A very special time of year

​As many an artist does at Celtic Connections, the wonderful Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes last night expressed her thankfulness for the festival’s existence. “Especially when you live in Glasgow, it’s a very special time of year,” she said, at her gig with the crack instrumental trio of Brian Finnegan, Dermot Byrne and Mike Vass. “I go out, and I forget to go home.” She went on to introduce her opening number, explaining it as a tale about a girl meeting her lover, on a hillside at night, who realises that the swain unrolling his plaid on the ground is another man altogether – “so she karate-chops him into the bushes.” We listened in vain for “karate” in Gaelic, but we got the picture – as we did when MacInnes later mentioned having lost her voice before Christmas. “So I took up the ukulele,” she said brightly. “My husband left me.”

Finnegan, meanwhile, is still trying to discover who wrote a tune he’s currently calling The Mystery Jig: apparently he came back from tour a while back, and among his accumulated answerphone messages was an unrecognised voice saying, “Listen to this!”, followed by the sounds of a lively session taking place “somewhere in the world,” as Finnegan observed, at which this tune was being played. There were pipes involved, he recalled, “so I’ve played it to every piper in Ireland, but no-one’s recognised it yet.” There was no eureka moment last night, either – but it was indeed a cracking tune.

All three players were on superb form, in Mr Byrne’s case despite – or possibly because of – the fact that he’d been playing tunes in Broadcast with some of the young team until 3am the night before, including the likes of Ewen Henderson, Ryan Murphy and James Harper: it would seem we were previously misinformed, in stating that these witching-hour sessions are only running Thursday to Sunday; they’ve certainly still been going strong these last two nights.

Further extra-curricular activities, last night and tonight (plus next Tuesday/Wednesday, too), include the welcome return of Folkytown at the Flying Duck, with Henderson back on duty this evening, hosting a Highland session with James Duncan Mackenzie and Innes White: suggested dress code is tartan and tweeds, and the fun starts at 10.30pm.

Continuing tomorrow through until Friday is our new free concert series, Celtic Connections on Campus, hosted by Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) in association with Celtic Music Radio. Taking place at the GCU Students Association building, in the Bistro – which as its name suggests, also serves food – performances feature budding musicians and students from across Scotland’s colleges and universities, with production support from audio and events management students. As senior lecturer Patrick Quinn observes, “It's a wonderful opportunity for our students to be part of the world’s largest Celtic music festival. Bringing the real world into their studies in such a way gives them experiences that they will build their future careers on.” The shows run on 12.30-2pm each day.