Croft No. 5 are back!

​Four days in, the first weekend’s last hurrah under way, and we’re pleased to report happy customers galore, as Celtic Connections’ doughtily loyal fans braved the snow and flocked to more than 50 shows over that time. Shows as diverse last night as Congolese stylistic polyglots Jupiter & Okwess, and Scotland’s own evergreen Tannahill Weavers, the latter celebrating their remarkable 50-year career with a houseful of friends and ex-bandmates – making the festival a mere stripling in comparison.
Even with so many competing attractions, however - also including Ross Ainslie’s Sanctuary album launch, Skerryvore and We Banjo 3 at Barrowland, Findlay Napier’s Glasgow and Lankum with Stick In The Wheel - unquestionably this weekend’s hottest ticket was for the briefly-reconvened Croft No.5, who’ve been playing their first shows in 12 years, fully two decades after they first formed. (All this retrospection is starting to make us feel old. . .) With five of last night’s eight-man line-up now familiar as members of Treacherous Orchestra, rejoined by original wild-card members Misha Somerville, on whistles, bassist Somhairle MacDonald and drummer Paul Jennings, they duly tore the roof off their main gig at St Luke’s before doing the same, with bells on, throughout their extended Festival Club set. All of the boys (they still just about qualify) were clearly relishing the reunion to the max, but MacDonald in particular – be-kilted, bare-chested and slamming the bejesus out of his bass – seemed positively beside himself with joy.
While it never quite came together for Croft No.5 at the time – they were very young, somewhat ahead of their time, and fortune wasn’t always the kindest – they’re now widely extolled as highly influential trailblazers, and one of the first next-generation acts to build significantly on Martyn Bennett’s inspiration. And if not for them, there would almost certainly be no Treacherous Orchestra (a thought almost too horrific to contemplate), the Croft crucible being where much of the latter’s core vision and ambition were smelted. With a dozen more years’ musicianship under the membership’s belts, their rekindled sound both attained and surpassed all the ambitions they strove after back then: if they should decide to make it a longer-term thing, they’d certainly not struggle for recognition today.
There’s simply no avoiding the reminiscences, though - especially for us witnesses to all 25 editions of Celtic Connections. On photography duty last night, at the Tannahill Weavers show, Celtic Music Radio’s Gordon Hotchkiss recalled bumping into the band’s co-founder Roy Gullane on Byres Road, on the very day Gullane had made up his mind to jack in the day-job - behind a grocer’s cold meat counter – and become a full-time musician: Hotchkiss did his best to discourage such an patently reckless scheme. . . And in the Holiday Inn bar later on, looking ahead to tonight’s show(down) featuring Paddy Keenan and Frankie Gavin, reminded piper Duncan MacGillivray of his first ever encounter with the former legendary figure, watching The Bothy Band’s first ever UK performance at the 1976 Inverness Folk Festival, in the then newly-opened Eden Court Theatre.
And if anyone’s in the market for an exceedingly rare bit of physical musical history, one canny soul has hung onto a poster, programme, visual art guide and front-of-house pass from the debut Celtic Connections in 1994, and is selling them via Great Western Auctions next Saturday. Rumour has it that even the Concert Hall’s archive only has a single copy of that first programme – and the one on sale includes over 60 autographs from performers and other participants. We’ll keep an interested ear out for what someone’s willing to pay.