Celtic Connections 2008

It was decidedly Celtic weather conditions for the entire weekend I was at Celtic Connections in Glasgow. The torrential rain didn’t relent, the gales continued to blow. But that, as cringeworthy as it sounds, added to the experience. Crisp winter days and fragile sunshine wouldn’t have suited the tumultuous tunes and ballads of lovelorn youth which raged all weekend. Kilts were still worn with pride, enthusiasts trudged dutifully from one venue to another dodging the frequent umbrella carcasses along the way.
Friday morning brought a new experience to the fold – stadium folk. Swathes of Scottish schoolchildren filled the main auditorium of the Royal Concert Hall and the musicians on offer couldn’t have wished for a more enthusiastic attentive audience. Glo-sticks shone in appreciation, clapping soon deteriorated in to a mixture of in, out and not-so-sure time. Recent Young Folk Award winners, Jeana Leslie Siobahn Miller, were met with eager renditions of their songs as their young listeners joined in, and the resident Hoose Band had them all – including their teachers – dancing in their seats. The skill of Lori Watson and her Rule of Three would surely send all the young musicians present back to their teachers begging to learn to play like her.
Not wanting to break our umbrellas on our first day in Glasgow, we decided to find indoor attractions to escape the howling gales. The Gallery of Modern Art kept us entertained for what seemed like hours with Turner Prize winners, recent commissions and interactions.
Then it was a toss up. Did we go to James Yorkston and King Creosote at the ABC, knowing we would have to leave early to be able to reach in time Kris Drever’s full rendition of his 2006 album, Black Water, at the Old Fruitmarket at 9.30pm? We decided that yes, this was what we would have to do.
I can’t put my finger on why James Yorkston is so compelling. My aversion to one-man-and-his-guitar combos means I rarely pay them attention. But James Yorkston has had me enthralled for years and in this setting, with his performance understated yet passionate, the audience are hanging on every note. ‘Shipwreckers’ is played second, which as a favourite of mine I prefer to come later, but it didn’t matter as this time we were treated to a sinister treatment of ‘Blue Bleezin’ Blind Drunk.’
But it was apparent that the audience were really here to see King Creosote, and the atmosphere soon reflected this. Suddenly, everyone seemed pissed, and the King, grinning and genuinely ecstatic at his reception, was being lovingly heckled from every angle. The Celtic Connection here was a little more tenuous, as what followed was jangley indie pop with psychedelia and slide thrown in, but it didn’t seem out of place. Although 9.30pm was rapidly approaching and the attempt to try to see Kris Drever slowly diminishing, we weren’t perturbed as King Creosote was simply too nice and polite a person that it would seem preposterous to leave. And when he finished on ‘KC Rules OK’, breaking it to the audience gently that it was ‘time for me to go’, each musician took it upon themselves to carry on with the montage which had slowly built up, allowing the King to quietly slip away.
After a rediscovery of the taste of Irn Bru, Saturday morning at the Box Office was a gloomy affair – why I thought the Peatbog Faeries wouldn’t sell out was soon called in to question. Although I had a press ticket, there wasn’t a single one left for Emlyn. So we decided to nip off to see Ceol Mor and the Young Tradition finalists at the Strathclyde Suite and worry about the mighty Peatbogs later.
Ceol Mor is the young answer to The Unusual Suspects, with fiddlers, pipers, brass section, whistles, accordions, clarsach, and drums. Sidestepping any patronising, it was fascinating to see a collection of young musicians who were not only talented, ut obviously enjoying the music they were playing. The material played was mainly commissioned work, focussing on Scottish identity and ending in a rousing set of tunes which had the musicians frantically tapping their feet and laughing.
Later in the Strathclyde Suite I had the privilege of sitting in on Jenna Reid’s sound check. Every corner I turned in Glasgow this weekend, I had seen a fiddle player from one corner of Scotland or another. But Jenna seemed something completely different. The heart racing speed in which Jenna played was matched with an effortless grace and a sense of calm. Her material seemed Old Time and modern, Scottish yet other-worldly. I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be seeing the launch of her new album, The Laughing Girl, that evening with help from Swedish band, Vasen.
But pleased as Emlyn had managed to cadge a ticket for Peatbog Faeries from a kindly lady outside the ABC. Breabach opened the evening, one of the piper’s mothers standing nearby and grinning ear to ear. Brebach were in awe of the headliners, and kept their set time to a modest minimum. And worthy of the praise, the Peatbog Faeries brought their fusion of trad Scottish tunes and electronica to the fore and, with chaotic lighting and arms punching the air, it was though we were transported to a rave.

All in all, a fantastic weekend was had at Celtic Connections. It’s almost a pity that it goes on for three weeks, as you know that you’re inevitably missing out on some excellent performances and discoveries.