Opening Night

​Two thousand-odd beatifically blissed-out souls floated out of the Concert Hall last night, after what was, by common consent, one of Celtic Connections’ most magical opening concerts ever. Laura Marling’s performance with the BBCSSO, premièring Kate St. John’s bold, imaginative, yet brilliantly complementary orchestrations of material from the singer’s five-album back catalogue, was stunning enough in itself. Even so, for a good many audience members, the veritable festival-in-microcosm that formed the evening’s first half all but stole the show, with a cast including Karine Polwart, Aziza Brahim, Adam Holmes, Rachel Sermanni, Declan O’Rourke and Cara Dillon – the last two having flown in especially for this one gig.
Polwart’s contribution, in particular, a work-in-progress rendition of a part-spoken, part-sung piece she’s creating in response to Trump’s election, imagining him addressed by the ancient gneiss rock of his MacLeod mother’s Lewis birthplace, reduced more than a few to tears, leading as it did into ‘Cover Your Eyes’, Polwart’s response a few years back to Trump’s attempted despoliation of the Menie estate, exquisitely backed by the orchestra.
Facebook feedback for the show included “Emotionally wrung out and only day one” (we’re presuming that means she was a happy customer), and “Don’t think any other 2017 gig will match this,” while on Twitter, writer and broadcaster Hardeep Sigh Kohli was among the many eulogising Polwart’s performance:
@IAMKP isn’t just Scottish
She IS Scotland
Talking of nice compliments, another eloquent tweet sang the praises of the festival as a whole, not least its winter scheduling, likening it to “a beautiful tweed blanket and floaty feather duvet and magic carpet all in one,” while another happy customer spoke for many in declaring, “Love never having January blues”.
And talking of Trump (briefly), Donald Shaw’s welcome speech to the interval guests’ reception included memories of the 2009 festival, when he was trying to book several major US artists for the opening concert, but found that many were unavailable due to Obama’s inauguration. “It would have been a bit different this year,” our esteemed artistic director observed. “We could have had anyone we wanted.”
Shaw also paid tribute to Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop, who was in attendance last night, offering appreciation of having someone so actively interested and informed in the role. She’d also appear to be a fairly easy-going sort, given her unruffled reaction to a Concert Hall usher’s attempts to oust her from her seat, mistakenly believing she was in the wrong place – and evidently not recognising her – even as the horrified punter looking for their own seat (who clearly did know who she was), attempted to insist there really wasn’t a problem. . . All was swiftly resolved, anyhow.
The BBCSSO not being massive session-heads, there weren’t many tunes in the Holiday Inn bar afterwards, but there was plenty more of the big annual reunion bonhomie, not least between regular musical guests and the longtime personnel behind reception and the bar. Doubtless the tunes will kick off good and proper tonight, along with the Festival Club and Late Night Sessions – after no less than 14 main gigs – as the mighty first weekend swings into action: brace yourselves. . .