Celtic Connections Reflections

Campbell Cameron March, 2010.

Photo: fred morrison. Fred, Auld Dogs and Alyth - the Champions league!

"Showcase Scotland" got a fine audience at the Glasgow ABC recently all of whom from all parts of Europe were ready to be impressed by what we as a nation have to offer. The whole of the recent Celtic connections is of course a major show case of the best available in itself but the ABC event none the less focused delegations from promoters and festivals throughout Europe. Heading the bill of fayre was Fred Morrison - bagpipe maestro. Fred and his band did not disappoint with this Glaswegian's South Uist piping heritage showing through a set of driving tunes that had the audience in raptures. Fred's passion and delight were evident and that made for a great night in Glasgow. Surprise of the night was The Old Blind Dogs. I had them niched as a great band if you need a traditional solid Scots song sung with passion. Well! I don't know what the boys have been on since then but boy have they livened up! It must be hanging about with Morrison. More peat bog faeries than blind dogs now - they have rediscovered their puppy enthusiasm and the audience lapped it up. The Shee - an enthusiastic group of young ladies did well in this august company. Then came Alyth MacCormack who has dropped her surname and like Madonna, favours the red basque which certainly focussed half the audience but it is the Lewis girl's delightful vocals sung in that distinctive accent which makes her such a great attraction. The Showcase was tailed by a deserved encore for Fred Morrison and the band that had us wowed with the best of "Outlands" his new solo album. Expect to see our Scottish musicians all across Europe at the festivals this year.

Icons and legends.

Much overused adjectives - the "icon" and the "legend." But that was the challenge that cheeky accordionist Phil Cunningham set Radio Scotland's own national icon, the aforementioned, Iain Anderson, he of the fine tunes. Iain explained that he was to use the words icon and legend in his introduction of the premier division players that make up Transatlantic Sessions.

The music maestro Anderson had no problems in achieving his challenging goal as he brought on Taynuilt and Glasgow's very own Donald Shaw and Karen Matheson, Glasgow gal, Eddi Reader, Darrell Scott, Tim O'Brien and his sister Mollie, from over the pond. Then came Shetlander Aly Bain, followed by American, Jerry Douglas and Irish lass, Cara Dillon. Not content with that, on came Sara Watkins followed by Bruce Molsky, Dan Tyminski and Mike McGoldrick. There were others, but you are getting the picture. Legends abound. Icons aplenty.

If you have caught up with the BBC2 version of the "Transatlantic Sessions" you will be well acquainted with the format. What the TV lacks is the spontaneity of the stage version. The Craic is immense and Jerry Douglas (himself deemed by many to be the best steel guitarist in the western world) lets it flow as he directs with a light touch. He opened the second half with a solo that demonstrated his prowess. Karen Matheson had us near to tears with Crucan na bpaiste - a tale of a mother grieving her lost red-haired daughter. Eddi Reader raised our spirits with dragonflies, despite it being a warning of how short life can be. Mollie O'Brien and Sara Watkins were revelations - strong vocals and great fiddle music respectively. When they all come together with the percussion king James Mackintosh behind them it is reel magic!

Jigs as well and Cajun, Appalachian and Nordic influences creep in, not to mention the Irish touch of McGoldrick Bodran, flute and small pipes. Not bad for a Mancunian, but that is the magic of "the connections". The "sessionistas" have now completed what Anderson described as "missionary work" south of the border with a nationwide tour. Legends and icons indeed!

The last word

Another year complete and now just a memory - Celtic Connections is over.

An event which started simply as a way to fill a few dates in January at the Royal Concert Hall, it has been better than ever for the quality and diversity of talent on show in the many venues round our dear green place. To boot another success is that in these hard economic times, the attendances have topped the 100,000 mark, well up to last year's high mark.

Last word goes to Festival director Donald Shaw, the man from Taynuilt but now not only an honorary "Westender" but a citizen of the World music village.

"We're delighted with the continued success of Celtic Connections. This year we had some really amazing acts on the bill, and fans and performers came to Glasgow from all over the world to enjoy two and a half weeks of great music."

"A personal highlight was Bobby McFerrin's phenomenal show in the Concert Hall - it was a really special night. We were so thrilled that he agreed to give a concert as part of our Education Programme too, it was a real coup for us."

Indeed Donald! Inspirational.

Campbell Cameron - back in the of Benderloch for a wee lie down!

Making it Happen