Opinion: Angus MacPhail celebrates Celtic Connections


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January is the month for music in Glasgow and with Celtic Connections officially kicking off today, Thursday January 19, and getting fully underway tomorrow, the city is readying itself for an extravaganza of Celtic and roots-based music from Scotland and around the world.
This weekend there are some particular West Coast highlights. Mànran and Blazin’ Fiddles join forces on Friday to bring the Barrowland Ballroom alive and, on Saturday, Shooglenifty take the stage of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall’s main auditorium in what will be an emotional night as they pay tribute to their late colleague, friend and founder member, Angus Grant Junior.
On Sunday night this venue also hosts the 20th anniversary of Phil Cunningham’s Highlands and Islands Suite, an orchestral collaboration with some of the country’s top traditional musicians. Also on Sunday night, and in the Strathclyde Suite of the same building, is the Mary Ann Kennedy-directed concert, Tiree Song Book. I hope to be in the audience for this one, and apologies in advance to anyone sitting near by, because I may be a bit over excited and singing along loudly.
Celtic Connections is the biggest festival of its kind in the world and it has been a great focal point and source of energy for traditional music.
Another Glasgow institution that has had a similar positive effect on our music is the Park Bar. Last Sunday saw the release of an album celebrating 50 years of music in this famous Highland watering hole.
The Park Bar has given a platform to hundreds of Highland bands, singers and musicians and been a consistent supporter of music since licensing laws in Scotland first allowed live music to be played back in 1966. Under the management of the famous and highly respected Terry Ferguson, the Park Bar led the way in giving ceilidh music a platform in pubs.
There are very few Highland and traditional musicians who have not had a helping hand in their career by getting the opportunity to take the stage in the Park. Encouraged by the then manager Iain MacLeod (Sgadan), Andrew and myself performed there before we had even thought of a name for our band. The current boss, Nina Steele did the same for Martin and Daniel Gillespie of Skerryvore, and long before that Campbell Brown of Gunna Sound and countless other young performers received a similar boost.
The CD is a fine representation of the entertainment that has featured in the venue over its musical lifetime. It features two tracks from the legendary Donald McRae, who is undoubtedly the artist most strongly associated with the Park, having performed there for the entire 50 years celebrated by the album.
Donald is one of the country’s top Gaelic singers and gave a foundation of song accompaniment to countless accordion players, myself included. The 2/4 Marches from Willie Cameron, the opening set from Trail West, and Robert Robertson’s stunning delivery of Gruagach Òg an Fhuilt Bhàn were all stand-out tracks.
When you walk into the Park, you instantly feel at home. Nina, her sister Winnie, the staff and the customers are like a family to people from the Highlands and Islands in Glasgow.
That feeling of ‘Celtic connection’ is evoked beautifully throughout this entire CD.