One final celebration

​And so…The End. Finito. All done and dusted for another year – but not before a memorable last night’s hurrah for those of us still standing. These final celebrations came as Celtic Connections published yet another stonking set of figures for this year’s festival​ gross ticket sales topping £1.1 million, with a total attendance of well over 100,000, for the eighth year running. Fully 89% of visitors stated that Celtic Connections was their sole or main reason for visiting Glasgow and a whopping 99% of festival-goers rated the event’s overall quality as ‘good’ or ‘very good’. Among our newer converts was the Irish band Four Wings, who delivered another celebratory set up at the Festival Club after winning a Danny Kyle Open Stage Award, and signed off with the declaration: “Everywhere in January is just completely depressing – except for Glasgow! We’re just going to come back and start every year here.” At least their ticket for 2016 is guaranteed, a slot at next year’s festival being the main prize on which Open Stage eyes are fixed.

The festival’s success was particularly plain to see on Saturday night just past, when every single Celtic Connections show on the bill – that’s twelve main concerts around the city, plus the Open Stage, Late Night Sessions and Festival Club – was completely stowed to capacity. Add in the next’s day’s coincidence of not only the 400th Celtic/Rangers game (and the first in three years), but Strictly Come Dancing Live at the Hydro (plus the first payday weekend since Christmas), and there wasn’t a hotel room to be had in Glasgow for love or money - hence a certain Highland fiddler’s disgruntled tweets and Facebook posts upon finding himself bedless. It was only belatedly that the Celtic accommodation team realised that the £300-per-night prices being quoted online by standard budget hotels – a rate which normally signifies minimal availability – was in fact a deliberate smokescreen to deter the football fans: as soon as someone phoned up and explained that it was only some of those nice musicians needing housed, all was fine. While a few post-match casualties impinged only minimally on the final festive fling – quickly realising that their particular brand of bonhomie was regarded as neither big nor clever – the fitba did noticeably hamper a good few of the last revellers’ finally getting home: again, us non-locals hadn’t realised how many taxi drivers take a strategic day off when the Old Firm meet, so there were some lengthy waits as the Holiday Inn at last emptied out. But after a blissful valedictory session there involving the likes of Dirk Powell, Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas, most were more inclined to count their blessings than complain.

The final stragglers to depart those now-legendary Theatreland premises, around 7 o’clock this morning - having been kindly allowed to linger in the lounge until then – were a piper, a singer and a banjo player; three festival regulars who’ve created their own personal tradition of making the very last music at Celtic Connections each year. With trains home to catch around 10am, they were heading for a secret favourite spot down near the Kelvin – somewhere with a lovely natural acoustic, apparently – to play a few tunes, before finishing off with the ‘Freedom Come All Ye’: Hamish Henderson himself will surely have been there in spirit - and it was a lovely morning for it.

Festival Club MC Kevin Macleod’s final-night appearance in his golden suit, at the helm of his own classy covers band, is now another firmly established Celtic tradition. As he belted out the likes of ‘La Bamba’ crossed with ‘Twist and Shout’, ‘Mustang Sally’ and Prince’s ‘Kiss’, it was clear that some especially sociable souls had brought props for the occasion, including lots of balloons, beach balls, party poppers (the non-narcotic kind) and random inflatable wildlife, all sailing through the air over the heads of the merrily gyrating crowd. Rather more perilously, the aforementioned Four Wings had earlier held an impromptu contest for the audience member who could scream the loudest, with the likewise random prize of a mango, which also went sailing through the air from the stage once a winner was chosen – but thankfully caused no injury during its trajectory. And we’re sure whoever won it will appreciate the vitamins.

Having reported yesterday on Alasdair Taylor getting stuck in the Festival Club lift for an hour on Saturday, until released by the fire brigade, we’ve now seen video evidence of exactly what caused the breakdown in the first place: half a dozen or so musicians crammed in there, including some of the Young Trad finalists, enjoying some combination of playing sardines and having a tune, with a leg stuck out to stop the door closing. Small wonder the mechanism went in the huff.

Massive, massive thanks and appreciation to everyone - artists, organisers, staff, volunteers, funders and above all audiences - who makes this truly magical festival happen. And one very last in-a-nutshell quote to sign off this year’s correspondence, from a long-seasoned Celtic volunteer, when asked if she’d be back next year: “You’d have to pay me to stay away.”