Celtic Connections review: Jimmie Macgregor at 90 Years Young, Oran Mor, Glasgow

There was nothing flippant about the title of this show. Singer, songwriter and broadcaster Jimmie Macgregor, who turns 90 on 10 March, remains a persuasive advert for the nourishing power of music with his ability to spin a yarn, deliver a punchline and hold an audience undiminished.

Jimmie Macgregor

Jimmie Macgregor at 90 Years Young, Oran Mor, Glasgow ***

There was an unabashed nostalgia to this celebration concert, with fond memories and cultural references readily evoked for the capacity crowd, who felt as much a part of proceedings as Macgregor’s invited musical guests.

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Sadly, Archie Fisher – fresh from celebrating his 80th birthday at Celtic Connections last weekend – was unwell and unable to join the party, but Rab Noakes kept a supportive but gentle hand on the tiller while the redoubtable Macgregor, a law unto himself, roamed freely around a wide and long career.

Singers Sheena Wellington and Alastair MacDonald, onstage throughout, occasionally got a word or a harmony in, with the latter leading on a spry version of Macgregor’s Pack Your Tools and Go, originally written for the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders’ Work-In. Joining the campfire pow-wow, fiddler Innes Watson and cellist Christine Hanson added subtle, satisfying texture to the simple arrangements, including a sprightly coda to Burns’ Duncan Gray, one of numerous songs to inspire a spontaneous singalong.

Macgregor remains a natural charmer, with sundry quips at his own and others’ expense and pithy humour at the heart of many of his songs, including a laugh-out-loud “effusive” Glasgow love song (“I really like you” went one of its wilder declarations), a comic meditation on the authenticity of the Stone of Destiny, My Way done his way and some gentle ribbing of the Scottish hospitality trade gleaned during his touring years.

Macgregor has been highlighting the work of other songwriters and keeping traditional tunes and vernacular in the firmament since his days of mass TV exposure with musical partner Robin Hall on the Tonight programme. From this bottomless well, he plucked folk club favourites such as Roddy McMillan’s Yuri Gagarin, Tramps and Hawkers and Michael Marra’s superlative satire, Hermless.

Noakes led on skiffle standard Freight Train and added sublime bluegrass harmonies to Turtle Dove, a haunting highlight in an otherwise gently jocular set which culminated with a rousing communal rendition of The Wild Rover and a sweet singalong to the evergreen Scottish lullaby Ally Bally Bee. Fiona Shepherd