Robert in Lockdown – 11.2.21

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Over the past month, I am sure a great many of you watched BBC Alba’s Cuirm aig Celtic series, which filmed some of this year’s virtual Celtic Connections.

I was scrolling through social media last week and was absolutely stopped in my tracks by Darren MacLean’s contribution to this programme. Darren is a good pal of mine and I have always enjoyed his singing, but his rendition of Màiri Nighean Alasdair, accompanied by the Scottish Ensemble, in the stunning surround and acoustic of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, was something particularly special. I would genuinely encourage you to go and find the whole programme on iPlayer and take a quiet moment to listen. It also features incredible performances from Karen Matheson and Mischa MacPherson.

I have been focusing my columns for the last month on my own Celtic Connections memories in order to reminisce about the days of live gigs. This video inspired two such memories.
First, was a show at the Royal Concert Hall a couple of years ago in which about a dozen of us sang Gaelic songs accompanied by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

Nothing can quite replicate the unique emotion added to songs by a sympathetic orchestral arrangement. This is the case in Darren’s video and it was also very much the case that night.

For the special occasion, BeesNess Media had given each singer an allowance of £100 to buy an outfit. The instruction was to return any money we hadn’t spent. I am not suggesting I am frugal but I managed to come back with a pair of tartan trousers, a shirt, and a waistcoat for £99.99! I returned the penny and asked the director to invoice me for it.

Meanwhile, as I recall, Griogair Labhruidh (Gaelic singer and rapper extraordinaire), blew the whole £100 on a cracking tweed bunnet which he wore onstage that night with exactly the clothes he had arrived in for rehearsal!

My other memory that was inspired by last week’s Celtic Connections video was of Darren MacLean himself.

I had not long moved down to Glasgow when I was invited to sing at the Glasgow Skye Annual Gathering. This is, of course, a big and historic event so I was nervously excited.
Darren (a Dunvegan man and a few years older and, possibly, wiser than me) gave me some sage advice. ‘Robert,’ he said. ‘You have two things onstage: your voice and your patter. With your patter, you must make them laugh; and with your voice, you must make them cry.’

I told him I would bear his advice in mind. While I was onstage at the concert, the back door of the hall opened and in walked none other than Darren MacLean!
I alerted the audience to his late-coming, told them of the advice he had recently given me, and said: ‘The thing about Darren is it’s usually his voice that makes you laugh and his patter that makes you cry!’

Just as well we’re pals!