“This place that is my home I cannot stay”

​We enjoyed one of those extra serendipitous smiles the other day, courtesy of the universe, while exiting the Holiday Inn Express, when the music being piped through the lobby was Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The Wrestler’. A fine song altogether, but the line that particularly registered was, “This place that is my home I cannot stay”, which seemed somehow apt for all us Celtic Connections/Holiday Inn residents. Upon Googling the source to double-check, though, a couple of others also resonated, in the same context.
“I always leave with less than I had before” is certainly a common experience in La Bonne Auberge this time of year, in pecuniary terms (though certainly not when quantified in soul-food), and there’ll likely be at least a few of the young team, by festival’s end, who’ll empathise ruefully with “My only faith's in the broken bones and bruises I display” – though hopefully more mere bruises than breakages.
It tells you something when we’ve got to Wednesday, and are still catching up with news from last weekend. Another all-time great show during those crazy 2-3 days, by all accounts, was Blue Rose Code’s This Is Caledonian Soul extravaganza at the City Halls on Saturday, following last year’s triumphant launch of his homecoming album The Water of Leith.
Backed by a 14-piece band, under Angus Lyon’s musical direction, main man Ross Wilson pursued this eponymous, elusive but unmistakable essence - down the decades and generations, across diverse traditions - in company with Average White Band co-founder Hamish Stewart, The Trashcan Sinatras’ John Douglas, celebrated Belfast troubadour/showman Duke Special, and the contrastingly sublime voices of Eddi Reader and Julie Fowlis.
Mr Special – alias another Wilson; first name Peter – brought the house down with barely a dry eye in it, giving an unforgettable rendition of Edwyn Collins’s ‘Girl Like You’, while Stewart rip-roaringly reprised ‘Pick Up the Pieces’, bringing the whole, predominantly veteran - shall we say - audience euphorically to their feet. Besides Reader and Fowlis’s star turns, too, singer-songwriter and ex-London Underground busker Eliza Wren Payne (who also guested on Water of Leith) was widely mooted as stealing the show.
Talking of buskers, a return stroll along Sauchiehall Street for some supplies at Tesco was memorably enhanced – and we do mean memorably: this was several days ago, and the impression’s still vivid – by the bewitching voice and soul/folk songs of a lady simply calling herself Rach. There’s not much info online, but she goes by rachsongbird on Facebook, @iamrachrach on Instagram, and is currently punting a new single, ‘Hold Me Closer’: check her out. And don’t be surprised to see her onstage at future Celtic Connections – she really sounded that good.
Also on Saturday night, Donald Shaw’s customary whistlestop rounds of dropping in on as many gigs as humanly possible (and indeed stretching the parameters of such possibility) took in a chunk of Kathleen MacInnes stunning shared bill in the New Auditorium with Icelandic neo-classical experimentalists amiiina, from which he was still buzzing upon arrival at the Fruitmarket for ten minutes of Orkney Folk: Generations – declaring it “unbelievable” and his “gig of the festival” so far. He was particularly tickled by amiina’s having played one number on their own, to spotlight their usual sound (if that’s the right word. . .) in amongst their somewhat more understated interplay with MacInnes’s peerless voice.
“It is going to be a bit loud,” explained the band member introducing the piece. “Is this a problem?” “No!” came the cheer – from about three members of the audience. “Okay, so I think this might be a problem for some people,” our Icelandic friend acknowledged, with a half-apologetic shrug – then next thing the entire, acoustically immaculate place was quaking with massive sub-bass, amid an atmosphere distinctly less – or more – than ethereal for the next few minutes.
Immediately following the weekend, unsurprisingly, there were more than a few tired faces and bleary eyes in the office at Celtic HQ, but one lucky staffer found the ideal solution, reappearing transformed and positively sparkling with joie de vivre after supervising that day’s Schools Concert, declaring, “There is no better way to wake up on a Monday morning than seeing Talisk playing to 2000 kids going absolutely mental.” If only someone could bottle it. . .
Celtic Connections’ much-loved weekday fringe gathering, Folkytown, returns again to the Flying Duck tonight for more late-night tunes and haggis, neeps ‘n’ tatties. We went along intending a look-in last night, but were wrongfooted by its 2am close (sure it used to be 3. . ?) So there was nothing else for it but to gird our loins, paste on the brave faces and make the long, arduous return trek to La Bonne Auberge, for yet more tunes featuring the likes of Sharon Shannon, Michael McGoldrick and other stars of the evening’s shows: a sair fecht all round, you’ll agree, but somehow we somehow soldiered through it.
Along with others of Cherish the Ladies, the inimitable Joanie Madden was also in da house, after checking in earlier yesterday, and by the time she finished buying drinks for all the people she was overjoyed to see, her credit-card receipt stretched the full length of La Bonne Auberge bar.