Celtic Connections 2019 – a recap!

Well, 2019 has been flying by already. I’ve just emerged from the most amazing Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow. I’ve just counted up 18 performances at the festival, including gigs in the Barrowlands, Queen Margaret Union, The Strathclyde Suite, The National Piping Centre, The Drygate and the Art School!

I hit the ground running the first week of the festival, launching Claire Hastings’ new album ‘Those Who Roam’ in the Strathclyde Suite on 18th, leading a big band of 40+ musicians from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Traditional Music department on 19th and performing in the National Piping Centre with fiddle player Ryan Young on 20th. The students did an amazing job; we worked for 8 days to create a whole new show at the beginning of January, and I loved working with them to create the arrangements and plan the show. They seemed to enjoy it too, and even gave me these amazing gifts just before the show…

I had a trip to Bar Bloc in Glasgow to continue my residency as part of The Blas Collective on the following Monday night, and nipped down to London and back for another gig with Ryan Young before my second weekend of the festival. On 25th, I performed for my first time in the Barrowlands, with Kinnaris Quintet and we had an absolute blast – we also joined Shooglenifty for the end of their amazing set. What a night!!

The following day, I had a mammoth 6 gigs, starting at the National Whisky Festival with Loch Ness Radio and Jenn & Laura-Beth, before performing a great show in the National Piping Centre with Laura-Beth, a Festival Club slot with Ryan Young and finally the last act at the Late Night Sessions with Kinnaris pals Laura-Beth, Fiona MacAskill and Aileen Reid Gobbi.

For the last few years at the festival, I have transcribed the charts for Transatlantic Sessions. Jerry Douglas sends me a folder of MP3s from the guest singers, and I make standard chord charts and Nashville charts for the players. It means they have a head start, saving them the time they would spend writing out the charts themselves. It’s great to hear the music they consider for the show; some of the ideas don’t make it to the stage. So many really fantastic songs and performers. This year I wrote out 42 pages of charts for them.

After another few rehearsals, I was back to performing on the following Tuesday, appearing on BBC Radio Scotland’s Afternoon Show with Janice Forsyth. Ross Ainslie, Ali Hutton and I played a few tunes and had a chat about the upcoming Symbiosis show at the QMU the following weekend. After that, I nipped down to Ellisland Farm near Dumfries with Claire Hastings to perform a really special Big Burns Supper gig a few steps from the place Robert Burns wrote Auld Lang Syne. Back in Glasgow the following day, Claire and I hooked up with the rest of the band to perform a last-minute show in the Drygate.

With the finish line in sight, I approached the last weekend of Celtic performing a set a the Late Night Sessions with Ryan Young. On 1st Feb I played an amazing show in the QMU with Ross Ainslie & Ali Hutton’s Big Band, Symbiosis. The big band were joined by a beautiful string section, Gus Sicard on snare drum, as well as guest vocal performances from Blue Rose Code and Fiona Hunter. I got dressed up as a skeleton, sand Freedom Come All Ye and bust my right hand open part way through the gig resulting in a slightly blood-spattered guitar and some rock and roll gaffa taping. Just a standard night hanging out with Ross and Ali!!

On Saturday, I had a bit of time to relax, and I headed to the final night of the Late Night Sessions to celebrate all Laura-Beth Salter’s hard work programming the late night Drygate shows over the festival. It was my first chance to catch up with a lot of people, and felt quite strange to be out and about not working, but it was lovely to hang out without lugging all my pedals and guitar paraphernalia around with me!

Some of the Glasgow session playing pals have a tradition on the final Sunday of Celtic Connections (Sunday Funday), where we head out in the afternoon and play hours of tunes until the final Festival Club night, then we all descend on the stage for the final yeehaa. I started off at 4pm with some tunes in Crossing the Rubicon, along with my pal Adam Sutherland. We were quickly joined by a whole host of great players and lovely friends, and I continued the tunes in Munro’s Bar before running to the Festival Club to perform in a scratch band with Ross Couper, Mohsen Amini, Somhairle MacDonald and Owen Sinclair. Never a dull moment!

Here are a few pics from the stage invasion on the last night. The whole festival team have been utterly amazing – here are some of them having a well deserved party to celebrate another brilliant festival.

What a month! Now, what’s next…? Glasgow Fiddle Workshop, The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, a few gigs with Ryan Young, The Blas Collective, rehearsals with Ross & Ali and The Shee and probably a few more antics take me through February…