The Rhythm in Me

​A good many members of the Glasgow-Irish community faced a painful dilemma yesterday, when Celtic (F.C.)’s home fixture against Aberdeen clashed with Damien Dempsey’s Celtic (Connections) gig. The first perhaps explained why the second wasn’t quite full, although the combined passion of Damo himself and the fans who’d foregone the fitba certainly generated a capacity-crowd atmosphere in the O2ABC – further enhanced by the venue’s gigantic mirrorball. Dempsey as ever gave a towering, inspirational performance, appearing to channel every ounce of his ex-boxer’s strength into his massive, magnificent voice – and seeming equally wowed in turn by the audience’s fervent response, including frequent word-perfect singalongs. “Before you go to bed tonight,” he instructed, “I want you all to give the mirror a big kiss and tell yourself ‘I love you, ya bollix’.” His inclusion of the late Andy M. Stewart’s ‘Fire in the Glen’, as the first number of his encore, was also a lovely touch.
At a somewhat thinly-attended Folkytown later on, a valiant group of sessioneers – including Laura-Beth Salter, Jenn Butterworth, Steve Forman and a cellist (always good to see a cello in a session) - were doing their best to fire up some tunes, but battling somewhat against an overly noisy/inebriated group across the room who insisted on ‘joining in’ with inarticulate bellowing and out-of-time table-thumping. We jumped to the conclusion that they’d come from the game, and were celebrating their side’s 1-0 victory – but it turned out they’d been at the gig, while the football fans in attendance were impeccably behaved.
Post-Damo discussion of other top gigs we’ve seen at the ABC prompted a memory of a somewhat intimate crisis experienced at a previous Celtic Connections by another headliner there, when her bra-strap snapped during soundcheck. Being on the buxom side, she was loath to perform au naturel, so phoned the relevant vital statistics through to a pal, who did an emergency dash to Bravissimo and delivered a replacement to the dressing-room – in the process bringing new meaning to the term ‘support act’.
A wee bit of crisis management has also been demanded of Danny Kyle Open Stage organiser Liz Clark over the last couple of days, with a flurry of cancellations by acts booked to appear, including, “one who’s had a bereavement, one who had someone go into labour, and another band who’ve split up.” Thankfully, reserve-list replacements have now been drafted in. As Liz observed wryly, “Aye, life in the front line. . .”
We’d been thinking we hadn’t seen much of Glasgow-based pianist/flautist Hamish Napier about the place, but it turns out he’s been that mad busy, with Celtic Connections and other gigs, that he’s never been in any one place very long, or perhaps been visible only as a passing blur. His record stint since the festival started has been 11 gigs in five days – including a children’s birthday party and a ceilidh in Comrie, as well as both main-stage and festival club performances: anyone out there who can top that?
His shift last night was in the Concert Hall with the Jarlath Henderson Band, as support to Evelyn Glennie and Trilok Gurtu’s world première of The Rhythm In Me – the latter summed up by one happy listener as “amazing sounds from everything from a piano to a bucket of water”. While Henderson was delighted to get the gig, and introduce his music to a new audience, he discovered that opening for two of the world’s most celebrated percussionists, each with their own globally sourced battery of instrumentation (plus an accompanying Steinway grand), does come with its downsides: once the headliners were set up, fitting his five-piece into the remaining tiny segment of stage proved more than a bit of a squeeze.
Having played their first ever gig at Celtic Connections 2016, Henderson’s band have had a busy twelve months promoting his rave-reviewed debut album Heads Turned, Hearts Broken, ensuring that their ambitious, electronics-heavy song arrangements are well bedded in, together with the accompanying technical logistics – unlike the night last year, when, as Napier recalled, they were playing the Late Night Sessions, and spent 45 minutes setting up for a 25-minute slot.