Festival firsts

​By the end of last night’s sublime world-première performance by the new US super-trio of Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan, pretty much the entire sellout crowd had been emotionally reduced to a great big puddle on the floor – with one longtime Celtic Connections staffer declaring it among her “favourite gigs ever”. You could still sense the buzz from the show in the Holiday Inn bar hours later, as the three performers justly basked in their triumph after their first ever gig together and a fair few of their audience continued to pinch themselves to check they hadn’t dreamt the whole experience.

Along at the Concert Hall, among the mighty squad of musicians amassed for Allan MacDonald’s splendid commemorative creation The Bruce 700, fiddler Patsy Reid and piper/saxophonist Fraser Fifield were playing their last Celtic Connections show – before heading off today to perform at the Dubai Shopping Festival: from the sublime to the ridiculous or what? But while we initially pictured them playing to bling-festooned consumers in some upmarket Middle Eastern version of Buchanan Galleries, they’re actually featuring in a lavish new show created by legendary percussionist Zakir Hussain, continuing the Celtic connections forged when he performed here in 2012.

Opening the show for The Bruce 700 were Highland favourites Dàimh, ahead of their big-band gig with Skerryvore tomorrow night. Earlier on, thanks to their fiddler, Gabe McVarish, festival staff had been hunting the building for a parcel addressed to him at “Celtic Connections, Concert Hall, Glasgow”: he’d ordered new jeans to be delivered there, as he’s recently broken his heel and needed a wider-legged pair to fit over his stookie. Whether he eventually tracked them down, we’re not quite sure.

Later on at Folkytown, the promised majority of the Treacherous Orchestra hosting the session had dwindled come the night to just four of them, and while there were some nice tunes happening it seemed more of a blethering session this time – not that we’ve anything against that: a good long chewy discussion about where Scottish music is at, and where it’s heading, for good or ill, is as much a pleasure of this festival as the music.

Back at the Holiday Inn, though, another mighty fine session continued into the not-so-wee hours, with several Transatlantic Sessions personnel in attendance, plus Kris Drever – but the absolute star of the show was Bristol singer Yolanda Quartey, who’s worked with the likes of Massive Attack and Dizzie Rascal, as well as her own band Phantom Limb. She’s not even performing here, but had heard about the craic from her pal Andy Shearer, of Perth Concert Hall, and come up just to hang out. Her delivery of several soul/blues/gospel numbers was nothing short of spectacular, leaving even the most seasoned musicians among her listeners literally open-mouthed. And then the repertoire progressed to ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ – sung by a bloke, self accompanied on banjo: surely another Celtic Connections first.