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Celtic Connections 2018 – Part Two

February 8, 2018


After a quiet Monday which included a lot of blethering and the drinking of a bottle of Chivas Regal, Tuesday was meant to be another quiet day, easing into the second week. A wee note on the Celtic Connections blog though, pointed me to a BBCNI show being recorded at Saint Luke’s so I decided to have a look. It was interesting and entertaining to see the work that goes into these shows. The highly inventive Snuffbox were great, the Aoife Scott Band were excellent (and Aoife was charming) but the stars of the show were the outstanding Lau. I enjoyed it so much that I got on my phone on the bus back to the Concert Hall to book a ticket for tomorrow’s show!

I got back in time to see the final three acts on the Open Stage. Sam Begbie & Joe Doyle were good, Jonny Jack were OK but the final act were outstanding. The band, Dlu, was formed after meeting at the Gaelic School and they put on a simply amazing set. With fiddle/keyboards, guitar, drums and accordion they performed with style and skill and blew me away.

Up the stairs next to the Strathclyde Suite for the main event of the evening. The opening act was Iona Fyfe and her band and theirs was a set of beautiful songs, perfectly performed. Iona has a fine voice and carried the songs off brilliantly.

The Railsplitters were the main act of the evening and they were a little disappointing for me. They performed their bluegrass set well enough but it just didn’t do enough to raise it to normal CC standards. A minor blip in a great week.

Wednesday started with a walk through the sleet showers to Saint Luke’s for another free BBCNI show. After her charming, laid-back performance last week, it was interesting to see how a bunch of TV cameras made Cara Dillon rather endearingly nervous. She performed beautifully again, along with Sam Lakeman, and it was wonderful to watch. Young Irish siblings Meabh & Tiarnan Smyth were up next and the performed a set of tunes on fiddle, guitar and concertina with great skill. Meabh has one of those smiles that lights up a room and this duo has the potential to do great things. The show was finished off with a rip-roaring set from Imar, of whom, much more later.

I was once again back in time for the last three Open Stage acts. Emma Sweeney, Grainne Hunt and Ronan the Barbarian all did very well.

Back up to the Strathclyde Suite again for more Americana, this time from Canadian songstress Kaia Kater. She put on a great show and won some new fans with her easy style.

The main act of the evening was the aforementioned Imar and what a show they put on! Described by a punter behind me as “The Bothy Band on speed”, they produced a raft of storming tune-sets, each one performed with skill and an unbelievable passion for the music. All the musicians are excellent but the manic enthusiasm of Mohsen Amini on concertina summed up the general feeling. It was a stunningly good show and received a well-deserved standing ovation.


Thursday began with another good Open Stage where Pure Dynamic Strings were the outstanding act. It was then time to move to my front-row, centre seat in the Concert Hall for the main event. Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards provided yet another set of fabulous Americana. Laura’s fiddle-playing was terrific and the blend of voices worked perfectly. When they abandoned the amplification and moved to the edge of the stage to perform the closing song, it was a joyous moment.

Balzin’ Fiddles 20th anniversary party began with the current line-up in fine form and the night progressed with former members joining until the stage was full of unbelievable talent. It was a fine show but the highlight was probably when each fiddler played a short piece of the set in turn. Alan Henderson, Rua MacMillan, Catriona MacDonald, Jenna Reed, Aiden O’Rourke, Kirstin Harvey, Ian MacFarlane, Duncan Chisholm and Bruce MacGregor then finished together in perfect style. It was great to see Andy Thorburn back on the keys and Andy Clements on guitar backing up Angus Lyons and Anna Massie. It was a hugely enjoyable night, filled with humour and talent.

Along the street next for my final visit to the Festival Club and it was another beauty. Irish trad/jazz band, Notify, was first up and their eclectic style worked well. US fiddler Andrew Finn MacGill was next with guitar accompaniment from Sean Gray. This was a fine set of tunes that bounced along nicely. Blazin’ Fiddles did their thing next and took the club to a new level of frenzy that was matched by the next act, the Callum Stewart Band. I have to admit I was a little concerned when Josie Duncan took the stage as I couldn’t see how she could possibly follow that. I was, again, wrong. Josie, starting off with Pablo LaFuente and then joined by a full band, put on an astonishingly great set. To see the club bouncing along to the Gaelic songs was a joy and I have to admit I did a bit of bouncing myself. It seemed like the perfect time to end a great day and head home for the night.

Friday began with another good Open Stage with Irish oldies George Murphy & Frank Cassidy being the pick of the bunch. It was also nice to see Neria again. I first saw her on this stage 8 years ago and her fiddle playing and dancing have come on tremendously since then.

Time then for my first visit to the grand old Pavilion Theatre. It is a fine old building and, after I squeezed myself into a seat built for people of smaller girth than me, I was able to admire it properly. The support act was the Gaelic four-piece vocal group Cruinn and they put on a good set of songs with excellent harmonies to get everyone in the mood. Skipinnish then did what Skipinnish do best and put on a cracker of a show. At one point, the stage went dark and when the spotlight returned it was on Runrig guitarist Malcolm Jones on electric guitar as he launched in to Chro Chin t-Saille. He was shortly joined by Andrew on the pipes and the whole band plus Cruinn then joined in to perform the vocal part in one of those spine-tingling moments. Another quickly followed with Cruinn again joining in an emotional version of Iolaire.  It was a really epic show.

Saturday was a different sort of day as I headed to an afternoon of Lau Land at the CCA. It began with a concert entitled Dialogues which had Irish concertina player Cormack Begley, Siobhan Miller, Kris Drever and Martin Green playing and talking about tunes and songs from their respective areas.  It was excellent with Siobhan’s version of Cholesterol probably the highlight. The quartet was then joined by Karine Polwart for a discussion on folk music and its traditions. It was fascinating hearing Karine tell how she arrived where she is now with no family background in folk music at all. There was also passion on show when Kris was explaining how you can do someone else’s song justice if you inhabit the song and understand it. It was over all too soon for me but we then moved to the back room of the bar where Eammon Coyne joined Kris to lead a great session.

A quick bus trip along to Gallowgate was next on the agenda as I headed back to Saint Luke’s.

The first act on were the Nova Scotia duo Cassie & Maggie MacDonald and they were excellent. With Cassie on fiddle and Maggie on guitar, keys and vocals it was a highly enjoyable set of tunes and songs with some step-dancing to round things off.

Tide Lines were the main act and they produced a typically polished and professional set which had the place bouncing and singing along with gusto. The new single, Streets of Dreamers, got an outing and was well received but the highlight was probably Dreams We Never Lost which is a brilliant and moving song in its live setting.  This band continues to go from strength to strength and this will be a big year for them as they try to build on the success of their first album. I have to say, the early signs are good.

The last day of my trip on Sunday started with the winners showcase at the Danny Kyle Open Stage and it was highly enjoyable. All the acts were worthy winners but DLU again produced a stunning set and were by far the best Open Stage band I have seen for years.

Up to the New Auditorium next for the final concert and, just when you thought you had seen it all, something new comes along. There is nothing like having three beautifully dressed Gallician ladies shouting at you while banging tambourines to get things going! Tanxugeiras were excellent. “Thank you Glasgow” seemed to be the extent of their English but they were joined by an accordion player and piper, Manuel Amigo, to do the talking. The whole thing was just great fun.

Duncan Chisholm was the main act, performing his Sandwood CD with a stellar line-up.  With Hamish Napier, Meghan Henderson, Greg Lawson, Jarlath Henderson and Adam Brown among others, this was a high quality band and their performance did justice to Duncan’s music. It was a hugely impressive show and the perfect end to twelve days of (mostly) fine music.

So, that was that. Just time for a quick trip to La Bonne Auberge for a dram with some Ceol Cholasa regulars before the final walk home.  It was a truly sublime holiday and the music and company will live long in the memory.

Ah well, only four months until Oban Live!





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