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When Are You Coming To Australia?

​Amid the happy hubbub of gathering crowds, for last night’s three sold-out gigs within the Concert Hall, probably the last sound anyone wanted to hear, just before 7pm, was the fire alarm going off, automatically triggering a three-truck callout. Thanks to the clever people who designed it, however, the building’s safety system divides it into self-contained zones, just one of which had to be evacuated, so shows went up only 15-20 minutes late. Given the total of nearly 100 featured musicians gearing up in the dressing-rooms, in addition to more than 3000 audience members, the prospect of emptying the entire building hardly bears contemplating.
 
The big event in the main auditorium, of course, was Shooglenifty’s cast-of-thousands tribute to their recently late and sorely lamented fiddler Angus Grant – whose inimitable presence was vividly evoked from the start, when MC Ross Martin suggested that what set off the alarm was “probably Angus smoking somewhere he shouldn’t”. It certainly wouldn’t have been the first time. . .
 
No less than four hours later, with midnight approaching, all previous records for the longest-ever Concert Hall show had fallen, and umpteen last trains and buses been missed, as the exquisite massed strains of Angus’s ultimate signature tune, ‘250 to Vigo’, died away: there was barely a dry eye in the house, and you couldn’t have squeezed any more love into the room if you’d tried. Small wonder, though, that Donald Shaw was overheard a little earlier recounting “a bit of an awkward conversation with the venue manager”, or that Shooglenifty drummer James Mackintosh, somewhat surreally, found himself being buttonholed onstage – midway through a tune - by a man with a clipboard. But if ever anyone was going to blow a curfew, it would be Angus. 

Back in the thick of the main gig programme, the ten-strong bagpipe supergroup Tryst, premièring new piobaireachd-inspired compositions up in the new RSNO hall, rounded off a comprehensively magnificent, enthralling performance with a retreat march as encore, which saw them filing off the stage and out of the auditorium, finishing the tune in the foyer. With Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys still playing in the Strathclyde Suite next door, some of us were a mite concerned that the latter’s US roots’n’soul sound mightn’t be the ideal match for ten pipers in full cry, but it seems we needn’t have worried: Lindsay Lou was on her last song by then, a slow, torchy number to which the massed pipes added a fortuitously apt and stirring backdrop - yet another Celtic connection right there.
 
For those of us less than fully au fait with the pipe-band world, it was intriguing to see Tryst’s three drone-tuners at work, checking and adjusting each bagpipe at the start of every two or three numbers. Apart from its being a job with an obvious inbuilt height requirement – when you’re dealing with men of Finlay MacDonald and Ross Ainslie’s stature, reaching the top of the bass drone with your electronic tuner is some stretch – it was also interesting to note the pipers’ wholly unruffled response, even as they played, to someone coming up behind them and fiddling repeatedly with their instrument. . .
 
Tryst’s opening act, the young and very gifted Irish five-piece Connla, were also in dream-come-true land, having come to Celtic Connections for the first time last year as punters, during which trip their enjoyment of other acts was mingled with aspirational envy. But, as recalled by singer Ciara McCafferty, “I said to the lads, ‘Never mind: one day we will play the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall’ – we’d certainly no idea it’d be just a year later.”
 
Lastly, top prize for the day’s most random Facebook message, posted direct to Celtic Connections - ie not to any specific festival act – goes to this somewhat perplexing enquiry: “When are you coming to Australia?”