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Fantastico!

​We overheard a half-dozen of our Iberian Showcase Scotland visitors chatting outside the Holiday Inn Express last night, and though we only understood four words, they seemed a fair summation of the speakers’ Celtic Connections experience so far. Firstly there was an emphatic “Fantastico!” – we’re guessing in relation to whatever hand-picked Scottish/Showcase artist/s they’d just been seeing. Then came, “Frio. Molto frio.” (“Cold. Very cold”. . .)
 
More eavesdropping, too, in La Bonne Auberge ladies’ loos. Two young ladies piecing together their respective Celtic adventures of the previous night:
 
“So did you just go home after the Festival Club?”
“Yeah, I was there till about one o’clock, then. . . no. S**t. I didn’t go home: I came here.”
 
Again, no further words required.
 
A later visit to said conveniences (we do mostly hang out in the bar, honest), also offered a chuckle – given the heaving happy throng of Celtic Friday-night central still audible just yards away – when the piped music contained a version of Caro Emerald’s ‘Stuck’, including the plaintive lyrics, ‘Why am I sitting in the middle of nowhere/Standing here with nothing to do?” Right at that moment, we struggled somewhat to empathise.
 
But at least there was only one track playing at a time, delivering the hotel’s apparently customised mix for this time of year, which sprinkles folky classics through the prevailing anonymous lounge jazz and remaindered pop. Last week, while likewise enthroned, we seriously wondered if one of the staff was getting revenge by playing with our poor tired heads, when we heard a lively fiddle jig and a blandly doleful country ballad playing simultaneously. The first thought was that someone had struck up a tune just outside the lavvy door, but no - the jig finished but the ballad carried on, now joined by some angsty bastardisation of tango music. When you’re already overflowing with and immersed in a positive superfluity of amazing music – not to mention very tired, albeit very happy – such things can become positively painful.
 
A wee pro tip if you’re a sozzled, instrument-laden musician seeking to exit La Bonne Auberge last thing at night/morning onto Killermont Street: be nice to the night manager, and he might open the fire doors for you, rather than enjoying the fun of watching you attempt the revolving one in the corner.
 
Scotland in general, Glasgow in particular, and Scottish/Glaswegian men above all are well-known for the linguistic and behavioural inversion of the most vehement abuse and insults into the warmest affection. Rarely has there been a more colourfully concentrated exemplar of this phenomenon than the encounter last night between Kevin Henderson, Mattie Foulds, Ali Hutton and Ross Couper, most of whose paths hadn’t previously crossed so far this year. The air turned a deep shade of blue; an unknowing bystander would likely have anticipated a fight about to break out – but in fact it was a scene of the most touching delight in one another’s presence.
 
A longtime regular Celtic Connections photographer, and even longer-time roots music connoisseur, seemed to have experienced his gig of the festival – if not the year or decade – last night at British/Bengali pianist Zoe Rahman’s show with her trio and young Scottish three-piece Snuffbox, in the Concert Hall’s New Auditorium. One of this year’s specially-commissioned ‘Above the Surface’ collaborations, funded by the Scottish Government’s Festival’s Expo Fund, it proved – according to our still totally-wowed friend – an electrifying encounter, yielding artistic, cross-genre, cross-cultural and improvisatory dividends way beyond even its organisers’ hopes. Snuffbox fiddler Charlie Stewart, especially, bonded with Rahman in a big way – and vice versa – as manifest in a veritable tour-de-force of an extended, extemporised, wholly inspired duel between the two of them. No one who witnessed it, seemingly, could doubt that this is one new relationship sure to bear rich future fruit.