Festival workshops prove a huge success

​Not least in a traditional music context, there are times when keeping it in the family is precisely the right thing, and so it is with our weekend workshop programme, a vital participatory component of Celtic Connections since its inception, which was organised for the first 23 festivals by the late and sorely missed Caroline Hewat, who passed away in December 2015. This year, her harpist/singer daughter Corrina, of Unusual Suspects/Shine fame, has taken up the baton and clearly done her mum proud, despite the size of the task bequeathed: as Corrina observed (figuratively) of Caroline the other day: “She had huge feet for being 5 foot tall. . .”
 “It’s so rewarding seeing and hearing all the participants learning, laughing, playing, looking for future tuition,” Corrina continued. “It’s no wonder my mum loved it so much.” You only had to set foot in the Concert Hall over the last two weekends to feel the tremendous buzz filling the building throughout both days, and we look forward to more of the same with this Saturday and Sunday’s packed programme of workshops, for which tickets are still available. You can try your hand or hone your skills in everything from shape-note singing, with Muldoon’s Picnic, to Bulgarian songs with Kate Young; Gaelic puirt-a-beul with Ainsley Hamill to Songs of Hope with Penny Stone: we’ve a feeling this last one might prove particularly popular, indeed necessary.
Talking of which, if you’re inspired by your Celtic Connections experience (or otherwise moved) to buy any music from Bandcamp this week, you might consider postponing your purchase until Friday, as from a minute past midnight Pacific time (8am here), for the ensuing 24 hours, the site will donate 100% of its share of proceeds to the American Civil Liberties Union. As reiterated in a statement from Bandcamp founder and CEO Ethan Diamond: “Music transcends all borders, and. . . even in the darkest of times, there is more that unites us than divides us.”
We’re also reminded of a New Yorker cartoon that’s been doing the rounds on Facebook lately, with whose caption many will surely identify: “My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane.” But while the Celtic Connections bubble might seem like pure escapism from external harsh realities, there’s been no shortage of festival artists addressing current events at their shows, nor of impassioned conversation about the issues involved. After all, together with those universal-language dimensions, a central function of traditional music has always been to cement and express solidarity and resistance – and there’s certainly been plenty of that going on.
Details are once again thin on the ground, but the very last Folkytown of Celtic Connections 2017 will kick off tonight at the Flying Duck from 10.30pm – and with last night’s session ringleaders turning out to be James Duncan Mackenzie, Jack Smedley and Seán Gray, fine tunes are guaranteed. Those still at the Duck around 1am this morning, however, will have missed a particularly choice session in an otherwise deserted Holiday Inn bar, featuring the likes of Aidan O’Rourke, Niall Vallely and Mike McGoldrick – all of whom are in town for shows later this week, so they’ll likely be at it again.