Celtic Connections review: The Chieftains - Ireland 1916

The Chieftains offered both commemorations and exuberance. Picture: Ross Gilmore/Redferns
The Chieftains offered both commemorations and exuberance. Picture: Ross Gilmore/Redferns
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There’s never a dull moment with the Chieftains.

Celtic Connections | The Chieftains: Ireland 1916 | Glasgow Royal Concert Hall | Rating ****

Ireland’s musical ambassadors for the past half-century, they were at Celtic Connections to mark the full century since the Easter Uprising of 1916, the concert preceded by the launch of Luath Press’s thought-provoking essay collection, Scotland And The Easter Rising.

Following an amiable opening set from Dubliners fiddler John Sheahan and singer-songwriter Declan O’Rourke, the Chieftains switched between commemorative sobriety – Alyth McCormack reading the emblematic Roisin Dubh over Paddy Moloney’s whistle – to exuberant mayhem involving an orchestra, choir, pipe band and, no joking, a walk-on part for Kris Kristofferson.

McCormack gave stirring delivery to The Foggy Dew, Karen Casey, too, in fine voice with The Mountains of ­Pomeroy, and even Eddi ­Reader came up with a family link to the Rising via a Moore’s Melody.

Solemnities aside, it was ­business as usual as Moloney’s uilleann pipes squalled against the orchestral blast in his exuberant Galician Overture and Santiago, recruiting a pipe band comprising notables from the Scottish folk-piping scene.

There was even a perky saxophone break from fiddler Tara Breen, while co-fiddler, Canadian John Polanski, raised the dust with his brother, Nathan, in some spectacularly off-the-wall step-dancing.

Then there was Kristofferson, who, having recorded with Moloney and company, ambled on, genial if faintly bemused, during a reel-­driven finale, to sing Me and Bobby McGhee, his mellow groan bolstered by McCormack’s harmonies.

What James Connolly might have made of it all I can’t possibly say, but they brought the house down.