsters put on a great show and got the feet tapping and the hands clapping during their excellent set.

More West Coast talent next with Trail West and it was another cracking set of tunes and songs that had us singing along and the first signs of the dancing starting to break out.

Admiral Fallow were on next. They are one of my favourite live bands and their lyrics are sometimes seriously beautiful. They split opinion in our group but I loved every minute of their set with “Guest of the Government” being my highlight.

By this stage, it became clear that the bar queue problems from year one had returned. This was disappointing as things had worked so well last year. I spent a large part of Manran’s set in the queue. This is the third time I have seen the band with their new line up and they were on good form. Split opinions again with those who were seeing the new line-up for the first time being a little less enthusiastic while those who had not seen the previous incarnation were much more impressed.

The day’s headliners were next up. I was not really sure what to expect from Toploader as, like a lot of people, I could only remember one song of theirs. As it turned out, it was a very good set and held the audience well until the inevitable closing rendition of “Dancing in the Moonlight”.

As the sun began to set behind the hills, it was time for Skipinnish to do their stuff and boy, did they do it well?!!. To my chagrin, there are still some members of my family who cannot see the magic of this band but they were on awesome form again. They had thousands of people dancing, singing along and, during a short tribute to Barra schoolgirl Eilidh MacLeod, wiping away a silent tear. It was a gem of a set and brought a highly enjoyable day to a stunning climax.

As I waited for the bus to head in for day two, the sky was alive with lightning and thunder was roaring around the bay. Luckily, by four o’clock, the sun was splitting the sky again. Someone up there obviously likes Oban Live.
We arrived in perfect time for the start of the set by Tide Lines. The band were launching their new album, Dreams We Never Lost, and they got the day off to a cracking start. The tune sets were great and the songs were excellent and beautifully written. I have no doubt that Tide Lines will be much higher up the bill by the next time they visit Oban Live.
The organisers had responded to yesterday’s complaints and added lots of extra bar staff and the system worked much better. No more lengthy waits for drinks and the only problem was when we somehow ended up with cider instead of lager!

The next act on were Roddy Hart & the Lonesome Fire and again, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What we got was an excellent set of songs that I thoroughly enjoyed and will definitely look out for this band again.

Up next were last year’s surprise package, We Banjo Three and they once again went straight to the top of most people’s favourite act of the weekend lists. The produced a stunning set of tunes and songs with mass audience participation and had the crowd in the palm of their hand. It was an absolute joy to watch.

The day two headliners were on next and Hue & Cry produced a set which was just what I expected. Expertly performed, jazz tinged soul which did absolutely nothing for me and had me tapping my feet impatiently waiting for their set to end. They are a decent band but, in my opinion, not the right band for this festival.

Time for the final act of the year and there was never any doubt that Skerryvore would raise the spirits and get the crowd buzzing again. The highlight of their set was probably when they were joined by Oban High School Pipe Band for a great set of tunes. The concert built to a glorious climax and the manic dancing was back better than ever before the end. It was a great way to end a really enjoyable weekend.
So, that was it. It was then time to say goodbye to friends old and new and wend our way through the remarkably well-behaved crowds to get some cheesy wiggles (not toasted) and head for bed.
It was a superb weekend, helped by wonderful weather, great music and excellent company. My Celtic Connections disaster is forgotten and it’s time to start counting the days until Ceol Cholasa.
Thanks to all who made it such a fun weekend and hope to see everyone there again next year!

Cheers

Hughie

Celtic Connections 2017 – Severely Curtailed

When I came down with a cold/virus/infection at the beginning of January my first thought was “at least it didn’t happen during Celtic Connections”. Ha!

As I arrived in Glasgow three weeks later still feeling pretty ropy I told myself it would be fine once I got there.

The first indication that things weren’t 100% normal came when I shocked my gracious hosts by not rushing out the Open Stage. Instead, I took my time and arrived at the Exhibition Hall in time to catch the final act of the afternoon and very good they were too. WHYTE produced a very interesting set of original and self-penned Gaelic songs accompanied by keyboard, guitar and a fine array of soundscapes from a laptop. It was a very nice start to my trip.

Upstairs to the main arena next for my first proper concert. I first saw Fara a couple of years ago and, having recently bought their debut album, I was looking forward to their set. It was every bit as good as I expected with cracking tune sets and songs played with passion and enjoyment. The banter between sets was great too and, even if it hadn’t been, the Orkney accent is always worth a listen!

Cherish the Ladies were next up and although they are regulars at Celtic Connections, this was the first time I had seen them.  The musicianship was undoubted with guitar, fiddle, accordion and piano all played with great skill. What was lacking for me was any sense of passion and fun and it felt, at times, almost like a classical recital rather than a folk concert. However, there was one thing that took their performance from worthy to spectacular and that was the walking buzz-bomb that is New York’s Joanie Madden. She whooped and hollered her way through the night and showed remarkable skill on a variety of whistles and flutes and lifted the whole thing to great heights. They also had a fine array of guests on show too. The duet between Joanie and Hannah Rarity was a joy to listen to, the dancers were spectacular (especially the 5 year old local boy), The Ennis Sisters (of whom much more later) were excellent and the appearance of Heidi Talbot just capped off a great night.

My Festival Club ticket stayed in my pocket as I headed home after a great opening day.

I was at the Concert Hall early the next afternoon to change my Le Vent Du Nord ticket to one for the Piping Centre instead. That meant I got to see most of the Open Stage acts.  Callum Connor and Fergus were first on and their set was very good, as was the one from Ellie Ford from Gairloch with her concert harp.  Jane Gilbert was next up and although she was good, I found my mind wandering during her jazz-tinged set. Amer/Hawksworth/Munro were the final act I saw and they produced a fine set of traditional music with their own twist.

Up to the Piping Centre then for the evening’s main event. Bella Gaffney was an Open Stage winner from 2016 and I was looking forward to hearing her again. She did not disappoint with a fine set of songs, delivered with an ease and charm and well received by the audience. “After the Fall” was my favourite from last year and is one I have sung many times since. It was a pleasure to hear it again. “The Devil in Me” is also a fine piece of music and Bella’s guitar playing was excellent throughout.  The cover of the Led Zeppelin version of “Gallows Pole” was quite simply superb.

Time for the main act of the evening and the taster I got during the Cherish the Ladies gig last night was enough to make me change my plans to see a full show by The Ennis Sisters. Boy, did I make the right decision! It was a stunning concert of fine songs, beautifully sung and interspersed with superb craic from the ladies. The “Look at me, aren’t I wonderful” persona (at least I hope it was a persona) of Kate spread through the evening and had me laughing harder than I have for a long while. The music was superb too. Songs with an Irish tinge, sometimes just straightforward country and sometimes full on folk were performed brilliantly. The harmonies were exquisite and the emotion of the Newfoundland based songs was always front and centre. “Out From St Leonards”, about families being uprooted from their remote coastal homes and taken to where they could get access to government services that they didn’t really want, was heart breaking. As was “the Fortunate Ones” about visiting home to see those who hadn’t moved away and ending with the heartfelt hope that they would one day return home and become Fortunate Ones again.

No doubt about the emotional highlight though. That came with “Sing You Home”, a song written about having to sing at the funeral of their cousin who took his own life at a young age. There was not a dry eye in the house.

From the opening a Capella of “Hard Times” to the final stomping tune sets and the beautifully written closing song, “Until Then”, this was a concert of the highest order and the standing ovation at the end was well deserved. (As I preview this blog, I am listening to The Ennis Sister and “Until Then” came on and the tears came to my eyes)

Once again, my Club ticket remained unused as I went home happy but very tired.

Saturday should have been one of these great Celtic Connections days with plans for three concerts, a meet up with old friends and a trip to the Festival Club. Things didn’t quite pan out that way.

The afternoon concert at the Strathclyde Suite was the starting point. Fuaran were first on and this highly talented group of youngsters from the Islands and Highlands delivered a great set of Gaelic songs. The final sing-a-long had me almost forgetting how lousy I felt.

The Far Flung Corners show was next. This show, put together by Anna-Wendy Stevenson with input from around the UK, was another excellent one. The Suite Uist, written by Anna-Wendy in praise of the Island she calls home was a thing of beauty. The concert ended with return of Fuaran for a final, all in finish with Christian Gamauf’s bagpipes rounding things off perfectly.

By this time, I could no longer ignore what my body was telling me and it was time to give in gracefully. I spent the next two days in bed before heading back to Oban and, as I write this a week later; I know I made the right decision as I am still far from recovered.

So, there we have it. The fewest acts I have ever seen in all my Celtic Connections trips but I know I will never forget the sensational Ennis Sisters.

Ah well, just under four months to Oban Live. I hope I might feel better by then!

 

Hughie

 

 

 

 

 

Ceol Cholasa 2016

Ceol Cholasa 2016 – Review

 

Another year has gone by and, as I sit here munching my Cal Mac Breakfast Roll, it’s time to reflect on an epic Colonsay Music Festival.

It started with the Wednesday ferry trip from Oban and feeling that magical Ceol Cholasa atmosphere building as I met up with other festival regulars. After settling in, it was time to pop up to the quiz. This year we only came second but that didn’t decrease the amount of whisky consumed.

Luckily, due to changes in the ferry timetable, the festival didn’t actually begin until 4;30 so that gave enough time for my hangover to dissipate before the opening concert. It was snappily entitled “Niall, McNeill, McNeill, and MacNeill plus guests” and featured Niall and Pedie, Caitlin and Liam and Seumas with Keir joining them for the finale. It was an excellent show with outstanding tune sets from Liam on guitar and Caitlin’s flying fingers on the banjo and some superb songs from the assembled company. The highlight was probably Liam singing “Longshot”. It was very moving.

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Time for a break to meet the boat and say hello to the next group of festival regulars and then it was back to the hall for the day’s main event. I am a huge Skipinnish fan and was delighted to hear they were on the bill this year. The hall was packed and Skipinnish did what they do best. The hall was perhaps a little smaller than their ideal venue but I enjoyed every second of it. The slow start to “The Island” was excellent and “Piper to the End” was a great moment. By the finale of “Walking on the Waves” the hall was jumping and my voice had just about gone from singing along.

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As most of the band left immediately after the concert on a RIB, the first night at the Festival Club was a little quieter than usual. It was a good chance for a catch-up and blether. Then Alasdair from Skipinnish arrived and got his pipes out and things got a little livelier. We were also treated to the worst out-of-time dancing ever witnessed at Ceol Cholasa. It was so bad it was good!

The first of the Lunchtime Sessions was next and it was a good one. Pedie kicked off with a couple of Kris Drever songs and then some of the regulars did their stuff. John Evans was, as ever, excellent. The undoubted highlight of the session (and indeed, the whole festival) was when Niall & Pedie got together to sing Runrig’s “Hearts of Olden Glory”. It was simply stunning and a genuine spine-tingling moment.

The first afternoon concert on Day 2 was the Local Talent Showcase. This was a varied and well-performed show. All the performers were on top form with the Schoolchildren being the highlight. Colonsay’s music definitely has a good future.  Another highlight was Niall & Pedie with their rendition of the David Francey song, “Wonder”.

The second show of the afternoon saw the Ceol Cholasa debut of American duo, Hungrytown. Their set of self-penned songs, delivered with the minimum of fuss, was very nice. I loved “The Rose and the Briar” and, as I write this, four days and many bands later, “Hungrytown Road” is still going through my head. That is the sign of a good song!

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After another boat had come and gone, it was time for the first of the weekend bands to entertain us. The Angus Nicolson Trio produced a gem of a set. Pipe tunes old and new, played with passion and precision, coupled with the odd story or two made this an outstanding concert.  Angus on pipes and whistle with Andrew on percussion and Murdo on guitar had the audience whooping with delight.  It was a fine Ceol Cholasa debut and I look forward to seeing them again in the future.

Next up was the return of last year’s stars, Laura-Beth Salter and Jenn Butterworth and it was great to see them again. “Let the Sun Shine Down on Me” was epic and the set sparkled along with tunes, songs and easy banter. “The Great Divide” was even better than last year and it was an absolute joy to listen to the girls again.

 

The final act of Friday evening was Litha. With Aaron Jones on bouzouki, Claire Mann on whistles and flutes, Gudrun Walther on fiddle and accordion and Jurgen Treyz on guitar, this band were a revelation. Excellent tune sets coupled with songs in English and German made for a varied and highly enjoyable concert. The four-part harmony vocals on “Waterlilly” were superb and it completed a stunning day of concerts.

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The Festival Club on Friday night took on what is becoming the normal shape with the “real” musicians, joined by some of the locals, playing in one room and the “Old Fogeys” setting up for a song session in the back room. I listened to the musicians for a while and then wandered through to the back. As I was listening to the songs flow, a certain gentleman commented that everyone in that room was born in the 50’s or before. After I kicked him in the shins I settled down for a great night of old songs. From Hank Williams to Simon & Garfunkel via “The Auld Triangle”, it was truly enjoyable night. Being able to take a few steps and hear some of Scotland’s (and Germany’s) finest musicians playing non-stop tune sets while a certain Scot’s singer relaxed on her chair, it was almost unbelievable. I haven’t been fit to dance for a few years but I somehow ended up doing a bit of a Highland Schottische at the end of the night (thanks Jen!) Add in the craic that was going on in-between the two sessions and it was seriously good fun.

Saturday started with another great session in the pub at lunchtime.  With my wrist problem limiting my guitar playing, Seumas and I just did a couple of songs to kick things off then some of the regulars took over. John was in excellent form and he finished his set with “North West Passage” which has become a firm festival favourite. Allison, Eugene and Stephen all did their bit but the highlight was when Pedie was joined by his Granddaughters, Helen and Sally, for “The Hall in 59”. It was almost cuteness overload.

The first Hall concert of the day was the return of Jenn Butterworth and Laura-Beth Salter. From the opening of “Come to Jesus” this was another sparkling set. “The Braver One”, about the downside of Glasgow life was excellent and has the makings of a classic. There was some doubt about having the same act two years running but the girls made it work and I would love to see them back again.

The second set from the Angus Nicolson Trio was next and they began with a double pipe set with Andrew joining Angus on the big pipes for a cracking opening. The set went from strength to strength and was rounded off with a stunning encore set. Angus, Andrew and Murdo delivered two cracking sets this weekend and were probably the unexpected stars of this year’s line-up.

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A brief meal break followed, filled by some excellent Curry from my Carluke cousins and then it was time to return for the evening session at the Hall.

Hungrytown got the evening underway with another set of excellent harmonies and well-crafted songs. I had just started to get the song out my mind but this set cemented “Hungrytown Road” in there forever.

It was then time for Claire Hastings to make her Ceol Cholasa debut and it was a cracker. Accompanied by the omnipresent Jenn Butterworth on guitar, Claire gave us a set of varied songs, from the sing-along of “I missed the Boat” to the magic of “The Irish Boy”, it was a pleasure to witness. “Come Spend a While Wi’ Me” is the perfect festival song and had some audience members close to tears. A truly magnificent set.

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The final concert of the evening saw the return to Ceol Cholasa of Daimh. The band have undergone some line-up changes since there previous appearance on Colonsay (either that or the lead singer has had some major plastic surgery) but the essence remains the same. Great driving tune sets interspersed with sumptuous Gaelic songs that had the audience whooping with delight and it was an excellent set. The highlight came during the encore when Angus played a solo on the pipes and was then joined by Ellen for a song. This was one of these moments when you realise just how good the sound is at this event. The Great Highland Bagpipe and voice in perfect balance for a wonderful moment.

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At this point I should mention that, between all these gigs, there was excellent food available. Margaret’s pies were sensational, Gavin and Morag’s burgers (especially the Colonsay beef ones) were exceptional and the food in the Hotel was beautiful and served with a smile. Thanks to all!

Ceilidh time next and it was a bit quieter this year but that only meant more room for the dancers. The Jen MacNeill Band, this year featuring Sileas Sinclair on the box, provided the great tunes that kept the dancers dancing and the watchers clapping and tapping along.  Meanwhile, in the Hall Bar, Liam kept us entertained with his one-liners, the best of which was… far too inappropriate to be repeated on a public blog!

Up to the final night of the Festival Club next and it just keeps on getting better. (I should also mention here that, on the way up, I re-acquainted myself with what is becoming another festival tradition. Yes, the Blueberry Vodka was back!) Another great session split between the musicians and old fogeys but this time the average age of the old fogies’ room was seriously lower. This was perfectly illustrated by Jen, Morna and Freya leading the company in an excellent rendition of “Disco 2000”. It was epic!  Again, it was a case of moving between the two rooms to try and get the best of both worlds. Going from “Claire Island” to an outstanding tune set, back through for “Bobby Magee” and then back in time to hear Ellen singing a beautiful Gaelic song, it was just another stunning night of music. I have to say thank you to the pros for two nights of non-stop brilliant music. They just never flagged. Neither, of course, did Niall, Pedie and the rest of the back room crew. Great stuff!

That just left enough time for a quick rendition of “Jessie’s Car” on the road outside and the night was done and dusted.

Sunday began with a trip to the pub to pack up my guitar and grab some food (and a beer) before heading to the Hall for the final stretch.

Claire Hastings and Jenn Butterworth (yes, again) kicked things of with a lovely set. The girls work well together and the highlights for me were the amusing “B&B in Dundee” and a beautiful performance of “Mother Glasgow”.  I loved every minute of the set and this just nudged them ahead of Angus Nicolson to become my favourite act of the year.

The return of Litha was next and they produced another great set of songs and tunes. I love Aaron’s voice on the Scot’s songs and the musicianship on the tune sets is outstanding. Claire produced a Flute that was almost bigger than her and, although it looked like she may overbalance at times, the sound was lovely. Highlight though was undoubtedly the beautiful German song about the Moonlight (no, I haven’t taken a note of the name). The four part harmonies were exquisite.

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Then it was left to Daimh to bring things to an end and they did so magnificently. Super tunes, beautiful singing and great banter made for a really warm and enjoyable set. The Visit Scotland slogan was a thing of beauty! The set also included two unexpected highlights. It started with Ellen dissolving into a fit of the giggles when teaching us a Gaelic song. I really thought she was completely gone and she did well to recover. Then Murdo was attacked by a giant daddy long legs, much to the amusement of the audience and the bemusement of those on and off stage who wondered what we were laughing at. It was a great way to end the final concert.

That brought us to the drawing of the Super Raffle and the star prize of two nights in the Hotel went, rather fittingly, to the most successful raffle ticket seller in Ceol Cholasa history.

By this stage, the weekend’s musicians and singers had gathered on the stage for the grand finale. Aaron led the assembled cast in “Saints and Sinners” and then the two Angus’s led the last glorious tune set to bring a fantastic festival to an end.

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As the boat rang with Goodbyes, hugs, handshakes and cries of “see you in 359 days” it was time to head back to reality and look forward to the great tenth anniversary in 2017.

 

Cheers

 

Hughie

 

 

 

 

 

Sun, Music & 36 Pints in four seconds

OBAN LIVE 2016

As I headed into town for the first day of Oban Live 2016 it was overcast and a slightly less warm than it had been. After a couple of pre-show drinks we headed up to Mossfield.

The first band were already in full swing and Cal Mac Culture award winners James Edwyn & the Borrowed Band put on a good show of country tinged songs.

A quick break then, as the Sun made an appearance, to test out the bar system and see if it had improved from last year and I am happy to say it has! Pouring at a rate of 36 pints every four seconds, they just about kept up.

Aly Bain & Phil Cunnigham were next up and, even in the wide open expanse of Mossfield, the emotion and excellence of their playing shone through. “Irish Beauty” and the emotion filled “A Bright Star in Cepheus” were the highlights of a great set. The set ended with a birthday cake for Aly, who was on the eve of his 70th, and a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday from the crowd.

 

The last time I saw Wolfestone live was in Oban some 24 years ago. There has been some line-up changes since then but the basis of great tunes remains. The new songs were very good but to me the highlights of the show were the old tune sets. By this time our mini Colonsay Gathering was in full swing and the banter flowed with the tunes.

As the sun dipped behind the stage it was time to remove the sunglasses and put on the jackets as we waited for We Banjo Three and boy were they worth the wait! They produced a terrific set of songs and tunes that had the place jumping. “The Long Black Veil” was one of the highlights of the whole weekend and the tune sets sparkled with energy and fun. They are definitely on my list of acts to see again.

The final act of day one was Skipinnish. Having been lucky enough to witness their line-up change halfway through the show at the Corran Halls in April, I was looking forward to a full set from the new look band. They were tremendous. Norrie was in fine voice and fitted in perfectly and the band were on top form. “December” was beautifully sung and it was great to hear “Oceans of the Free” again but the old favourites like “Walking on the Waves” and “Land Below the Waves” were the real stormers. Norrie’s vocals on the start of “The Island” were absolutely brilliant and definitely one of the wow moments of the weekend.

On to day two and, as if I needed a wee warm up, I popped into the Royal Hotel for a few songs and tunes from Gunna Sound before heading up to Mossfield. The sun was out again and the park was very busy and ready for the magic to begin.

Capercaillie were first up and performed brilliantly on their home turf where Donald used to play shinty and Karen used to smoke behind the tents! I have seen them a few times before and this was definitely the best I have heard them play. With Aiden O’Rourke, Angus MacColl Jnr and Julie Fowlis joining them at various stages, this was a cracking set and a great way to start the day.

A complete change of pace followed next with Hunter & the Bear taking to the stage. Their set absolutely rocked and their own songs were very impressive. The highlight for me was undoubtedly their cover of Springsteen’s “The River”. Spine-tinglingly good and, judging by the queues at the merchandise stall, they won an army of new fans.

I have been waiting a long time to see Julie Fowlis in concert and she had the task of following Hunter & the Bear. Her set started off a bit flat to me and she seemed to be only engaging with the audience at the front and the rest of the crowd seemed distracted. Thankfully, things improved greatly towards the end of the set and by the time we got to “Hug air a’ Bhonaid Mhoir” and “Smeorach Chlann Domhnail” with Donald & Karen, it was very much as good as I had hoped for.

The boys behind the whole Oban Live idea were the next act on and Skerryvore blew the place apart. A superb set with guest appearances from JJ Gilmour and Blair Douglas had the place jumping. The singalong “Home to Donegal” and the finishing number “Path to Home” were excellent. The highlight of the show, and probably the whole weekend, was their stunning cover of Runrig’s “Rocket to the Moon”. It is rare to find a cover that improves on the original but this is definitely one.

The final act of the event was KT Tunstall. She overcame some early technical difficulties to produce a good set. A few new songs were played and were good but the highlights were the well-known numbers. “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree”, “Other Side of the World and the closing number “Suddenly I See” were all superb. By this stage, my knees were just about to give up after two days of mad dancing. The walk into town didn’t help, neither did the hour spent watching the seemingly never-ending taxi queue. So, after all that, I decided to walk home. I arrived home sore but incredibly happy. It was an amazing weekend of fantastic music and great company.

Oban Live 2017? Yes please!

 

Hughie

 

 

 

A Night of Chocolate and Song

A lucky spot among the increasing dross that is my Facebook newsfeed told me that Anna MacDonald and the Artpackt Collective were in town and led to a lovely night at the Oban Chocolate Company.

Waiting for the concert to begin with a hot chocolate rather than a Festival Brew or Pig’s Paradise Blonde was a nice change.

Rosie Bans was first up with her set of angst-ridden but strangely upbeat songs, mostly about the two banes of her life, sugar and boys. It was a very enjoyable set and Rosie’s keyboard playing complimented her voice nicely. The song “Bloodlines” was a very strong piece and finished of a fine performance.

Anna started off with a couple of new songs on the clarsach followed by a beautiful re-working of “Jock O’ Hazeldean”. She then moved on, almost seamlessly, to the guitar for “Matty Groves” and finished off with a quite stunning vocal performance on “My Love is Like a Red Red Rose”.

Local boy Mike Nisbet was the final member of the trio to take to the stage and his set of self-penned, Americana style songs was great. At times the songs reminded me of Springsteen in the “Nebraska” era with a wee touch of Dylan too, and I can’t pay a much higher compliment than that. A cover of Towns Van Zandt’s “Loretta” was an added bonus.

The Trio then played together to finish things off with Deacon Blue’s “Dignity” and a lovely version of “Wild Mountain Thyme”. It is a song that I have heard sung and sang myself for many years and in the last few weeks that is two new versions I have heard (the other was by the fabulous Meadows Family) that have lifted it to new heights.

It was a really nice concert, in a lovely setting and the chocolate wasn’t bad either.

Next week it’s Trail West, Manran and Skipinnish at the Corran Halls. I am guessing there won’t be much hot chocolate drunk that night!

Hughie

31/03/16

 

 

Celtic Connections 2016 Review

Floods, Gales & Points Failures – Celtic Connections 2016 – An Epic Adventure

PART ONE

My 2016 trip to Celtic Connection began pretty much as usual, with a train trip through the snow around Crianlarich to Glasgow. After a catch-up with my generous hosts, it was time for the musical mayhem to begin.

The Danny Kyle Open Stage was my first port of call and was, as ever, a mixed bag. Keith Meisner deserves a mention for his song made up of Bill McLaren commentary lines. I take very brief notes at these sessions and for the band Quick, I used the word “excellent” twice in one line. They were excellent. Three-part harmony singing with guitar and mandolin, their set was great.

My first proper event was “Music From the Machair” at the Old Fruitmarket. This was a show based on the music and musicians from North and South Uist and Benbecula. It was in two parts with the first part showcasing the talented youngsters, many of whom attend the college there. The second half featured more established acts and I have to say the youngsters probably stole the show. I enjoyed hearing Daimh singer Ellen MacDonald live for the first time and Marie MacInnes was also very good. The highlight of the second half was the sets by Canadian duo Rodney & Colin MacDonald who lifted the proceedings to new heights. The main plaudits though, go to some of the first half performances.  The singing of Kaitlin Ross was lovely and the piece by Ross Hull & Cameron Grant was excellent.

Although the early start to the day was beginning to have an effect, I made my way to the Art School and the Festival Club and it was a fine mixture of acts. The Uist/Benbecula connection continued with Eabhal the first act I saw. They were very good as they always are. Complete change next with the superb guitar playing and singing from Moh! Kouyate from Guinea. It was sensational. Another complete change followed with Jason Singh, Giuliano Modarelli and Rahul Ravindran producing a stonking set of beatboxing and acoustic madness. It was a great way to end day one.

Day two started with Ronnie Browne In Conversation at the City of Music Studio. The Corries were probably the main reason I picked up a guitar in the first place so I was delighted to be attending. It turned out to be a fascinating and emotional event filled with great stories and jokes.

Open Stage time again and it produced a couple of excellent sets. Madame Tsunami, from New Zealand via Aberdeen, were very good but the best of the day was the Meadows Family from Wales. A very talented family, swapping instruments at the drop of a hat and performing a good mixture of original and traditional songs and tunes.

Off to St Andrews in the Square for the main concert of the day. The support act were Open Stage winners from last year, Pons Aelius. They were superb with a crackling set of tunes, played with passion and a sense of fun. Highly enjoyable.

Tim O’Brien had the unenviable task of following that but he did so with consummate ease. A great set of songs, accompanied by Arty MacGlynn on guitar and jokes, and I could have listened to Tim all night. Great performer.

My first trip to the Drygate Brewery for the Late Night Sessions was next on the agenda. The venue was lovely but, although it was handy enough from St Andrews Square, it is a bit out of the loop of CC events. Angela Durkin and Debbie Garvey were first up and their set of tunes was very good. Next up were local band Dosca and their set was a cracker. Another local singer/songwriter, Jo Mango, was next and her songs were enjoyable. The wonderful guitar playing of Elliot Morris was next and by then it was time to face the long walk home.

Day three began with an event called Strathspey & Surreal and I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this experimental program. It turned out to be very good indeed. Four separate new pieces of fiddle music written by Aiden O’Rourke, Jen Austin, Shona Mooney and Simon Thoumire, and played by as fine an array of fiddlers as you are ever likely to see onstage together, this show was uplifting and superbly well played.

Down to the Open stage next and it was a very good one with the show being stolen by the excellent country songs of the Jennifer Ewan Band.

My next concert, by the Urban Teuchtars, had proved so popular that it had been moved from the Piping Centre to the much larger MacKintosh Church. A great idea except for one, small thing. How can you have a concert for and by Teuchtars in a venue that only sells non-alcoholic beer!  Despite this major glitch, it was a memorable evening. From the opening “When I Came Up To Glasgow First” to the encore with Cahall McConnell from the Boys of the Lough, this was a concert that sparkled with talent and charm. Kathleen and Sineag were in fine voice, as was Seonaidh MacIntyre on his solo. The tune sets got the feet tapping and made the audience forget about the lack of a bar. Almost.

Time to hop on a random bus and then take the long walk to the Drygate for the Late Night Sessions and it turned out to be a waste of a bus fare. Too many tickets sold, too many people standing, talking and ignoring the music. I struggled through the seemingly lovely sets by the Feis Rois Ceilidh Trail and the Small Glories before I gave up and headed home. I think I can safely say I will not be taking that long walk again

The next day started with a return to the Strathclyde Suite for a New Voices concert by Ewan Robertson of Breabach fame. This piece, entitled Transitions, was based on the Celtman Extreme Triathlon. Superb music and songs, beautifully backed by some stunning video footage, this was one of the best things I have ever seen at Celtic Connections.  A stellar cast of musicians, including Meghan Henderson, Iain MacFarlane and Ewan Henderson, combined with the sometimes mesmerising video footage, made this a real gem of a show.

With time to kill until the next concert, I went for a wander around the Hall and stumbled upon Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas giving an impromptu concert on the stairs with their 100+ Fiddle & Cello workshop. It was an unexpected and highly enjoyable event.

Another good Open Stage followed but it was slightly spoiled for me by a young lady performing under the name Laurence Made Me Cry. Her first song was good but she then produced a laptop with all her backing music and backing vocals recorded on it. She then asked former Open Stage performer and now highly successful artist, Rachel Sermanni to join her to sing the final two songs. To me, having pre-recorded backing and a star singer kind of defeats the purpose of the competition.

A short walk up to the Piping Centre was next on the agenda for the main event of the evening. The support act were Solasta, a highly talented, classically trained young trio on guitar, fiddle and cello. Their set was a delight. Beautifully played and delivered with humour and enthusiasm, it was a performance that will last long in my memory.

It was then time for Mairearad Green and Anna Massie to take the stage with their usual, sparkling set of tunes, songs and stories. It was, to misquote Anna, a pure wee stoater of a set. A great way to finish a really good day so I decided not to risk the walk to the Drygate and went home to catch up on my sleep.

 

Monday began with a great selection on the Danny Kyle Open Stage. Every act on today deserves a mention so here they are. Beautiful singing of Katie MacFarlane, great harmonies from Colour of Whisky, bothy ballads from Natalie Chalmers, great tunes from Ross Miller & Charlie Stewart and a fine set from Eabhal.

Upstairs again to the Strathclyde Suite next for one of the concerts that was very much a punt on my part. First up was Rod Picott and, although I enjoyed his style and his songs I can’t, as I write this, actually remember any specific songs. I will need to see if Spotify can jog my memory.

Kimmie Rhodes was the main act of the evening and she was excellent. She produced a great set of songs, delivered with an effortless charm that made it feel like a very intimate gig. Her son provided fine backing on guitar and vocals and her daughter joined them later and was also an excellent singer. All in all, a good night and Kimmie’s rendition of “I Just Drove By” brought a tear to my eye and was a highlight of my first week.

Tuesday began with the excitement of watching from the flat as the high tide combined with the pressure of water caused a manhole cover to blow and flood Clyde Place. I watched on as Police and Fire Brigade personnel stopped traffic and closed my route to the Concert Hall. Luckily, all was clear before it was time to head up to the Open Stage and the first act up were tremendous. Faramach, a group of schoolchildren from Dunfermline, took my breath away with their harmonies and range of songs. From Amy MacDonald, via Dixie Chicks to Skipinnish there set was a real joy. The previously mentioned Dosca were the other act worthy of a mention today.

So, that was it. End of part one and I was left wondering if part two might be a bit less enjoyable. Boy, was I wrong!

 

PART TWO

 

Wednesday began, as usual, with the Open Stage where Northern Company were excellent.

I don’t usually like to criticise performers too much on these blogs, partly because I know how hard it is to get up on stage and perform, but I am afraid I am going to make an exception now. I found Lloyd James Fay wrist-cuttingly and mind-numbingly boring and for the first time in eight years at CC, I didn’t applaud at the end of the set. I am sure he has his fans but to me this was the low point of the week.

A quick pint with Keith to raise the spirits and it was time to head back to the Strathclyde Suite for the evening concert and a meet-up with some Ceol Cholasa regulars. Calan, from Wales, were the first act on and they blew me away with their set of tunes and songs. Their enthusiasm shone through and the added step dancing helped to complete a very good set.

From Wales to Germany next and Cara were the main act of the night. Having witnessed their first ever Scottish gig at Ceol Cholasa, I was expecting great things and, after a slow start, they delivered.  Mainly showcasing stuff from their new album, they also managed to fit in Colonsay favourite, “Torn Screen Door”, and dedicated it to Keith and Pedie. The final encore of “Yet We Sing” was a beautiful way to end the show.

Thursday began rather too early with a massive crash as part of the roof of the building across the river fell to the ground as Storm Gertrude began to show its teeth. This meant another detour to get to the concert hall as roads and bridges were again closed. I was soaked to the skin by the time I reached the hall but a plate of Haggis, Neeps and Tatties with a Whisky Sauce got me warmed up and ready for action.

It was another mixed bag at the Open Stage with Amy Papiransky being the pick of the bunch.

When I first booked my tickets for this year’s events, the concert I was most looking forward to was Lau & the Unthanks. Sometimes, when you are really looking forward to an event, it can be a let-down. In this case, it certainly was not. From the moment The Unthanks took to the stage, this was a thing of pure joy. The sumptuous, almost ethereal, harmonies combined with the beautifully played string section and the supreme trumpet, were truly amazing. “The Magpie” was an absolute pleasure to listen to and “King of Rome” is one of these songs that can send shivers down your spine.

When Becky & Rachel joined Lau to provide backing vocals on the opening two tracks, Tiger Hill and The First Homecoming, I was in heaven. Lau then produced a concert that was a truly awesome and magical experience. Then, in among the astonishing wizardry that runs through their pieces, a moment of pure musical bliss as they performed the song “Ghosts”. By this stage, I was in a state of such unbridled joy that I was almost floating. We were then treated to the full seventeen minute version of “The Bell That Never Rang” complete with string quartet, to end the show. The encore saw Lau joined by the full Unthanks band for one last, glorious, finale. This was not just the best concert I had seen at this year’s CC but the best concert I have ever seen and, in all likelihood, the best concert I will ever see. In case you didn’t quite get it, I enjoyed it!

The weather had deteriorated even further by the time I left the Concert Hall but I was on such a high I decided to make the dash along Sauchiehall Street to the Festival Club and I was very glad I did. Daori Farrell was first up with some great Irish songs. Then he was joined by the rest of Fourwinds for “The Boys Around Tondaragee” and a set of tunes ending with my favourite from their debut album, the rollicking “Pearse’s Fancy”.

Next up were the Poozies and I hadn’t seen them since Ceol Cholasa 2011. They were excellent as always and it was great to see them again. The Nuala Kennedy Band were next and they were very good. They were then joined on stage by the Danish band Himmerland and they performed a great set together. That was it for me and time to face the weather and return home soaked to the skin once more. I was barely asleep when a Coastguard Rescue helicopter decided to hover just above my window for an hour as they searched the river. There is never a dull moment in this place!

By the time I got up on Friday, the soakings of the previous few days had taken their toll and I was fighting off a cold. The Squiggly Bridge was still closed so it was a minor detour to reach the Concert Hall again.  Another mixed bag at the Open Stage but Irish band Connla and Orkney fiddler, Kirsty Drever, were both very good.

Remarkably, it was actually dry when it came time to head over to the Old Fruitmarket for the next event. The East Pointers, from Prince Edward Island were on first and they rocked the place with their great tunes and songs. Aoife O’Donovan was then on, showcasing tracks from her latest album. She was very good but whoever had the idea of putting Aoife on in this venue, between these two bands, was not thinking straight. The noise from the assembled crowd was ridiculous and drowned out a lot of the subtleties of Aoife’s voice.

RURA were the main act of the evening and they have come a long way since I first saw them on the Open Stage many years ago. I thought the sound was probably a bit less than perfect but their musicianship shone through and Adam’s singing was a joy as always. They were joined by the East Pointers and Aoife for a great finale.

I was halfway up Buchannan Street on my way to the club when I thought I should probably give it a miss and try to keep my cold at bay for the final weekend.

Saturday began with a special event. The 78th Fraser Highlanders Pipe Band’s “Live In Ireland” CD was one that I played constantly during the 80’s and 90’s and today, original band members were joined by some of the piping world’s finest performers to re-create that CD. It was a lovely concert, bringing back lots of memories and culminating in the wonderful “Journey to Skye”.

I decide to give the Open Stage a miss to meet up with some old friends and some even older relatives for a few drinks to get in the mood for the evening’s events.

Purely due to my desire to test the booking system when the line-up was first announced, I ended up in a front row, centre seat at the Concert Hall and what a concert it was. Leo & Anto were first on with an all too short set of old Saw Doctor’s classics with a bit of Jay-Z thrown in. Rachel Walker then did a short set of Gaelic songs before the main act of the evening.  Skipinnish have come a long way since their days as a two piece Ceilidh band and tonight, with a packed out Concert Hall, was a real test for them and it was one they passed with flying colours. They had the place rocking right from the off and Robert’s easy stage presence was nicely supported by Angus’s more droll interventions. All the great songs were there. “Land Below the Waves”, “December” and “The Island” were interspersed with some ceilidh sets and a sprinkling of new songs. “Ocean of the Free” was uplifting and “Iolaire”, with additional vocals by Ceitlin L R Smith, was absolutely beautiful. They were joined by Leo & Anto for a rollicking finale and by the time they finished with “Walking on the Waves”, the whole place was literally jumping. A singalong version of “Wild Mountain Thyme” brought the proceedings to an end. It was a magic concert and for me sets the boys up as the natural successors to Runrig as Scotland’s foremost Celtic band.

I was still buzzing as I headed off for my final Festival Club visit of the year. I arrived in time to catch the end of a set by Clare Hastings with Jenn Butterworth & Laura Wilkie (and some guy whose name I didn’t catch) and it was a good start to the night. Next up were Gordie MacKeeman and his Rhythm Boys and boy, what a show they put on. Great songs, great tunes and great dancing all combined to make a highly entertaining set. French outfit, Moussu T e lei jovents were next and their set was also hugely enjoyable and a little bewildering at times. Festival Club regulars, Blazin’ Fiddles were next on and as usual, they rocked the place. Fast-paced tune sets flowed and had the crowd jumping. To finish my club visits for this year we had the Danish/Scottish band Breus. This is the joy of the club as I would never have thought of going to see this band but they were great. Intriguing sets, lovely vocals and some spectacular Tequila drinking (by the band, not me!) brought my night to an enjoyable end.

Sunday began with the Open Stage Finalists Showcase and, as always, I agreed with some of the winners and not so much with some others. I had seen three of the acts before (Quick, Ross & Charlie and Charly Houston) and the first two were excellent. Bella & the Bear were very quirky and I think I liked them too. I had heard Bella Gaffney’s original performance on Celtic Music Radio and thought she was excellent. Her song “After the Fall” is one I am still playing regularly.

Time for a quick dash upstairs to the Main Hall to take my favourite seat (S25) for my final show, Transatlantic Sessions. The house band were excellent and provided backing to a fine line-up of acts. The Milk Carton Kids were very good, despite a somewhat bizarre and mystifying interruption by Jerry Douglas. Their harmonies were spot on.  Karen Mathieson performed well, Joe Newberry was very good and Cara Dillon’s unaccompanied number was beautiful. There can be no doubt who was the star of the show though. The stunning voice and shining presence of Rhiannon Giddens is something I will never forget. From big, show stopping numbers to her remarkable re-working of “Black is the Colour” to the old country standard “She’s Got You”, Rhiannon was phenomenal. A great way to end a great twelve days at Celtic Connections.

All that was left for me was to negotiate the perils of Storm Frank and points failure at Dalmuir to finally arrive home 24 hours and 46 minutes late. It was a truly magical twelve days and I thank all the friends, old and new, who helped make it special. Just 49 weeks to go before it all starts again with just Oban Live and Ceol Cholasa to fill the gap. I can’t wait!

Hughie.