Glasgow Gallivanting: January 2017

Celtic Connections

Celtic Connections logoIf you live in Glasgow, you have about two weeks to get over the hedonism of Christmas and New Year when – ooft! – it’s Celtic Connections! This bills itself as “the largest annual winter music festival of its kind and the UK’s premier celebration of Celtic music” and we throw ourselves into it with enthusiasm, usually attending half a dozen or so gigs over the 19 days.

This year, in six concerts we heard musicians from Scotland, England, Ireland and America (and that’s quite a conservative selection) in five different venues ranging from the formal concert hall, via the Old Fruitmarket, to the iconic Barrowland Ballroom. Highlights? So hard to choose but, if pushed, I’d go for Phil Cunningham’s Highlands and Islands Suite. Phil, his accordion, and a front-row of other professional musicians were supported by students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – its Traditional Musicians, Chorale and Symphony Orchestra. There must have been 150 people on the stage and the music soared. When I said to John at the interval that I had been moved almost to tears I half expected a scornful look, but he agreed. It wasn’t only the evocatively Scottish music, there was also something so heart-warming about a stage full of young people working hard to perfect their art – having chosen to do so in our city.

Gluttony

Celtic Connections is pretty hard on the waistline – all those pre-theatre meals – and it’s not helpful that Burns Night falls slap bang in the middle. This year, we ate our haggis, neeps and tatties with friends in the Curlers, a local pub-restaurant. We have also been tempted by two large boxes of Chinese rose pastries, a new year gift from one of John’s Chinese colleagues. Definitely yummy – ooh, I need to walk all this off, but…

Queen Elizabeth Forest Park

…oh dear, we haven’t had much in the way of country walks: only one that I can remember, in Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. This time last year, we spotted red squirrels from the wildlife hide. This time they were not to be seen, though there were plenty of birds about.

Exhibitions

We managed a couple of exhibitions in January. One Glasgow museum, the Burrell Collection, has recently closed for refurbishment and in the meantime some of its paintings are on show at another, Kelvingrove. The current exhibition is of work by Joseph Crawhall (1861-1913), one of a group of radical painters known as The Glasgow Boys. Girl on a bicycle has long been one of my favourites – just look at the little dachshund excitedly running alongside – but there was plenty more to see, and will be until 1st July if you are in the area.

We also saw an exhibition in the Lighthouse called A Life in Letterpress. Typographic artist Alan Kitching began his working life apprenticed to a printer, before becoming a technician at Watford College, then a teacher, designer and artist. In an age of computer design, he continues to create using wood and metal letterforms. The results are stunning! On till 5th March.

The last bit

New Year, new blogging resolution – to have a round-up post like this at the end of every month. How long will it continue? My last new series (People Make Glasgow) lasted for approximately (ahem, exactly) one post, and I’m already almost a week late with this one, so we’ll see.

I also wondered what would happen if I had nothing to round up, either because I’d written about it already or (and it does happen) I had done nothing worth blogging about. Step forward The last bit of random stuff and padding. This month – Scotland reacts to Trump, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Scotland is not impressed.

  • The sublime – Karine Polwart at Celtic Connections with I burn but I am not consumed, a poetic mixture of spoken word and song considering Donald’s Scottish roots. Favourite line: You who see nothing but your own face in the sheen of the Hudson River. (Sorry, I couldn’t get this BBC video to embed).
  • The ridiculous – Just 19 Incredibly Scottish Signs Telling Donald Trump He’s A Bawbag (Buzzfeed). Not for the easily offended. Translations available on request. (As a start, baw = ball. I’m sure you can work out the rest.)

So that was January in Glasgow. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

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Looking back on Leonard

Leonard Cohen in Dublin 2013
Leonard Cohen in Dublin 2013

I can’t definitely say that I’d never heard of Leonard Cohen until 1980. I’ve seen YouTube clips of him on TV series that I know were required family viewing in the 1960s, but if he ever made an impression I quickly forgot him. However, when a new boyfriend introduced me to Songs of Leonard Cohen and Songs of love and hate I was hooked. Thirty six years later, I can’t say John (for it was he) and I have embraced all of each other’s musical tastes. I have never reconciled myself to Captain Beefheart, and he can’t understand why I find Abba so entrancing, but we share a good solid core and Leonard was the first. And the best.

Neither of us had ever seen him perform, so you can imagine our joy when he started touring again in 2008 – and then our sorrow when we realised that his only UK dates were when we were on holiday in the US. Not to worry – he would be performing in Dublin before we left. I still class that weekend as one of the most special in my life.

My weekend in Dublin with Leonard Cohen (I wish)

While we were away, we got an excited message from a friend, another Cohen fan. Good news! New dates! Leonard was coming to Glasgow in November. We immediately ordered tickets. I remember the concert was the day after the US election in which Obama got in for the first time. There was a sense of elation from both band and audience at the line Democracy is coming to the USA. That’s quite poignant to look back on too.

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Leonard Cohen and band in Berlin 2012

In 2012, we travelled to Berlin where the stand-out line in terms of audience participation was First we take Manhattan – then we take Berlin. This left me with the ambition, sadly unfulfilled, to belt out the same line in Manhattan some day.

Berlin: Leonard Cohen at the Waldbühne 05/09/12

However, we did get one more chance at a Cohen concert towards the end of his touring days when we travelled to Dublin again in 2013.

Dublin Diary: Day 1

Leonard was still in such good shape then. He skipped and danced, bent down on his knees – and got back up again without a struggle! When his former lover and muse, Marianne Ihlen, was dying earlier this year it worried me that he told her that he wouldn’t be far behind her, then I heard that he had said in an interview that he was ready to die. He recanted this in his final interview at the launch of his last album just a few weeks ago, but he looked terribly frail and, from comments made by his son Adam, was in a lot of pain and not very mobile. I was shocked at the decline in just three years, but I suppose that’s old age and we all have to face it.

I’ll leave you, not with my favourite Leonard Cohen song which would be far too hard, but with this little gem that I discovered a few years ago via the wonderful site, Cohencentric: I love Leonard Cohen.

Leonard – you might, or might not, have been ready to die, but we certainly weren’t ready to lose you. So long, and thanks for all the memories.

Celtic Connections 2014

Not strictly travel, but we had such a great time at Celtic Connections this year that I felt I had to document it. We were there for the opening night concert on 16th January, the very last concert (Transatlantic Sessions) on 2nd February and another five in between, of which John got good pictures of two.

Olive Grove Records Showcase

This gig was at Oran Mor, our local venue – a converted church. It has to win the prize as best value for money – a tenner for six bands over five hours. Quite sore on the old feet though. I’m particularly interested in the State Broadcasters because I used to work with two of the members, Graeme and Pete, and it’s lovely to see them up on stage.

Imelda May

This was one of three gigs we went to in the Old Fruitmarket – which is exactly what the name suggests, a former market in which you can still read the names of the old stallholders beneath the balcony. We’ve now seen Imelda three times and she never disappoints – vibrant and full of energy.

The other gigs not mentioned were Capercaillie’s 30th anniversary concert, Julie Fowlis, and Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott. There’s a lovely sense of community between the artists, many of whom appear on other people’s stages, sometimes unbilled. For example, we saw Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis four times – once at her own gig, she was part of the ensembles at the opening concert and Transatlantic Sessions, and she also appeared as a guest with Capercaillie. One busy lady!

So that’s it over for another year. Not only are we now exhausted, but our waistlines have expanded because of all the pre-theatres that were “necessary”. It’s definitely time for a quiet life and a bit of recovery.

Dublin Diary: Day 1

North Wall Quay, Dublin
North Wall Quay, Dublin

Not your usual tourist view of Dublin maybe, but on our latest visit we were staying at the Gibson Hotel on North Wall Quay. There were advantages and disadvantages to this. It’s a little far out of town – the hotel website claims a ten minute walk to the city centre, but I would say more like half an hour depending on where you want to go. There is, however, a very efficient tram service that stops right outside the door – and you need to get away. There is nothing else round about other than a cinema and the O2 – money for redeveloping the area has obviously run out. On the other hand, the advantages are that the hotel is modern and comfortable and, as I said, just across from the O2, which is why we chose it. We were going to a concert there on our first evening and were back in the hotel within about 10 minutes of the band leaving the stage. I would stay again under the same circumstances but, if in Dublin purely for sightseeing, would prefer somewhere more central.

Now who could take us all the way to Dublin for a concert? Leonard Cohen of course. This was our fourth time seeing him since he began to tour again in 2008 – we saw him in Dublin and Glasgow that year, and in Berlin last year. The first one was the best because we didn’t know what to expect, but he still charms us every time. Almost 79 now – long may he keep going!

Berlin: Leonard Cohen at the Waldbühne 05/09/12

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So – the triumphant culmination of our holiday! Not that we didn’t love Berlin in its own right, but this is what it was really all about: the Leonard Cohen concert. If Leonard won’t come to us, then we just have to go to him – though you never know, he might appear yet. In 2008, we saw him in Dublin, then a few months later he came to Glasgow’s Armadillo. A girl can live in hope.

The venue, shown above, was the Waldbühne. This outdoor amphitheatre was originally built as part of the 1936 Olympics, and it’s enormous, seating about 22000. You go in at the top and look down 30m – fortunately we were in the first tier and quite central so got a really good view. The weather was also kind to us – it had been damp in the morning but stayed dry in the evening and it wasn’t too chilly, though the benches were rather hard and cold to sit on. Still, what’s a little discomfort when watching your musical hero?

Leonard, of course, was amazing. It’s hard to believe he’s almost 78 as he runs, or even skips, on and off the stage, and provides us with three and a half hours of entertainment. Even then, had it not been for the 11pm curfew, I’m sure he would have gone on longer – I’ve seen the set-lists for other concerts and we definitely missed a few songs.

Highlights? Well, the old songs always get a good reception. I follow the blog written by guitar technician Leif Bodnarchuk and, according to his tour diary for the Berlin concert, we became the leaders in the sing-along to So long Marianne stakes. One of the new songs, Going home, also got a rousing reception, perhaps because he name checks himself in it “I love to speak with Leonard” – well, I’m sure we’d all love to speak with Leonard, but can’t agree with his estimation of himself as “a lazy bastard living in a suit”. Leif thinks he was taken aback by the extended applause for a new song, so perhaps that was uniquely Berlin too. But the best thing of all, of course, is First we take Manhattan, then we take BERLIN! The audience participation would have taken the roof off, if there had been one. (Note to self: try to see Leonard in Manhattan and find out how it compares.)

This is a travel blog, not a music blog, so I should point out the general ease of getting to and from the concert. I thought it would take hours to climb the stairs and get back to the S-Bahn because of the throngs of people, but within 30 minutes of the concert ending we were on a train. Tired but happy.

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Page three of John’s Berlin Photo Journal has all the photos he took during the concert and I’ve pinned various reviews, pictures and videos to my Leonard Cohen Pinterest board. As well as Leif’s blog linked to above, there’s a photoblog from the tour Notes from the Road by JJ Carenza III. DrHGuy aka 1heckofaguy aka Allan Showalter ALWAYS knows where to find the best videos, and I’ve discovered Arelene Dick, another legendary Cohen fan, has created Pinterest boards for every concert.

My weekend in Dublin with Leonard Cohen (I wish)

Warning: there’s a bit about Dublin in this post, but a lot about Leonard Cohen. If you’re not a fan, you might want to leave now before you start looking at me in a very pitying manner indeed!

Leonard Cohen will be 77 on September 21st which has made me think a lot about the weekend we went to see him play in Dublin in June 2008. Not that I ever really forget it, it was one of the most magical weekends of my life. When I heard he was touring again after 15 years, I was devastated to find that his only Scottish date was in Edinburgh while we were on holiday. Not to worry – I got tickets for Friday, 13th June, the first of three dates in Dublin, so we planned a weekend around that. The concert was in the grounds of the old Kilmainham Hospital, formerly a retirement home for veteran soldiers and now the Irish Museum of Modern Art. The Hospital and our hotel were on two corners of a crossroads, on the others were the historic Kilmainham Gaol and a pub with an Italian restaurant. How cleverly I planned this, but things got even better very quickly.

After we arrived on Friday afternoon, we thought we’d go over to the Hospital to wander round the grounds. As we walked past the concert site, the screens burst into life and there he was. So we had the added bonus of watching part of the sound check and walking through the gardens with Leonard’s voice floating over the trees.

Royal Hospital Kilmainham
Sculpture In Kilmainham Hospital gardens
Fountain in Kilmainham Hospital grounds

Needless to say, the concert that evening was brilliant and lasted nearly three hours – there are many younger performers who barely give you half that. I won’t bore you with any more details (and believe me, I could), because the review by Bock the Robber is one of the best I have ever read and I couldn’t compete. And this is, after all, a travel blog and not a music review!

On Saturday, we went into central Dublin. This was our third visit and it’s a city we really like, but this time my focus was elsewhere and I can’t remember exactly what we did. In the evening we ate in the Italian restaurant in the pub – occasionally, we could hear snippets of that evening’s concert and I wished I was there again. But that wasn’t the last we saw of Leonard, oh no, there was more to come.

Our flight home on Sunday was quite late so we had another full day and visited Kilmainham Gaol, the place where the leaders of the Easter Rising were executed. This was not a “proud to be British” moment by any means.

Exercise yard in Kilmainham Jail, site of Easter Rising executions
Sculpture commemorating leaders of the Easter Rising

After lunch, we went back over to the Hospital to tour the art gallery. I said to John that we probably wouldn’t be lucky enough to coincide with the sound check this time, but when we were in the gallery we heard Leonard start to sing So long, Marianne and rushed out to watch and listen again – he stopped and started several times because he “got something wrong”. What a work ethic, what perfectionism. I hope I have that amount of stamina when I’m 73 (as he was then) , though I also hope I’m not still expending it on my job! This was a perfect end to a perfect weekend. Happy birthday, Leonard Cohen, and thanks for all the memories.

PS If any Leonard Cohen fan has wandered onto this blog and read this far, if you haven’t come across Heck of a Guy*, aka DrHGuy*, then hurry along to his sites because I can’t believe anyone knows more about Leonard, except possibly Leonard himself. He’s prepared this great birthday video tribute and has alerted me to other stuff such as “Hitler learns his Leonard Cohen tickets are fakes” on YouTube. (I thought his reaction was quite restrained under the circumstances, actually.)

PPS Leonard finally came to Glasgow in November 2008 and we saw him then too. He was just as good. Maybe he’ll tour his new album next year? If it happens, I’ll be there!

*PPPS 2016, these sites have now become Cohencentric.