There were poignant scenes of famous Glaswegian architecture, leisure facilities and craft hubs on offer in the digital introduction to the first evening of Celtic Connections 2021. We watched as a single piper strode up Buchannan Street, being joined one by one by other pipers whose number grew to about 8. They climbed the street to the Royal Concert Hall, into the entrance and into a performance. It was a moment of pure Scottish style for all involved both in front of and behind the camera.
After this splendid introduction, the Celtic Connections 21 Big Band immediately struck up a rendition of ‘Mackerel & Tatties’, an upbeat instrumental version of Michael McGoldrick’s traditional Irish song, before the festival’s Creative Director, Donald Shaw welcomed us with a message of sombre hope and of lifting of spirits for the beginning of 2021. The accompanying footage took us to venues both in the home base of Celtic Connections of Glasgow and further afield where the fires of music have not been dimmed. Indeed there was a great sense of happiness and anticipation from the musicians of just being able to get back to what they love.
The third performance by Karine Polwart was of a song by Robert Burns from a poem of his called ‘Come Away In’. In earnest Karine sang about the bard’s desires to shelter everyone and anyone from stranger to friend. The song opened up the show and the Scottish hearts to the warmth of connections.
There were performances in the main hall of the Royal Concert Hall, at the Glasgow Art Gallery, as well as other venues big and small. I noticed Eddi Reader providing backing vocals. In each performance, musicians had all kinds of instrument from violin, flute, pipes and there were often ones that though I could tell they were string for example the actual name and date of them was beyond me, very much like the music and vocals in Frenchand Gaelic.
From the Big Band of 21 members, down to ensembles of three or four, we were surrounded by unmissable variation from plucking music from the Far East joined with the traditional Celtic stream. Performers would take turns leading in vocals and solo’s on instruments as we were taken through styles and genres. Music of differing speed, topic, intention. All a celebration that covered sad tales or lively good ones to dance sing and revel to.
All in all it came to 17 performances. 17 acts that were familiar or strangely unusual. Performance 5 had the French group La Vent Du Nord who sang their own folk song in an upbeat tempo, ‘Aieu du Village. And then there was the beautiful flute-inspired ‘Farewell to Nova Scotia’ singing about Canada from far away. The Art Galley with its huge premises had Duncan Chisolm on violin playing solo but then backed by The Scottish ensemble playing a tune called ‘A Precious Place’ a fitting title that went with a beautiful spiritual song.
Then the act called Sona Jobarteh came with her wonderful multi instrumentalist music of love and hope, an African style that included the Kora instrument. The 17 acts endlessly streamed from one walk of life to another, selecting clothing to represent each ones cultures, Sona with the most colour and gold. Racy costumes with racy enlivening music. A good time for having a good time, some nice places that this time we had to use our imagination to be in. I am grateful for the wonderful imagination of all in this first session and I am very much looking forward to the next.