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A chainsaw makes its Celtic connection

​Celtic Connections sound engineers aren’t easily fazed. They’ve mostly seen it all and found a channel for it somewhere, from the weirdest and wackiest of instruments to ludicrously large line-ups, or both of the above simultaneously. A​nyone remember the orchestral-scale La Banda Europa, which included an entire four-man hurdy-gurdy section? I think it’s safe to say, however, that last night was the first time in the festival’s history when the guys on the desk and the monitors had to factor a chainsaw into the mix.
 
It all dates back to the first Mull Historical Society album, 2001’s Loss, which Colin MacIntyre - by way of relaunching his MHS alias - performed for the first time in its entirety at the Arches last night. When originally making the record, he had a particular sound in mind for one of its songs which he eventually identified, via a visit to his local plant hire company, as that of the aforementioned heavy-duty cutting tool. Recorded and sampled, it duly fetched up on the finished track. Rehearsals for yesterday’s gig took place at Glasgow’s Berkeley Studios, which also happens to have a nearby plant hire firm, so MacIntyre dropped by to see about recreating this noise – and ended up persuading one of the staff to join him onstage, wielding an actual chainsaw, for the relevant number. Where exactly such an eventuality is covered in the Celtic Connections health and safety handbook remains a little unclear – but you have to admire MacIntyre’s commitment to live instrumentation.
 
As with many of the core Celtic team, Open Stage co-ordinator Liz Clark has to allow significant extra time in getting from A to B over the opening weekend, being greeted as she is roughly every five yards by returning friends from this or other festivals. And it’s really not very often that oor Liz is lost for words, but that rare occurrence was witnessed the other day when she was yet again stopped by a punter, who this time addressed her with a delighted smile and the words, “You...you’re Danny Kyle!” A case of close enough for folk music, perhaps?
 
While Thursday night’s official Opening Concert justly drew most the attention, as in previous years the actual first event of Celtic Connections 2014 was that day’s Schools Concert, at which the Treacherous Orchestra treated 2000 kids to anything but the average morning in the classroom. In stark but illustrative contrast – illustrative of the quality and diversity encompassed by the festival’s education programme – the next day’s show saw 2000 more youngsters utterly engrossed by a cut-down version of Far, Far From Ypres, the hugely moving commemorative show comprising songs and remembrances from World War I, which packed out the Main Auditorium last night. Even cut down, it was still 80 minutes long, but reportedly there was barely a fidget among the audience, whose introduction to this year’s centenary of the conflict could hardly have been more memorable.