We bid a fond au revoir to Le Vent du Nord

And so we bid a fond au revoir to our dear friends from Le Vent du Nord and De Temps Antan, who flew home to Quebec this morning, after a suitably uproarious last hurrah around midnight at the Festival Club, ensuring that their new collaborative show underwent a full Glasgow baptism. With accordionist/bassist Réjean Brunet resplendent in a brand-new kilt, and all six musicians grinning from ear to ear, the Saturday-night crowd was positively deafening in its appreciation, with the glow-sticks given out earlier at the World Beat Bothy night being plentifully brandished once again. A superb club line-up all round also featured Fara, the Elephant Sessions, The Bevvy Sisters Big Band and Inyal: you really can’t say fairer than that for your £9’s worth, though admittedly the price in stamina may be harder to measure.
Despite their early start, several Vent du Nord/De Temps Antan members went on to linger in the Holiday Inn bar right until the last, sharing some equally fond reminiscences of earlier Celtic Connections visits, including the year of Le Vent du Nord’s debut, which saw them transforming a near-empty midweek Festival Club (back when it ran every night, at the old Holiday Inn West) into a riotous Québécois kitchen party, jumping onto the tables among the audience to play, somewhere around three in the morning. It was also very touching to hear just how much Celtic Connections means to these artists, a home-from-home feeling compounded by the deep sense of affirmation, and renewal of purpose, they get from playing here: it helps them keep going, they said, when the cause of keeping traditional music alive and kicking can feel like an uphill struggle back home. As an example, fiddler André Brunet cited their tongue-in-cheek use of Emerson Lake & Palmer’s ‘Anthem For the Common Man’ as the new show’s intro music. “In Glasgow, everybody laughed,” he said. “In Quebec, they just looked confused.”
As one hurdy-gurdy departs the festival – that of Le Vent du Nord’s Nicolas Boulerice - another four took the main Concert Hall stage tonight, as part of Jim Sutherland’s La Banda Europa. We assumed that this was surely the only line-up ever to feature a whole squad of these wonderfully strange ancient instruments, but a quick double-check on Google (no fake news here) revealed the existence of Hungary’s Hurdy-Gurdy Orchestra, which musters up to a dozen of them together: now that could be quite a sight (and sound) for a future festival.
There were also a few stories swapped last night of escapades from the hazy, crazy days when the Festival Club was young, in its original home/spawning-ground of the Central Hotel, where Celtic Connections artists had virtual free run of the place. One we’d forgotten was the infamous ‘chicken run’, via those top-floor bedrooms with windows overlooking the hotel’s shared roof with Central Station. On a clear day, apparently, the building’s far end gave a stunning view of the sunrise: the far end of a precipitous traverse that few in their right mind would attempt sober, but which was seemingly a popular way to round off a full night’s drinking - adding a whole new hair-raising meaning to the Blue Nile’s Glasgow classic, ‘A Walk Across the Rooftops’. We’ve often thought that there must be a special deity reserved for the protections of stocious folkies, as by rights the casualty-rate should be way higher than it is.
Ousted last night from its usual Holiday Inn haven by a black-tie Burns Supper, the House of Song took up residence in the restaurant, but anyone looking for it might have found themselves misdirected over the course of the evening, as the A4 sign posted in the bar to show the way kept being dislodged by the crowd, and put back with the arrow facing a different way. The last time we noticed, someone had stuck it up pointing directly into the lift.