Do you know how to polka?

​One of two new venues in the Celtic fold this year, along with the King’s Theatre, the Queen Margaret Union was thoroughly and emphatically hanselled last night with barnstorming performances from Dàimh (or “the Rolling Stones of Highland music”, as introduced by Declan McCarthy at the opening concert) and Orcadian champions The Chair. A capacity 900-strong crowd seemingly spent as much time in their air as on their feet, such was their bouncy enthusiasm, with the whole dance-floor much of the time resembling a giant merry mosh-pit.
Eagerly lining the front of the stage were some 35 members of Orkney youth music project Hadhirgaan, who’ve travelled all the way down by boat and bus for tonight’s Orkney Folk: Generations concert at the Fruitmarket, and were treated to tickets for the QMU show to complete their weekend’s adventure: a first proper big-city gig for many of them, watching their local heroes raise the roof, surely making some lifelong memories. They make the long homeward journey tomorrow – apparently to start prelims back at school next week, but we’ll wager that their dose of Celtic inspiration will outweigh any deficits on the sleep or revision front. Meanwhile we hear that the set-up at the Fruitmarket has broken that venue’s record for the number of PA lines simultaneously in use, with the full cast-list numbering a formidable 53 at the last count.
The word filtering back suggests plenty of other highlights among Friday’s array of Celtic shows, among them Hamish Napier’s The Railway at the Strathclyde Suite, which earned an instant and unanimous standing ovation at its end, and saxophonist Paul Towndrow’s Deepening the River in the New Auditorium, a celebration of Glasgow’s international seafaring history featuring jazz/folk/world big-band The Keywork Orchestra. Audience delight at the latter was seemingly matched by that onstage, with one of the line-up, master trombonist and arranger Rick Taylor, still basking in the afterglow the following afternoon. “I’ve never been in a jazz band that big where absolutely everyone was just lovely,” he said. “Just no egos at all: a really special night.”
Poor old Hamish Napier had to limit celebrations of his triumph, however, with an early start scheduled today to finish learning his newly-received parts for Gary Innes’s Imminent album launch show tonight. A good many folk appear to have opted for discretion over valour when it came to any late-night shenanigans: the Holiday Inn/Bonne Auberge bar was eerily quiet, with a singing session in the restaurant the most there was in the way of action.
Plenty of action down at the Art School, though, on the Festival Club’s opening night, with a stonking line-up including Galician massive SonDeSeu, a second rip-roaring set from The Chair, and Irish firebrands Moxie. Finishing off the night were Glasgow’s own Paddy Callaghan Trio, completing a somewhat whirlwind day which had earlier seen them parachuted in as last-minute support to Marie Fielding’s trio at the Piping Centre, after barely 24 hours notice. Expanded to a four-piece by the addition of concertina demon Mohsen Amini, they delivered a set as classy as it was suitably savage – despite guitarist Adam Brown’s instrument being largely held together with gaffer-tape, having been damaged in transit on a recent trip to Australia.
“Festival Club! Do you know how to polka?” enquired Paddy at one point, introducing a set of said tunes. “I’m not talking your Royal Scottish Country Dancing Society-type polka: I mean proper polka-ing.” Despite the crowd’s resoundingly affirmative roar, the ensuing dancefloor mayhem was more joyous anarcho-ceilidh/freestyle shape-throwing – plus the odd inevitable tumble - than anything even tangentially resembling a polka, but by that stage of the game, other than for the musicians, it really wasn’t about technique.