Those of you from places far and wide and with no unquenchable thirst for Scottish sound are likely to be none the wiser when I mention ‘Celtic Connections’. This is understandable as in the great, worldly scheme of things it probably has as much significance as the great pea mushing festival of Andalucia or the fig flying festival of Thesolonica?? However, for those Scots and beyond who revel in a spot of diddly dee and can’t resist the temptation to whirl a jig, reel or strathspeye…Celtic Connections is Nirvana. ‘Celtic Connections’ was devised to fill an empty month in the Glasgow concert Hall’s season and it has achieved this with wild abandon. During the last week of January and the first two of February Glasgow becomes a broth of bearded loaf men, funky young highlanders with fiddles and jet lagged and alcohol addled agents from mainly Norway, Brittany and Quebec. Numerous Glasgow venues host oodles of music, sometimes as Celtic as can be and sometimes only tentatively suggesting some Celtic link: ie Cerris Matthews form Catatonia (I think the link is Wales).
I was fortunate enough to be attending a trade fair in Glasgow during these heady weeks and had the arduous duty of attending a Scotland on Tour conference after the fair which meant I just had to stay the week in Glasgow.
This involved the burdensome task of meeting up with a lot of friends, partying til 3am two nights in a row and seeing a huge amount of staggeringly good music. No, no…I don’t need your sympathy. The things I do for the Lismore Hall committee.
Martyn Bennet Tribute gig
Martyn was a much loved member of the Scottish music scene who tragically died after a long battle with cancer at the age of 34. Friends and family set up The Martyn Bennett trust after he died which now helps to fund creative ventures and educational projects throughout the world. This gig comprised of four compositions inspired by Martyn and they were all absolutely sensational. The musicians were coming from a mixture of folk, jazz, classical and DJ disciplines but the composers wove these disparate and often incompatible musical threads in to an intimate and heart wrenching tapestry of sound. My favourite was Fraser Fifields haunting composition marrying the woody tones of the tenor flute with subtle floating rhythms and chords on violin and cello.
Now this lot I only heard on route to the toilet as they were sound checking. I heard the voice of an angel from behind the doors at the Old fruit market and asked the man swooning at the door who was playing. He professed that he was in love…with the lead singer and that their last album had been looping on his i player for the last two months and he still loved it. I was torn…should I stand up friends to hear this intriguing bluegrass band or go see the Martyn Bennett gig as planned. I then left the old fruitmarket but bought the Crooked Still album later and by God it’s good! A kind of blue grass grunge; Alison Kraus in leather. I utterly recommend it and I think you should go check out their sound right now… (after this post).
And finally…the festival club. The hub for all the musicians, musician’s friends, agents and anyone else who fancies an intense dose of Celtic sound and revelry. A long corridor divides spaces on either side where sessions emerge and grow both musically and bodily into sprawling beasts of notes and sweat and jolting rhythms. I stumbled upon one where 7 fiddlers, a double base player, a guitarist, banjo and whistle player danced their frets with the speed and dexterity of a hummingbird’s wings. The synchronisation of energy and sound transporting the listener into the trance state of the musician and the room is no longer a house of people but a space of scintillating and undivided energy.