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A rapturous Saturday night

​By consensus among the reports coming in, it’s sounding like a pretty rapturous Saturday night was had all round at Celtic Connections, though you’d be hard put to determine which audience was transported to the highest state of bliss. Those who flocked to the Concert Hall for Pilgrimer, James Robertson’s Scots re-imagining of Joni Mitchell’s Hejira album – and gave it a standing ovation at the end - were certainly among the prime contenders, with veteran pundit Ruth Wishart leading the online plaudits that ensued: “Sheer magic; privilege to be there.” Other responses ranged from “gig of a lifetime”, through “ear-boggling brilliance” to simply, “wow wow wow”.


There was also a huge amount of love in the room up at the Strathclyde Suite, where the Islay Night saw moving tribute being paid to the late and sorely-missed Fraser Shaw, a gifted composer and the instigator, before his passing last year, of a thriving new festival on that whisky-steeped island. A selection of his tunes, movingly performed by a stellar squad of his musical pals, offered solace in the fact that his memory and legacy are securely enshrined. Canada’s Cam Penner greeted his return to the dear green place characteristically poetic style – “Glasgow, you beautiful beast of a city” – before his show at the Tron, described by one satisfied customer as “magnificent and enthralling”. A Skerryvore fan, meanwhile, was still tweeting his delight about the night before – “Best thing about @ccfest. . . ? Going to a gig and coming away with an instant new favourite band! Festival gets better every year” – after being blown away by the Tiree boys’ opening act, We Banjo 3.


The stories are still filtering through from Friday, too, including the one told by Ross Martin of Dàimh, introducing a Gaelic love-song penned by Lochaber legend Allan Henderson for a now-elderly couple, who met and courted when living on opposite shores of Loch Eilt. It turned out that not only were the couple themselves in the audience, but so was their son and his wife, and their newly-married grandson with his – the last of whom had not long had a baby. As Martin explained, this third couple had got together in a somewhat more modern fashion than Henderson’s subjects, at the Belladrum festival – “but both times around it involved mud and wellingtons.” And having set the romantic mood, Martin also took the opportunity to pass on a request from the recent groom to his bride: “He asked me to speak to you about maybe staying through tomorrow night as well..?"


Another of Saturday’s highlights, to judge by audience raves was the Old Blind Dogs’ performance at the Mitchell Theatre – and to judge by their euphorically incandescent form at the Festival Club later on, it surely was quite a show. As the band’s current piper Ali Hutton went head-to-head with special guest Finlay MacDonald, and drummer Donald Hay mercilessly drove the grooves, we have never seen the Dogs rock out quite like that, in all their distinguished 25-year-career: magnificent stuff.


Later on in the downstairs bar, a discussion was overheard between two of the festival’s fresher-faced local stalwarts, as to how many consecutive nights they’d now been out on the randan, one of them counting it as five; the other admitting to warm-up pints on Tuesday, but claiming to have stayed home Wednesday. “No,” insisted his pal, “you were definitely there - you bought champagne.” Denial dissolved as recollection dawned, conveyed by a single but heartfelt expletive.


Even once the club finished off at 4am, the night was still young for a bunch of Glasgow’s hardier musical types, who adjourned to a certain Orcadian student’s flat, for yet more tunes right through to midday. But since the drink had run out a few hours earlier, at least they were sobering up when the time came to wend wearily home.


We encountered an excellent bit of Celtic hair-splitting earlier on, while blethering in the bar after Hamish Napier’s wonderful New Voices première, The River. A Highland fiddler of our acquaintance mentioned a forthcoming show he’s involved with, about which we’d heard rumours that things had been a little disorganised. We went so far as to use the word chaotic, but our friend demurred. “I wouldn’t say it was chaotic,” he corrected. “It’s just that no-one knows what they’re doing.” Given his long festival experience, however, he was calmly confident all would be well on the night.