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World-beating instrumental mastery

World-beating instrumental mastery was very much the order of last night at the Concert Hall, with contrasting guitar geniuses Derek Gripper and Tommy Emmanuel delighting another capacity crowd downstairs in the main auditorium, while Irish fiddle deity Martin Hayes, with the equally phenomenal uilleann piper David Power in place of regular sideman Dennis Cahill, transported his sellout audience to dreamland and beyond in the Strathclyde Suite.
 
As ever in Hayes’s company, his wryly soft-spoken chat was the perfect complement to a blissful, ravishing cornucopia of tunes, many of them now-neglected standards from a few decades ago, last night including ‘The Star of Munster’, about which Hayes recalled the following cautionary tale. When teaching at the Willie Clancy Summer School one year, his students included a terrifically keen young fellow from Birmingham, a fairly new convert to folk music and positively bursting with concomitant zeal – especially after a few sessions of Hayes’s tuition. He proceeded to launch himself upon the week-long festival’s session circuit, feet first – at which point in the narrative Hayes mildly berated himself for his lessons having omitted any guidance on session etiquette, the unspoken hierarchies involved, the advisability of watching and listening before joining in, and of not insisting that you choose every tune.
 
Thus it was that the hapless Brummie, while blundering all over yet another session, was overheard asking legendary Sliabh Luachra accordionist Jackie Daly – of De Dannan and Patrick Street fame, among his four decades’ renown – if he knew ‘The Star of Munster’. “Do I know it?” retorted Daly (who certainly isn’t renowned for suffering fools). “I am the f*****g Star of Munster.” Hayes described his pupil, when he arrived for the next day’s lesson, as “a wee bit traumatised.”
 
Among the ecstatic post-show tributes to Hayes and Power was one by a folk-loving US visitor, based in Alaska, who’s at Celtic Connections for the very first time – largely inspired by the Scottish acts he saw at last year’s Celtic Colours festival in Cape Breton. Having flown to Glasgow from Denver, via Reykjavic (courtesy of Icelandair’s new routes, of which he also sang praises), he arrived yesterday morning, with a ticket booked for last night. “Other than those from Cape Breton,” he wrote, “there are only a handful of fiddle players I would force myself up from a cumulative 9-hour jet lag and overnight flight to see. Martin Hayes is one of the handful. And I am very, very, very happy that I did. Worth every bit of effort it took to muster up the energy to wake up.”
 
He went on to record that those efforts were doubly rewarded, by his discovery of the show’s support act: outstanding though Hayes and Power’s performance was, he continued, “the one that I was blown away by and deeply grateful I did not miss was the opening set by up and coming Scottish fiddle player Ryan Young. . . My jaw literally dropped.” And as our new friend also noted, such feelings were unanimous throughout the room: “Each set was followed by an extended ovation from a packed room and, while maybe it is customary here, it had been a long, long time since I had seen an opening act given a standing ovation at the end of their set, and called back to the stage for one more bow.” It can only have been a daunting as well as thrilling gig for Young to get, but he smashed it to veritable smithereens.
 
As this was posted around midnight, it would seem that the jet-lag was exacting revenge – but the writer seemed very happily resigned to sleep deprivation as Celtic Connections’ price to pay – which is probably just as well, given that he’s here for a while.
 
Those looking to stock up on their sleep deprivation tonight should direct their steps to the Flying Duck, where the first Folkytown of Celtic Connections 2017 kicks off at 10.30pm. Ewen Henderson, Conal McDonagh and Innes White will be hosting a ‘Highland Sideburns Session’, so – in the words of Folkytown founder Calum MacCrimmon – “dust off your sideburns, tartans, tweeds, fiddles, livers and kidneys.” Solid fuel to stoke the fun, in the form of haggis, neeps and tatties, will be available from midnight.