Absent friends, old friends and new ones

​A heartfelt tweet from an absent Celtic friend caught our eye earlier, expressing as it does the pains of not being here when you know exactly what you’re missing: “I’m simultaneously loving & hating everyone’s shared clips of #celticconnections this year. Thank you for sharing, but also shame on you for having so much fun.” For those sharing her plight, there is always the part-consolation of catching some of this year’s radio and television coverage, including a double helping tonight. On TV, Julie Fowlis presents her second selection of festival artists, filmed with a live audience at the Cottier Theatre on Monday, including music and chat from Loudon Wainwright, Gretchen Peters and Ímar. The show’s at 10pm on BBC 2 Scotland, with last night’s first instalment – featuring John Grant, Graham Nash and Strung – is still available on iPlayer for a month.
For tonight’s Travelling Folk on Radio Scotland, meanwhile, also coming from the Cottier, presenter Bruce MacGregor had lined up Snuffbox, Tim Edey, the Gráinne Holland Trio and Deaf Shepherd, but Tim sadly couldn’t make it – so producers managed to rustle up the more than acceptable substitute of his US namesake Tim O’Brien to join the others, after he arrived yesterday. Always a Celtic Connections favourite, he’s in town for two shows with the Transatlantic Sessions this weekend, bookending his own gig on Saturday at the Mackintosh Church, which will showcase his latest album , Where the River Meets the Road, covering songwriters past and present from his native West Virginia. Travelling Folk goes out at 9pm tonight, again with another month to listen online.
Having been among the original devoted fans of the aforementioned Deaf Shepherd, back in their 1990s heyday, your correspondent was somewhat gutted to miss their Strathclyde Suite show this year, way back on the festival’s opening Saturday, but made sure to be at the Art School when they rocked the Festival Club later on that night, sounding like they’d never been away. We also had fun catching up in the artists’ green room afterwards, fondly reminiscing about the hazy crazy days of Celtic Connections at the Central Hotel.
Back then, the Festival Club was on every single night, and the band’s bouzouki player Malcolm Stitt, in particular, was a mainstay of the numerous scratch-band ensembles hastily rounded up from the bar by Liz Clark, to fill the late-night lots. After recalling the time he featured in such a line-up on guitar, but with Tony McManus - sitting in the wings - actually being the player plugged in, Malcolm also remembered an incident where some veteran folk-police worthy became so outraged by his young-whippersnapper attitude as to lamp him one in the face. Whereupon the worthy himself was faced by an even more outraged Gibb Todd, the club’s longtime compere - an imposing figure at the best of times – backed up by half-a-dozen security guards, all leaping to the whippersnapper’s defence.
This year’s social media has seen some equally fond artists’ tributes to their Celtic Connections experience, including one from US/Irish flautist Steph Geremia, who made her solo debut here last weekend, opening for Breabach at the Fruitmarket – hailed by one happy punter as “Easily one of the best gigs I've been to. What an electrifying set. Words can't even describe! Amazing!” Geremia herself, faced with a rapturous full house, encountered a wee unexpected difficulty towards the end, when, “the crowd’s reaction made me so emotional I could hardly get the notes out of the flute.”
Newbie Texan visitor Jaimee Harris, who supports Mary Gauthier at the Mackintosh tonight, is also relishing her first time, going by her Twitter today: “GLASGOW: Oh, man. I love you so much! We had THE BEST time at last night’s Gretchen Peters show — where I totally ugly cried three times.”
Meanwhile, the Celtic Connections effect extends its tentacles to Scotland’s far north, with a regular Alaskan visitor musing on Facebook earlier today: “I am coming to view music festivals as one continuous, seamless whole. Miss an artist at one, just pick them up at the next. In that vein, just put the Orkney Folk Festival on the calendar. That will enable me to catch up with some of the artists I am otherwise missing at Celtic Connections.”
As we welcome the early-bird delegates to this year’s Showcase Scotland expo event – including the large and lively posse from 2019’s international partners Galicia – today also marks this year’s final outing for Folkytown, at the Flying Duck, which was somewhat on the quiet side last night, indicating that some of you people out there are being far too sensible about your late Celtic nights: ’mon down tonight and give it a suitably rousing send-off.