The "Second Gathering", as it was billed in the handsome 94 page program (distributed freely throughout the entire city -- we came home with five), was held primarily in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, with a few shows at the Hospitality Inn, official residence of visiting musicians, a few blocks away. The Hall holds a main auditorium (a formal multi-tiered 2000 seat concert hall), the Strathclyde Suite (a ballroom type space, holding about 400 seated), a shop (doing a brisk business in things Celtic), a formal restaurant (which we never saw), a snack bar (the Celtic Cafe for the fortnight), several smallish suites for workshops and such, and bars on every floor. The most popular of these last was in the Exhibition Hall, site of morning and nighttime "ceilidhs" (mini-concerts) and weekday afternoon broadcasts by BBC Radio Scotland. Special exhibits relating to traditional Celtic music were scattered around the various lobbies and halls, and a tape/CD shop carried a constantly growing collection of goodies brought in by the performers, or obtained from local outlets. In 1994 the Festival boasted attendance of 35,000. In 1995 that grew to 60,000, but we never felt crowded or overwhelmed. The staff (in Celtic Connections sweatshirts) were extremely friendly and helpful at all times, and in general the whole affair was very well organized.
The typical day featured a morning or afternoon ceilidh (for 1 pound), one or more workshops (instruments, voice, dancing), a Celtic Conversation (lecture by a well known personality), the BBC Radio Scotland live broadcast or taping (free), two or three concurrent night shows each highlighting two or three artists, and often a late night ceilidh. All events except for the BBC shows were ticketed, with prices ranging from pounds 1 to 12.50. The low ceilidh prices and the free BBC shows gave people a chance to sample music at little or no cost, so there were men in suits and women in fancy dress and heels at punk Celtic shows, and people in torn jeans and pierced body parts at the most traditional and sobre of performances.
We arrived on the third day of the festival, having missed the opening ceilidh with Phil Cunningham and the Tartan Amoebas (great name), and several other shows. We had expected to attend two events on Saturday night, but the late one had been cancelled (to my knowledge, the only cancellation). Unfortunately that had promised to be a highligh -- the Living Tradition Concert, including reunions of Kentigern and The Easy Club. The remaining show was held in the Strathclyde Suite, set up "cabaret style", tables and chairs spread about, with a wee bit of space in front of the stage for dancing. In a gracious gesture, the show was extended by an hour so that Kentigern could open it. I recognized piper Dougie Pincock and Jim and Sylvia Barnes, and assume that the other three were Sandy Stanage, Jimmy McGuire, and John Gahagan. They were warmly received as old friends and clearly enjoyed themselves (including a bit of shared flute playing which reminded me of what Bill Keith and Jim Rooney used to do with guitar and banjo). Iain MacDonald brought his pipes to the stage for a number. Next up were Maire ni Chathasaigh (mistress of the Irish harp) and guitarist Chris Newman. Either of these two instrumentalists would be a fine solo act; together they were a treat, playing bluegrass, Irish, and classical tunes as well as some penned by Chris (he, being from Watford, claimed that since Maire was Irish his job was to bring in the Celtic music from the various subdivisions of Elsewhere). Simon Thoumire followed, in his Simon Thoumire Three incarnation, with Kevin MacKenzie (guitar) and Simon Thorpe (bass). The famille Thoumire was in the audience, including a sister who had just hit three numbers in the lottery. the trio offered fusion explorations of Aly Bain's Reel, Smile, Left Side Jig/Right Side Jig, Mrs. Meadow's March To Spain, Tremendous Fergus, The Rusty Skillet, Fisher's Hornpipe, The Easy Club Reel, and many others, all done with immense taste and a deft sense of just how far out is far enough. The last act of the evening was the extremely young and very talented County Kerry band Oige (Murrough O'Kane, flute and whistles, Ruadhrai O'Kane, fiddle and bodhran, Cara Dillon, vocals and fiddle, and Paul McLaughlin, guitar). The Mountain Road was dedicated to sheep struggling up a hill in bad weather and accompanied by "baa's". A sweetly sung The Flower Of Magherallyo, slow reels from The Bothy Band ("but that was way before our time"), Liz Carroll's Reels (by this time the audience was dancing), The Weaver, Slow Boat To China, and Girls Put Ihe Fags Out -- It's Time For Dancing all made for a grand finale to our first night.
We spent Sunday walking around Glasgow and acquiring petroleum byproducts at the local Tower, Virgin, and HMV, all of whom had Celtic Connections window displays and promotions. The big ticket for the evening was Relativity, opened by Old Blind Dogs, in the main auditorium. We took our seats about 20 minutes before the show, unaware that normal behaviour was to stay in the bar until the 5 minute warning, and sure enough there was a flood of people to be seated just before showtime. The hall was filled (as it would be for every night show) with some kind of light diffusing mist, for reasons which still escape me. Old Blind Dogs, a four man Scottish group (Ian Benzie, guitar, Johnny Hardie, fiddle and mandolin, Buzzby McMillan, bass, and Davy Cattanach, percussion) gave us new tunes (The Barnyards Of Delgaty being a particular favourite), fresh versions of old faithfuls (Twa Corbies, Bonnie Glenlogie, and Lay Ye Doon Love) with very nice four part harmony, and one song in particular that stuck in our heads all week to the point of becoming annoying (Pills Of White Mercury, about syphilis!). I would have enjoyed them more in a less austere setting (although it was nice to hear this kind of music in a formal hall, as the acoustics were vastly superior to the motley collection of venues we are used to) . Relativity, of course, are right at home in concert settings. This was a one-of especially for the festival. After seven years they sounded exactly the same and looked just a tad older. Micheal O'Domhnaill had less hair and Triona seemed to have lost weight, Johnny and Phil Cunningham had gained in both categories. The tunes were pretty well the same (When Barney Flew Over The Hills, Gile Mear, An Seanduinee Duite, a flashy duet break from Johnny and Phil) and the jokes as well, but so was the musicianship, and that was fine.
Monday was the first of our typical weekday pattern: morning ceilidh spotlighting a band (usually attended by 20 to 30 people), afternoon BBC show (ditto), and evening concert. The ceilidhs took place in the Exhibition Hall (i.e., the bar), and were all hosted by Gibb Todd, a well known figure in the Scottish folk scene, who would open with a few songs. Monday's band was The Journeymen, seven men instrumentally outfitted with highland and elbow pipes, accordion, flute, guitars, drums, keyboard, fiddle, and bodhran (it was crowded). They did their own tunes and songs, were energetic (no mean feat at 11 in the morning) and rocky. The BBC show was a live broadcast of "Mr. (Iain) Anderson's Fine Tunes". We were told beforehand to applaud loudly, and to feel free to visit the bar and generally make live audience noises, all of which we did. The radio shows were free, so people of all ages and types wandered in and out, including various musical luminaries checking out the talent and the tunes. Mondays' show included Na Lua, The Cast (Mairi Camplbell, fiddle, and Dave Francis, guitar), an opera singer (this being an eclectic music show), Jennifer and Hazel Wrigley from Orkney, and Eleanor McEvoy sans band. Na Lua, of whom we were to see more later, are a terrific spirited multi-instrumental Galician band of six men who speak very little English and consequently were not interviewed. The Cast did several traditional tunes and a blues number, and talked a little about Mairi's attempts to bring Cape Breton music to wider attention. The Wrigley sisters were delightful (Jennifer on fiddle and Hazel on guitar), especially on Haggis Fondu. Eleanor McEvoy sang My Own Sweet Bed Tonight, and It's Mine and talked briefly about the imminent new album, describing her sound as "rock with an acoustic flavour".
We got to see more of that "rock with an acoustic flavour" in the evening show, along with the rest of the Eleanor McEvoy Band. But first we had to get through The Lost Soul Band, and before that we had to cope with the fact that "cabaret style" this night meant no chairs at all, anywhere, apparently because of the high ticket sales. It was also the only time I noticed a visible "security" presence (for when we all revolted to go in search of chairs?). The Lost Soul Band, a trio of singers with guitars, had some interesting (mostly country/truckdriver flavoured) moments, and some good titles (I May Be A Dog But I'm Not Going To Beg), but too much personal odyssey/earnest stream of consciousness for my taste. Eleanor McEvoy and band had come out of the studio for this gig, so we got a preview of the upcoming album (very rocky) plus Apologize, Boundaries Of Your Mind, Breathing Hope, My Own Sweet Bed Tonight, Stray Thoughts, an unaccompanied number, and A Woman's Heart (and we all sang along). I found the mix a bit fuzzy, but Eleanor was charming (and dedicated a song to my companion, Simon).
Tuesday's morning ceilidh group was Na Lua, more great Galician music with Irish, jazz, Portuguese, and even afro-pop influences. Na Lua has been around since 1980, and currently include X. Paz Anton (guitars, synthesizer, percussion, vocals), Xabier Camba (percussion), Anton Rodriguez (flutes, saxophone, bagpipes), Candida Lorenzo (flute, clarinet, bagpipes), Ricardo Pereiro (electric bass, vocals), and Pancho Alvarez (concertina, fiddle, guitar, mandolin, synthesizer). The lack of English (and hence lack of introductions to the tunes) made no difference to everyone's obvious enjoyment. The afternoon BBC show featured four spots from Wolfstone, guitarist David Allison with percussionist Chris Smith, a classical oboeist, Gaelic singer Ishbel McCaskill, and ceilidh dance revivalist Bob Blair. Allison uses on-stage technology to add layers and loops, but it's pretty unobtrusive, and in fact the result was at times very tasty. McCaskill was saving her weary voice for several workshops, but we heard some examples of her recordings. The highlight of Wolfstone was an acoustic version of The Prophet which really spotlighted the vocals.
Hot ticket of the night: the Elanor Shanley Band and Paul Brady. The surprise was Elanor Shanley and two-man band (Robbie Overson and Jim Higgins). From the opener, I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, through If I Were A Blackbird to the last song, a new single release titled The Road to Glory, this was a terrific show. Since her days with De Dannan Elanor Shanley has developed confidence and stage presence, whether mugging it up as Mary From Tipperary, or tearing up Carrickfergus. A bodhran and voice version of Do You Love An Apple was reminiscent of Christy Moore's treatment of The Well Below The Valley. Raglan Road got an unaccompanied and nicely ornamented treatment, and a song in Irish based on a poem by Raftery was very moving. An unexpected treat altogether. Paul Brady (solo) was low key, but I have only seen him cradled in a large Irish presence, which this was not (also, he had the flu). The set was half previews of the new album (mostly love or ego gone right or wrong) plus material from Hard Station onward (Crazy Dreams, Nobody Knows, Love Goes On, Not The Only One, and a few more), and, to my great delight, an apparently unscheduled Arthur McBride, to which he forgot some of the words (a source of indulgent amusement). The inevitable encore was Helpless Heart and, of course, The Homes Of Donegal. Even with the flu, the man has a voice that, as Sean Keane once said, I would stand in line in the snow for.
On Wednesday we took the day off to visit with an old friend, so I can only report on the evening show in the ballroom of the Hospitality Inn (a typical city-style Holiday Inn with a few letters changed), Na Lua and Wolfstone. This was the place to be, and sold out. Na Lua didn't say much, although one member (coached, no doubt) pleased the locals by saying that he liked the Celtic and Rangers Connection. On a larger stage they were able to really rock out. Between the six members they must have had about 20 instruments, from traditional pipes and percussive things to saxophones and electric bass. One instrument in particular, with a name I did not catch, looked like a large tambourine on a five foot stick and was played by shaking, twirling, and banging it against the floor. It obviously required a lot of stamina, and certainly created for much foot stomping and cheering. They blew the Wolfstone audience away, and were one of the few opening acts to be allowed to take an encore. Wolfstone was billed as an "unplugged (sort of)" tour, with the emphasis on the "sort of". The band, Ivan Drever (guitar, bouzouki, vocals), Duncan Chisholm (wicked fiddler), Stuart (guitars, vocals) and Struan (keyboard) Eaglesham, Wayne MacKenzie (bass), Mop Youngson (drums) and recently added Steve Saint (bagpipes) rolled out the crowd-pleasers from Year Of The Dog, Unleashed, and The Chase. Having seen Wolfstone away (in Boston) it was fun for us to see them at home with their singing, moshing, jubilant fans. About two thirds of the way in they introduced special guest Allan Taylor, whose recordings we had been hunting out that very day. He did two songs with the band, one of his own and one of theirs.
Thursday morning's ceilidh was Llan de Cubel, a five man Spanish band from Asturia (that's close to Galicia). Like Na Lua, the band had little English so there were few titles or background tidbits offered. Llan de Cubel are more traditional and acoustic than Na Lua (though oddly enough the reverse is true for the recordings we bought). Llan de Cubel are Jose Manuel Cano (guitar), Elias Garcia (bouzouki, guitar), Marcos Llope (flutes, lead voice), Guzman Marques (fiddle, mandolin), Fonsu Mielgo (bagpipes, percussion). They were very energetic and personable, and raised a good audience response. There were quite a few songs (mainly one lead, and occasional harmonies) as well as tunes, and in the latter the connection to Irish and Scottish music was very clear. The BBC event was hosted by Mary Ann Kennedy, and was a taping of her show The Celtic Connection. Guests were Capercaillie, Khartoum Heroes, Simon Thoumire Trio, and Bongshang. Capercaillie's Donald Shaw explained that while the new album is somewhat of a departure for the group, the concert sets include good deal of older material and arrangements. The band was involved in the movie Rob Roy, due out in the summer, and some of them appear in a ceilidh scene. They gave us The Salvation Set, a song in Gaelic, Kenny MacDonald's Jigs, and One More Chance. Scottish band Khartoum Heroes is an amalgam of the Skoubie Dubh Orchestra and Miracle Head. Apparently they ran into problems with Hanna Barbera of Scooby Doo cartoon fame when planning a US tour, and hence the name change. We heard Interference, Colossal Angels, Lonely Little Man, and Purple Om. The band is a fun-loving bunch of clowns and were very funny interviewees (much teasing of Ms. Kennedy). They said that the albums are more acoustic and less frantic than the live performances. Simon Thoumire appeared with Kevin MacKenzie. Simon talked about the history of the concertina, and about the differences between playing solo, duo, trio, and in the big band Someotherland. The duo did many of the same tunes from the show on Saturday, including Aly Bain's Reel, Left Side Jig/Right Side Jig, Day After Night, and Fisher's Hornpipe/Mark II/Easy Club Reel. Bongshang is from Shetland, and is noted (as one would expect) for their prize winning fiddler, who plays a red instrument (we dubbed it the tandoori fiddle). Members are Bryan Peterson (bass), Christopher Anderson (drums), Neil Preshaw (guitar), Leonard Scollay (fiddle), and J.J. Jamieson ( banjo). They used to play village dances, and now play what they characterized as punk trad folk rock. Spokesman Scollay said that Shetlanders of all ages were very receptive to their new sound, and they are working on a new album to follow up Crude. Tunes included Scotland (Bill Monroe tunes), Frosty Morning, Wedding Row (from Shetland), and something that looks in my scribble like It's Not Chicken, It's When It Happens (?).
The evening show, in the Strathclyde Suite (with chairs and tables), was Bongshang and Khartoum Heroes. We gave the latter a pass, and stayed only for Bongshang. Though they started slow (to a small audience), they warmed up as the night went on. They had just arrived from Shetland the day before, and were suffering from culture shock ("we had forgotten what it was like down here"). We heard some of the same material from the morning show and much more besides, in many different styles, including a version of Tamlin derived from Phill Cunningham's Ceilidh Funk, Dig A Hole (Darling Corey) =85 la Bo Diddley with ferocious breaks, and Music For A Found Harmonium on banjo. Apart from the fine fiddling, some of the singing was also very good, especially from J.J. Jamieson. Eerie note of the night: One lone dancer appeared in the "mosh pit". He was tall and rangy, punk blond haircut, in full kilt regalia from the knees up, and combat boots. In the dark all you could see was the silhouette, and the flailing limbs -- very surreal .
The BBC Friday show was a taping of Archie Fisher's show, Travelling Folk. The first guests were Bachue Cafe (Corrina Heweat, small harp, Jim Sutherland, percussion, David Milligan, keyboard, and Ken Fraser, fiddle), a new band, just put together for Celtic Connections. Their music was generally soft, romantic, and a bit new-agey. Andy M. Stewart and Gerry O'Beirne (ukelele, guitar) had just come from the Irish Folk Festival in Germany. Andy sounded particularly good in the small room, reminding me how much I had enjoyed Silly Wizard in its day. He did My Heart It Belongs To She [or whatever the proper title is], The Humours Of Whiskey, and a few other numbers. Joannie Madden and Siobhan Egan of Cherish the Ladies (accompanied by Gerry O'Beirne) presented some good solid jigs and reels. Liam O'Flynn was very chatty, taking about his transition from Planxty to The Brendan Voyage. He performed three or four pieces, including The Green Linnet/Kathy Got A Clinking Coming From The Fair, Pat Ward's Jig/The Dusty Miller/Ask My Father/The Connaught Heifer, and Bonnie Ann/The Braes Of Busby. The last guests were Shooglenifty, an Edinburgh band evolved from other groups, consisting of Garry Finlayson (banjo), Angus Grant (fiddle), Malcolm Crosbie (guitar), Iain MacLeod (mandolin), Conrad Ivitsky (bouzouki), and James Mackintosh (percussion). This was a stripped down version (four members only) with a lively set of tunes and songs played by seasoned musicians.
Friday night was the concert around which we had planned the trip: Moving Hearts (one show in Glasgow and one in London). The opening band was Scotland's Iron Horse: Annie Grace (whistles, bagpipes, small pipes, vocals), Stevie Lawrence (bouzouki, guitars, percussion, bass, mandocello), Gavin Marwick (fiddle, mandolin), Lynn Morrison (keyboards, fiddle, viola, vocals), and Rod Paul (cittern, mandolin, banjo, guitar). They were suitably loud and energizing, doing their own and traditional material, including Portuguese Train, The Poachers (which featured some interesting overlays of the two female voices), Inheritance, and some Gaelic songs. After the break there was a buzz of excitement. The lights dimmed and you could see people moving about on stage, then the lights came up and there was a roar from the crowd (I know this sounds trite, but that's the way it was). Moving Hearts was on, with a drum kit the size of a small jungle gym, and uilleann pipers/low whistlers Davy Spillane and Declan Masterson side by side, one right-handed and the other left (especially symmetrical). The rest of the lineup were Eoghan O'Neill (bass and emcee), Keith Donald (sax), Matt Kelleghan (drums), James Delaney (keyboards), Greg Boland, Jimmy Smith, and Anto Drennan (guitars), and Noel Eccles (percussion). They started hot and just got hotter, doing the whole of The Storm (not in album order) plus a few other things. Donal Lunny was referred to as being there in spirit in the moving Tribute To Peadar O'Donnell, which was, as the reporter in The Scotsman said the next day, "fit to make you cry". People were indeed in tears, and in face-splitting "I can't believe I'm here" grins, and dancing in the aisles. Standing ovations and two encores, ending with The Lark and a reprise, and it was all over.
Saturday was our last day, and it featured "The Piping Concert" . Hosted by radio personality Iain Anderson, it started with a very elegant Kathryn Tickell (Northumbrian pipes) in a rare solo performance. She played tunes she said she had put aside for years, but you certainly wouldn't know it. Fred Morrison (Hebridean style bagpiper) showed why he has won mumerous awards in European piping contest. Liam O'Flynn (uilleann pipes) was as brilliant as ever, and included his favourite showpiece The Gold Ring. After the break we were given a lecture by scholar James Purser in preparation for the unveiling and first-time playing of Pictish triple pipes reconstructed from 10th century pictorial sources. They were made by and played by Hamish Moore, accompanied by Patsy Seddon on clarsach, and a percussionist. The pipes had no bag, and involved a very difficult form of circular breathing. The sound was primitive and somewhat like a soft bombarde with a buzz. Next up was Gordon Duncan, an astounding young highland piper who did his whole set of traditional and not so traditional tunes as one long fierce continuous piece, no break. Appropriately, the finale was left to the Scottish Power Pipe Band, under the direction of Pipe Major Roderick J. MacLeod and Leading Drummer John Scullion. They did a long set (standing in place), leaving the stage at one point for a twenty minutes showcase of the drum section, a stirring exercise in synchronicity and what you can legally do with drumsticks.
What did we miss, either in the next week, or competing against the shows we attended? Only Alan Stivell, The Dubliners, Cherish the Ladies, the Humpff Family, Tom Paxton, Talitha MacKenzie, The Poozies, the French Alligators, Tinderbox, The Pearlfishers, Somotherland, Melanie O'Reilly, Rock, Salt and Nails, Deanta, The Brian Finnegan Trio, Dervish, Tannas, Altan, John Martyn, Big Vern 'n' the Shootahs, an all-day Cajun festival, D