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Celtic Connections 2017 – Severely Curtailed

February 3, 2017

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!








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