When a fire alarm threatened to derail one of Celtic Connections’ biggest celebrations before festivities had even kicked off, the members of Shooglenifty had an inkling what might have been behind the disturbance – the spirit of their mischievous fiddler Angus Grant wafting a fragrant cigarette around from beyond the grave.
Shooglenifty: A Night For Angus ****
Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow
For this mammoth concert, involving 62 of Grant’s musical buddies from over the years playing across a whopping four hours, truly felt inhabited by this handsome devil, a charismatic, shamanic figure who made friends wherever he roamed – and judging by the running joke about his diverse postal addresses in the pubs and hotels of Scotland and beyond, he got around plenty – and surely embodies the spirit of Celtic Connections as well as any musician who has made this festival their winter home.
Shooglenifty opened the show in rare sedentary mode with the gorgeous lament The Wizard, specially written in honour of Grant by the brilliant fiddler Adam Sutherland, the first of many musicians in the roll call to have been touched by Grant’s infectious enthusiasm for all kinds of fiddle tunes and beyond – indeed, next on the bill was a quirky string band version of Talking Heads’ This Must Be The Place featuring his sister Fiona and niece Eva, followed by a succession of players, including his father Angus Grant Sr, who frequented the numerous sessions, from Lochaber to Newington, at which Grant was a focal presence.
Brass, bodhran and banjo were stirred into the sound but it was the sheer, cathartic power of A Banda das Crechas, from Grant’s beloved bolthole of Galicia, which hotwired proceedings with their musical cry from the gut.
The second half developed into a heady hypnotic cross-cultural ceilidh, with Shooglenifty presiding in collaboration with guest musicians from Rajasthani group Dhun Dhura, fiddler/composer Duncan Chisholm, members of Capercaillie and DJ Dolphin Boy among others contributing to an immersive suite with almost psychedelic undertones at points (Shooglenifty do style themselves as “acid croft” after all), which culminated in an epic massed encore of Grant’s own 250 to Vigo and a medley of his favourite Queen songs sung in the style of a Gaelic psalm.
The only thing missing from this most sociable, inclusive party was the guest of honour, yet his spirit seeped through every second of the proceedings.