My Life as a Boozy Oaf

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Celtic Connections 2005

It is once again January (at least while I am writing this) and so that means that Glasgow is playing host to three weeks of the best Folk Music available. Everything from traditional ballads to mad whacked out techno fusion is represented and it is all fun.

The first band to catch my eye this year was Blazin' Fiddles, A high paced dance band consisting of five fiddles, a piano and a guitar. They had decided to do something special this year so they added a double base, 'cello, drums, another guitar, a four piece brass section and three individually famous singists. These were Justin Curry of Del Amitri fame, Calum McDonald of Mull Historical Society fame and Eddie Reader of... well Eddie Reader and my doctor's surgery fame.

Each singer did their own songs with the full backing of the band and, barring a few nerves, all went very well. The songs were many and varied, the orchestration suited them well and much fun was had. While this was a one-off it was filmed for BBC Four so, if you can, I would recommend keeping an eye out for it.

Next up on my list was a regular feature of all my diddly diddly activities. Shooglenifty. A fusion of folk, dance and psychedelia you cannot fail to find yourself bouncing to what is quite possibly the best dance band in Scottish Folk today. As their latest live album shows they travel all over the world with sections recorded in Mexico and Indiana as well as closer to home. If you like to dance to a fiddle you could do much worse than check them out. Seeing their badly chosen, overly excitable, support would be one such worse choice. Being new to Scotland, yet playing the bagpipes, I think nerves got to them. They made a number of confused announcements, faffed about between tunes and generally never got the audience onside. Hopefully the experience won't put them off the idea entirely.

Much better was our third band, Waterson Carthy. Not technically a Celtic act, being from the North of England, they none-the-less do a very good line in sea shanties, country songs and ditties about eating ducks. They are a family act, Mother, Father, Daughter and son-in-law, and all have their own careers outside the family. But they gel together beautifully, manage to avoid the usual family spats (at least on stage) and all have great voices. Norma Waterson only plays the not very folky triangle though. They played all night, with no support, and I would go back in an instant.

My final band of the festival was Deaf Shepherd. Not to be confused with the Eighties rock band obviously. They are another dance band, this time with two fiddles, a set of pipes and a liking for Robert Burns. They played in a converted church crypt to a full house and were good enough to see me buying thirty pounds worth of CDs at the end. Bouncy, dancy and all round fun.

While that was my last band of the festival it was not the last thing I did. That was a workshop on the small pipes. Small pipes are the wee ones you see someone playing in a pub with a bellows. They come in three types, Scottish, Irish and Northumbrian. My workshop was on the Northumbrian pipes and, after four hours of puffing away pumping the bellows and with my fingers so stiff I could barely move them, I could just about play the tune we had been taught. Which I felt was a major achievement, having no known musical skill as I do. In fact I enjoyed myself so much I want to get myself a set of small pipes, preferably Scottish for patriotic reasons, to learn on. All I need now is the money and the patience to learn.

Next Time: The Time Traveller's Aunt Hilda

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