Celtic Connections 2009: Auld Lang Syne

26 Jan 2009 in Argyll & the Islands, Festival, Highland, Music

Main Auditorium, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, 24 January 2009

Karine Polwart (Photo - David Angel)

BILLED AS “the ultimate singers’ gathering”, this was Celtic Connections’ unforgettable contribution to a worldwide weekend of festivities marking 250 years since the birth of Robert Burns. Rarely can so many of Scotland’s top performers have come together on one stage. What a treat. It wasn’t all song, it wasn’t all Burns, and there was plenty innovation along the way. The audience was in party mood, from the packed gallery seats down to the standing-room-only in the arena, ready to join in at every opportunity.

Phil Cunningham and Michael McGoldrick kicked off with a set of tunes that lit the flame and the evening blazed from that point. From Karen Matheson to Emily Smith, Dougie MacLean and Eddi Reader, every singer had a personal favourite, some weel-kent, others not so familiar.

The old friends were there: Ae Fond Kiss; Green Grow the Rashes O; The Banks and Braes of Bonnie Doune… James Grant gave us rock and roll – in the spirit of Burns, “the rock star of his day” – and it went down a storm. Brendan Powers and his harmonica came all the way from New Zealand and gave a stunning performance with the house band.

Karine Polwart, Michael Marra, Mairi Campbell with David Francis – the singers and the songs just kept coming. And the music kept flowing, from the fiddles and bodhrans and guitars of the likes of John McCusker, Martin O’Neill and Anna Massey. It was hard to keep up with all the big names, but their combined energy was infectious. Everyone clapped and foot-tapped and sang along. There was even an outburst of dancing at one point.

One face – eagerly anticipated – was missing. Odetta, after having to cancel her 2007 appearance at Celtic Connections, had been looking forward to joining the Burns celebrations this year, but sadly she died shortly before Christmas. Karine Polwart led singers and audience in a fine, gospel-style tribute. As Eddi Reader said: “God rest her soul, she’s here with us.” It was a moving moment. But even that sadness couldn’t douse the fire of this marvellous once-in-a-lifetime occasion. Rabbie would have loved it.

© Terry Williams, 2009