Celtic Connections has a special place in the heart of many musicians. It is the festival whose namechecks sound most genuine. Collaboration and cross-pollenation (musically, please, Moose) are the names of the game, and both artists and audience come away invigorated – or at least they do after they have recovered from partying in Glasgow for weeks on end. That last point explains why I have only been the once. To do the whole festival, if you are not a resident of the Central Belt, would consume a chunk of your annual leave and, personally, I like to get value for money for my leave, measured in daylight hours. Further, my preferred form of festival accommodation is a gazebo over the back door of my Landrover. It needs no explanation why that doesn’t appeal during a Scottish January.
So, this is one occasion when I’m really quite pleased that a festival has had to go online. It’s ‘pay per view’ as it were, which is a positive, contributing to both artists and the future of the festival. I’ve signed up for the full ‘Festival Pass’ (a snip at £40) which will give me links to at least one gig per day for the best part of three weeks. What with the gigs being available online for a week after their ‘premiere’, you can even do what is normally impossible, by catching both gigs when the festival programme pitches your favourite artists against each other.
That programme is typical in offering evenings with unexpected pairings and contrasts, and plenty of international contributions. The welcoming gig tomorrow night (Friday 15th) matchmakes the straths of Invernesshire with le Quebec profond, as Duncan Chisholm plays off Le Vent du Nord, and that sets the scene. There is so much I could highlight, but let’s pick three: a song cycle spiralling out from Karine Polwart’s celebration of hospitality to the homeless and landless (Come Away In) will see Karine joined with Siobhan Miller, Eddi Reader, Findlay Napier and Rab Noakes – that’s one helluva cast; a chance to relive one of my most memorable gigs, with Scandi trio Dreamers Circus; and Rhiannon Giddens with Francisco Turrisi, with Kris Drever in support. Then of course there’s the Transatlantic Sessions, whose 2020 incarnation was the last live show I saw before lockdown. Looking at these enticements, this year I might just have made the effort to head north if it had been possible, though the forecast suggests I would have been renting something more substantial than my trusty Defender.
I have made my peace with this third lockdown and see the positives in not having to venture outside in Arctic conditions. I shall make the most of having the best seat in the house by an open fire, a most reasonably priced range of single malts available from my own personal bar, and not having to bother changing out of my tracky bottoms. And by the end of the festival, I’ll be three weeks closer to getting vaccinated and being able to go to the real thing.