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Galloping towards the weekend

​As often happens at Celtic Connections, the weekend seems to have started on Wednesday again, after a mere 48 hours’ concession to the notion of weekdays. An impressive slate of nine main festival concerts saw yet more glowing reports coming in from performances as diverse as Armagh Pipers Club’s suitably lavish and star-studded 50th birthday celebration; the likewise illustrious gathering for Aly Bain’s 70th; Brooklyn troubadour Greg Trooper, and Scotia Nova’s launch of 17 new “songs for the early days of a better nation”. Perhaps the most rapturous praise, however, was showered upon Highland fiddler Iain MacFarlane’s launch of his first solo album, Gallop to Callop, completing a delectable double bill of Gaelic music, opened by Margaret Stewart’s trio – a show that formed part of an especially memorable night for Lochaber fiddler Hannah MacRae, a finalist in this year’s Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year contest. To quote her subsequent posting in full:
 
“So. I'm stuck in a grotty wee pub having grotty big dram because the bouncer won’t let me into the flying duck until I'm 18...which is in half an hour! Anyway, just back from one of the best CC concerts I've ever been to. Iain MacFarlane's album launch. Never been so proud to be a Highlander! What immense tunes, and an amazing line up. And it was rather unexpected when these four played happy birthday for me. . .” Many happy returns from us, too, Hannah – where better to celebrate your coming of age than in Glasgow right now?
 
(Just to make the tie-in even sweeter, MacFarlane, it turns out, served as best man at Hannah’s dad’s wedding, the two men having met when both worked on a fish-farm many moons ago.)
 
Not even MacFarlane’s audience, however, came close to the unanimous euphoria that filled the Concert Hall’s main auditorium at yesterday morning’s education concert, featuring Paddy Callaghan’s trio and the intercontintental collaboration NeXo. “A Glasgow audience of 1,700 screamin, dancing school weans. . . That’s utopia,” declared Callaghan after the show, while his percussionist, Adam Brown, was still buzzing from the experience many hours later at Folkytown, in the aforementioned Flying Duck: “I felt like Justin Bieber,” he said, wonderingly.

On the subject of weans, there’s now an extra-exciting addition to Saturday’s lunchtime event The Story of Katie Morag, where the character’s creator Mairi Hedderwick will be talking about her books and the hugely popular BBC series, in conversation with screenwriter Martin McCardie. They will now be joined by the BAFTA-winning actor who plays Katie Morag on TV, Cherry Campbell, so her young fans can actually meet their heroine in the flesh.
 
What with MacFarlane’s and Stewart’s crew – along with much of their audience - looking for an afterparty, and Folkytown having already scheduled a Highland session for last night, the Flying Duck was positively heaving, with three sets of pipes leading the tunes, and an unusually multi-generational clientele in evidence. “The place was full of people older than my parents,” observed one perplexed regular, forgetting the fact that Gaels tend to rank among the hardiest of spree devotees, regardless of age. Stewart was even spotted throwing some shapes at one point, reprising the moves that accompanied Griogair Labhruidh’s Gaelic rapping at Dàimh’s show last weekend.
 
Along at the Holiday Inn, the Armagh Pipers squad – including members of Lùnasa, Buille, Flook - had settled in for an excellent Irish session of their own, which was just beginning to wind down as the bar shut, when the duty manager in charge made the fatal mistake of saying to himself, “Well, it’s looking like a quietish one tonight. . .” At more or less the same moment, the smokers outside the door caught the sound of approaching bagpipes, and on peering around the corner were greeted by the sight of Iain MacDonald, Ewen Henderson and Seonaidh MacIntyre leading a crowd, Pied Piper-style, from the now-closed Flying Duck. Into the Holiday Inn they marched, still playing, and within minutes a full-scale ceilidh had broken out in the lobby – including said duty manager, who was dancing with Solas fiddler Winnie Horan. There surely cannot be another hotel in the world where such an invasion would have been met with such welcoming equanimity - even if guests on lower floors may have endured a somewhat rude awakening. Skipinnish singer Robert Robertson was also among the throng, cuddling one of those stuffed-toy tigers mysteriously sold by all the 24-hour shops, for which he’d just parted with £25. So if you’ve ever wondered who on earth buys those things - now you know.