Goodbye To All This

[Due to largely foreseeable circumstances, including bleary-eyed technical mishap, this final bulletin has been delayed from Monday - so may make most sense if read while imagining yourself back there. Settle in, folks – it’s a long one.]


And so the 25th Celtic Connections juggernaut/roadshow/roller-coaster rumbled away into the night on Sunday - and way off beyond Monday’s dawn, for many determined revellers. For residents of and smokers outside the Holiday Inn, the rumbling was very literal over the first few hours, as massive quantities of kit were loaded out of the Concert Hall in heavyweight black wheelie boxes, back into those same hulking pantechnicons – “the big trucks” - whose arrival each year, just ahead of opening night, signals ‘all systems go’ to the festival team.


Tales of last-hurrah craziness continue to filter through from the weekend’s late-night haze, including that of maybe half a dozen leading local folkies - think Breabach/Treacherous generation - outside the Festival Club either Saturday or Sunday, having themselves an impromptu backstreet throat-singing workshop. After one participant selflessly posted video evidence online (complete with cherry-on-top Showcase Scotland sign in the background), a Skye-based pal commented empathetically - albeit wholly sans sympathy - “Yes, three weeks is long enough, isn’t it?” Our now-hoarse instru/mentalist pal concurred so fast and fervently as to necessitate two replies:


“it really is”


Around 2pm today, the same man shared an almost overwhelmingly emotional response to his breakfast (complete with photo, depicting all manner of freshly-prepared protein- and vitamin-packed good things, solidly encased in excellent new-baked bread), hymning it as “without doubt the best pastrami roll I have ever eaten”. (From Cottonrake, apparently.) Contrastingly, this heartfelt outpouring garnered oodles of sympathy/empathy alike.


“It is the bluest Monday of the year,” counselled one (male) respondent. “It’s ok to cry, man.” Another, from the Shetland contingent whose company has graced us these last few days, confessed to actual tears at his own contemporaneous plight, having just arrived home from a 9am airport pickup, and long hours in transit, to a cold house, empty fridge and bare cupboards.


(Seemingly there were a fair few sore heids on this morning’s Sumburgh-bound aircraft - and an unnatural level of quiet, given the individuals involved.)


A key tipping-point for the younger crowd yesterday was Folkytown’s final Sunday Funday teatime session of Celtic 2018, at The Flying Duck. Although even before that, quite a few of them joined the large and loved-up squad of Showcase Scotland delegates packing out The Pot Still at 3pm, for the now-traditional gathering to toast departed friends and comrades. Following straight on from the event’s last official reception, it’s become a treasured celebratory ‘wake’ both for the absent friends recalled to mind, and for each year’s Showcase itself. Simultaneously, too, it’s a chance for a last dram with brand-new friends; to swap contacts - maybe even firm up a last wee bit of business - before the wilds of the night lure us all off in different directions.


Showcase Scotland’s partnership this year with Ireland, presenting six fabulously diverse Irish acts – Notify, Lorcán Mac Mathúna, The Young Ones, Wallis Bird, Daoirí Farrell and Aoife Scott – to both Celtic Connections audiences and 180 international industry delegates, proved another tremendous success for both sides. In tandem with cementing our closest Celtic cousins’ deep long-time friendship with the festival as a whole, it also forged myriad fresh, fruitful bonds among our music’s international community.


Gigs aside, the key Irish Showcase event was Friday’s Culture Ireland reception, which hosted the historic meeting of both countries’ governmental arts chiefs, when newly-appointed Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan TD, was welcomed on her first overseas visit in the rôle by our own Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs.


This same occasion marked the launch of Culture Ireland’s ambitious year-long initiative GB 18: Promoting Irish Artists in Britain, officially summarised as “a vibrant, contemporary and high quality programme that includes a range of work from all artistic disciplines including architecture, dance, film, literature, music, theatre, opera and visual arts in high-profile venues, institutions and festivals in Britain.” It’s taking place across more than two dozen UK towns and cities, as detailed here: Might help ease some of those post-Celtic pangs. . .


Talking of pangs (at least in the making), back among the dazed and happy faces thronging The Pot Still, it was gratifying to note just how many high-powered, globe-trotting, super-disciplined Showcase delegates - including plenty of first-timers, and regardless of long/early flights just hours in the offing – had yielded so readily to Scottish ways, over their four days at Celtic, as to be quaffing double malts by mid-afternoon.


As well as toasting the Irish partnership’s results, the aforementioned Closing Reception also revealed our international partner for next year’s 20th Showcase Scotland - and we’re massively chuffed that it’s Galicia, whose artists and music were so central to Celtic Connections early successes, and have continued to delight festival audiences ever since. Not least – nor un-coincidentally - when their latest advance guard invaded the Holiday Inn bar on Friday night (or was it Saturday?), ahead of yesterday’s announcement, and slew the crowd there for at least an hour. Their primary weapon was those incredibly exhilarating, commanding, Galician female vocals, remembered as a vital element in Shooglenifty’s Night For Angus last year. Last night’s performance by their full band, Tanxugueiras, opening for Duncan Chisholm in the New Auditorium, prompted numerous audience enquiries as to their name/who they were, though we fear that the answer/spelling may have defied oral transmission.


On the subject of that gig, while it sounds as if all Sunday’s shows were pretty special - from Ailie Robertson’s New Voices to The Mavericks rockin’ out the Fruitmarket; from Out Lines’ brave and stunning première of Conflats to Manran raising the O2ABC’s roof (this last streamed live for those who couldn’t be here) – none could have been more so than Chisholm’s launch of his magnificent new album, Sandwood. It was inspired by and thrillingly evocative of a remote Sutherland beach, just below Cape Wrath, with which he’s spent the last 18 months creatively communing, as only he knows how. The concert featured a sublime accompanying cast, comprising Hamish Napier, Jarlath Henderson, Greg Lawson, Megan Henderson, Su-a Lee, Donald Hay, Adam Brown, Ross Hamilton and Colin Cunningham – the last pair (again not un-coincidentally) being colleagues of Chisholm’s from Wolfstone, with whom he played on opening night at the very first Celtic Connections, back in 1994.


Reflecting last night that he’s also played every single Celtic since, the justly-revered Highland fiddler recalled his initial meeting last year with Donald Shaw, to discuss possibilities for this latest show. “With this festival, you’re always looking to do something new and different,” Chisholm explained. “So the first thing Donald suggests is, ‘Maybe I should just not book you. . ?’” Sunday’s sellout crowd are united in gratitude that this proposal was never serious, after spending the whole performance utterly enraptured - as expressed in a jubilant standing ovation - before we all but floated out of the Concert Hall, borne on waves of sheer bliss.


Another thing to love about Celtic Connections’ third weekend - suffused as it is by all those accumulated feelgood vibes – is the sense that most of us within its ambit are happily, and very un-Britishly, wide open to the world and other people, in sensory/emotional terms. We smile readily at strangers, share jokes and stories in queues for bars and loos, or outside for a smoke; we eavesdrop unashamedly on nearby conversations, then join them. Few leave this festival without a fistful of new pals.


And so it was last night in the Fruitmarket lobby, when an eminent Showcase delegate, who books for several major UK festivals, crossed paths with another snappily-dressed dude while heading to see The Mavericks. As they passed by, he was particularly admiring the stranger’s hat and jacket, when the stranger nodded and observed, “Nice boots.” Reciprocal compliments to head/outerwear duly paid – with just those few words spoken - each went on his way smiling. . . only to meet again later at some after-hours bar, by which time the hat-wearing party was with a bunch of pals. Our friend’s previous flicker of recognition suddenly crystallised into focus: these were in fact hot country-rock combo The Texas Gentlemen, in town to play Òran Mór tonight, and thus after introducing himself, he was able to continue the conversation by saying, “Actually, I was talking to your agent last week, and she said I should check you out. . .”


Pity those poor Lone Star gallants, though, playing Glasgow the night after Celtic – surely the year’s bluest for anything remotely rootsy to pull a crowd: we do hope some of you stalwarts turned out. And despite that serendipitous initial encounter, timing also foiled any (musical) checking-out plans for this tour - although both sides self-evidently like the other’s style. The Gentlemen play London on Wednesday, much handier for our cool-booted booker’s home base, but he has a hot date already - with the Transatlantic Sessions. (The Texans, meanwhile, may also be in the market for a new agent. . .)


But back to the Flying Duck – and onward from it. During several hours’ tunes and shenanigans there, the latter included our aforementioned teary Sheltie demonstrating how to play bagpipes without bagpipes: emit a sustained groan, while chopping your hand across your voicebox in time to the tune. (Video cameras in phones are a wondrous and terrible thing.)


Once suitably fired/fuelled-up, a miraculously formidable crew eventually set forth for the Festival Club. Regrouped under their annual collective moniker - what else? The Flying Ducks - they set about their now-customary mass rammy, as the club’s penultimate act on the ultimate Sunday, before MC Kevin Macleod’s equally traditional hour of rock/pop-god glory, at the helm of his covers band, Not Big Not Klevir. Both ‘performances’ (emphatically to be filed under our new favourite category, as referenced the other day, of ‘Uncategorisable Musical Practices’) naturally encompassed a final slew of never-before/never-again guest appearances, inter-band collaboration and multidimensional genre-bending that could only ever happen at Celtic Connections.


At the end of all which, after signing off from her final epic shift around 5am, linchpin Festival Club organiser Jenn McGlone stopped off at home just long enough to shower, change, pick up suitcase and collect bidie-in before flying to Valencia, and so was sunning herself poolside in siesta-land by lunchtime, just when many of us were only recently in bed, if indeed at all. We’re not anticipating postcards: rest has rarely been more righteously earned.


Back at the Holiday Inn, as its last festive last-orders loomed, we took one more chance to marvel at the fact that in no other such hotel bar on the planet, surely – surely no other in the entire giant global IHG conglomerate – can such scenes have unfolded near-nightly as they have at Theatreland/La Bonne Auberge, Glasgow, over the past 18 days (and over previous Januarys). Nowhere else of its ilk could they/we have been indulged, welcomed and even encouraged with such imperturbable warmth, camaraderie and clemency, even though we did drink them dry of tequila. From Galician invasions to 3am thumb-piano duets (two players, one mbira); from punters arriving with full takeaway meals to punters fast asleep; from musicians playing and singing till yon time and beyond, to musicians playing (and singing) on the luggage trolleys beside reception. Huge and hearty thanks to all Celtic-team mainstays at that unique establishment, for all their amazing above-and-beyond, and all the marvellous craic.


Looking similarly and broadly at the festival as a whole – can there have been a better/bigger party anywhere in the whole wide world, taking place since January 18, than here at Celtic Connections? Also gratifyingly – for all of us, we hope, as organisers/workers, artists, audience members, Glaswegians, Scots, lovers of real live music - we think not.


And as we draw to a close at last, reflecting once again on multitudinous magic memories, the brief recorded segment in Chisholm’s Sandwood, spoken by Sutherlander Donald ‘Dall’ MacKay, somehow keeps returning to mind as an apposite coda:


“Here, there is no time.

Time is our imagination,

Past, present and future.”


See you back here, folks – same time, same place - in 2019!