King's Theatre debut

​And so the weekend’s craziness whizzed by at such a pitch that we omitted to note as we passed the halfway mark of Celtic 2019, at the end of Friday, and suddenly we’re facing the long home strait to the last hurrah. So it’s time to change the PJs, maybe the bedding; wash some clothes and get some food in, even (whisper it) perhaps turn in for an early night: there is, after all, still a full week to go.
For the long-suffering team at La Bonne Auberge, as well as giving a wee bit of much-needed (relative) respite, it’s also hopefully a chance to restock the bar: at the end of last night, five of their six draught beers had been drunk dry, and the fridges were also looking sorely depleted.
Sleep will certainly be at something of a premium for a few especially determined revellers of whom we’ve heard tell, who’ve been proceeding from the Festival Club to the even later residents’ bar at the Ibis hotel, until around 6am, then on to a party at an Air B&B booked by a bunch of Irish visitors (we can only apologise vicariously to their poor neighbours. . .) In the case of two members of the same popular Glasgow (diddly) beat combo, one apparently headed homeward at about 8 on Saturday morning, only to be outdone by his pal who left at 11, then somehow managed to be alive/conscious for a 3pm pickup to go and play in Ayr with his other band, from which he returned in the wee hours and rejoined the fray at the Art School. This pair (and to a large extent the rest of us) came instantly to mind upon glimpsing one of the bus-shelter ads near the Concert Hall - possibly for a mobile phone – which appeared to read, “Bedtime, but not as we know it.”
The overlap, or mutual exclusivity, between different schedules was also encapsulated around 2am the other night, when, having finally finished at the computer, your correspondent was setting off for a much needed wee libation at La Bonne Auberge, and met Hamish Napier coming out of the lift, heading bed-ward, carring a late supper in the shape of a chicken and mushroom Pot Noodle. It’s all the luxury and glamour that keeps us going in this business. . .
As if we weren’t already being spoilt for rotten for musical happiness, we were just hurrying out of the Concert Hall around 5pm, yesterday by the Donald Dewar door, when we found the great man’s statue surrounded by the 40 strolling players of the Nevis Ensemble, Scotland’s Glasgow-based street orchestra, captivating a sizeable crowd with their pure dead brilliant strings/woodwind version of The Proclaimers’ ‘500 Miles’, complete with big audience singalong on the chorus.
An ongoing instrumental flash-mob, with strong community roots and principles, the group’s aims include “removing barriers to accessing orchestral music” by “bringing it to where people are, when they are there.” As they themselves state, and as was certainly the case yesterday, “Everyone leaves feeling uplifted and inspired, proud of the city to which they belong.”
The same could very definitely be said for the 1800 volubly blissed-out people exiting the King’s Theatre last night, after Karine Polwart and Kris Drever’s joyous, thrilling performance with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, one of this year’s big specially-commissioned showpieces, supported by the Scottish Government’s Festivals Expo Fund.
One of Celtic Connections’ key secrets is staging events that get the artists every bit as excited as the audience, and both headliners here were self-evidently buzzed to the max. And resplendent and immaculate as it was in musical terms, rarely can a full orchestral concert have felt so warm, intimate and informal, throughout an intertwined selection from the singers’ back catalogues, including a wealth of gorgeous harmonies on each other’s work. Among myriad diverse highlight was that rare thing, “a wee Grangemouth medley”, uniting Polwart’s glorious ‘Tinsel Show’ – inspired by the sight of the refinery’s lights when she was a kid nearby – and Drever’s cover of Sandy Wright’s ‘Steel and Stone’, evoking the same landscape.
Drever’s sterling song about the scuttling of the German fleet at Scapa Flow, after World War I, was preceded by a wonderfully pithy potted history of the subject, and he surely scored a first with the SCO when they backed his extended whistling solo – not whistle: actual whistling – in a number later on. There was also a stunning spoken-word sequence woven through ‘Cassiopeia’, chillingly recalling official government advice in the event of a nuclear attack, during the late-1970s Cold War period. The songs’ new bespoke orchestral arrangements, by Kate St John and Pippa Murphy, fully and superbly engaged with and expanded on the material – this was no mere exercise in lush but lazy broad brushstrokes – before Polwart and Drever returned for the perfect unscored encore with Hamish henderson’s ‘Freedom Come All Ye’.