4 o’clock this morning saw me trying to dig out the van from a snow drift on top of the Bealach in near white out conditions, but on reflection it was all worth it. This was almost the culmination of a two-day trip to Glasgow’s Celtic Connections. The finale was I did dig ourselves out and then reversed down to the top hairpin bend, turned and headed off around the Coast Road, an unwelcome 35 extra miles to the trip, and home at 5 am.
Leaving on thursday morning as usual was a bit stressful as there are always things to do and matters that are overdue but with Dougal settled in with his uncle and his mum and granny set up with their carer it was off down the road. Going over the Hill at this time of year is pretty much always spectacular and a couple of stops for the view essential.
After a stop off at the Pier’s accountants at Inverness we headed down the A9 and arrived at Sauchiehall Street around 6ish, settled in met with Ruairidh, had a bit to eat, then across the road to the Royal Concert Hall for what turned out to be a truly amazing night of music. As the Ruairidh said yesterday, Chris Stout came on with Finlay Macdonald and Ross Martin you thought this was great but it ,if possible, just got better and better.An array of class musicians trooped onto the stage, Cara Dillon, Rod Patterson, Capercaillie, Flook, there is something about one-legged flautist, Sheena Wellington. The list just went on and on. After a short break we went back into the Hall and we greeted with what we thought were a string section that were there to back the continuing talent on display. The show just seemed to get bigger and bigger where at one stage you had Capercaillie and some members of Flook, with Finlay Macdonald, Chris Stout, the “string section” all playing rocking traditional tunes with the Scottish Power Pipe Band arranged around the back of the stage…..awesome, just awesome. Even Mark Stevens, compere from Radio Scotland, was blown away and was at a loss to describe what was happening on stage. Thinking back on it now there must be very few occasions when you are able to say you saw Sheena Wellington, Cara Dillon, Julie Fowlis, Eddie Reader and Karen Matheson all on stage at the same time. For me it was a “I was there ” moment. Hard to pick highlights but Eddie Reader singing Wild Mountainside came very close to the top. Talking it over yesterday we all loved the idea of the string section and towards the end of the evening we realised it was packed with front line talent such as Aidan O’Rouke, Alister Fraser, Natalie Haas and they were just the ones we recognised.
Last night at the ABC O2 was as good and so different. The music and venue were perfect. We did a little recce during the day to check up on tickets and where the venue was etc, noticed a 7pm start but turned out that was just door opening so Highlanders seen queuing outside at ten to but no worries we got down to the front. The set up ,I have to say, a little “sleazy” and Ruariadh saying the venue sported the largest disco ball in Europe did not take away anything from this image. Dance floor set up with rows of folding chairs and bar at the back of the main hall, toilets functional with attendant who held the paper towel roll, and a distinct smell of disinfectant everywhere you get the picture. Darrell Scott came on and was simply brilliant singing a selection of his own songs and a few penned by people like Townes van Zandt. He produced a great sound, just him and his guitar. I chose this concert and was slightly in the dark about Amy Helm and relied a wee bit on reputation and who her father was, but we were stunned by the end of the set. Started off with a very Americana feel and got more and more bluesy with her singing songs by Dylan,The Band and Muddy Waters as well as her own. She has an amazing voice, and her band of Byron Isaacs,Justin Guip and Dan Littleton from her dad’s band were supreme. It has been a long time since I have been immersed in such fantastic,brilliant music of the last two nights and it made the drive north seem not quite so bad and so worth it. This was still the case even although the Stirling turnoff was closed off and we missed the diversion so ended up outside Edinburgh before heading north. Driving between Bruar and Kingussie in a white out at 2 in the morning was no fun as was being stuck on the Hill but all’s well and looking across the Sound this morning….. and Dougal judging by the photos on fb settled in very well visiting his uncle up the road. Already planning a longer trip for next year. Hats off to the guys that organise Celtic Connections, must rank as one of the best Festivals anywhere…..