Berklee VP for student affairs/Scotland fan Larry Bethune covers the TransAtlantic Seaway Music Collaboration’s first trip to Glasgow, with help from musician Hamish Napier.

TransAtlantic Seaway

DAY 5—SAT 29 JAN “Standing room only”

Hamish N.:

The BIG DAY has come, and Larry has everyone assembled in the Green Room for 11am for one final run-through of the show. Sound checks and lighting are all OK and there’s a little nervous tingle going around. 12:45 comes and the audience flocks in. We hadn’t really known what to expect as Celtic Connections is a very large festival with about 12 different locations. Besides it’s Saturday afternoon in a city that is ‘Football Daft’. But by the time the show opens, there isn’t a vacant seat in the house and quite a lot of standing room only.

Unbeknownst to the group there are some very important people in the room: the director of the massive Festival Interceltique de Lorient in France; Donald Shaw, the Director of Celtic Connections, Brian O’Donovan from Boston, whose “Celtic Sojourn” radio show has been running non-stop every week for the past 25 years, and, of course, John Wallace whose work at the RSAMD has just earned him the CBE (Commander of the British Empire), one of the most prestigious medals awarded by the Queen.

Once again the show is flawless, full of amazing energy and musicianship and received with rapturous applause. Five minutes after the show is over, Larry is deep in conversation with the director of the Lorient Festival and he comes back to the Green Room to announce that the whole collaboration has been booked for the 2011 Festival at the beginning of August.

For the Scottish contingent the show is now over and, after fond farewells, the group heads off in different directions. However there’s more to come for the Berklee group who have been invited to play with my quintet at the City Halls at 9pm and then go on to the “After Hours” Club to jam into the “wee small hours.” (We asked them whether they were not exhausted, but what the Hell, they can sleep on the plane flying back to Boston on Sunday and they’re so pumped with adrenaline that going to bed tonight may not be an option!)

Our gig was an absolute cracker, the band taking the stirring Scots songs and self-penned reels and jigs into new realms of improvisation and rich jazz harmony. The gig was completely sold out, with many ticketless festivalgoers having to be redirected. Once local sax prodigy Matthew Herd and Scottish concertina legend Simon Thoumire had added to the quintet’s folk/jazz madness on stage for the second half of the show, the Berklee guys came up for the final two numbers. They drove the whole show home with a powerhouse of masterful American string playing. The crowd absolutely loved it, but unfortunately there was no time for the eagerly awaited encore, as the band were swept off in festival transport to the Art School Festival Club where the Quintet (+sax) were due to play in an hour or so. After a fuzzy few hours, in which many poor-quality warm free beers were consumed, the band took the house down in the packed club, getting the crowd dancing and singing along. The whole group was reunited later when it came time to party on at Findlay’s Late Night Sessions. This time it was their turn to close the show, and indeed the whole Celtic Connections 2011 Festival, there at 2:45 in the morning.

Larry B.:

We are so grateful Donald Shaw gambled and allowed us to attend the 2011 CC. The musicians had such a great time in Glasgow and at the BBC taping and the concert in the Glasgow Royal Concert hall on Saturday. Of course, the main reasons we are doing all this are to give the young musicians a great experience, to advance Scottish roots music, to make our colleges look good, to draw attention to our musicians and our schools, to build some momentum for more and larger efforts in the future to help sustain the movement and to create a seaway between Scotland and new England that can help support music students and professional musicians with gigs. Our students and all they come into contact with are establishing lifelong relationships. That is great for the music and for us all.

Oh, and while in Glasgow, Mark and I quietly launched the new International Alliance for the Advancement of Scottish Roots Music of which we hope Berklee, Strathclyde, and the RSAMD will become the charter members (we had planned a summit but only had time to grab an ale). Eventually, we hope to have scores of music institutions as members – from small to large – all dedicated to COLLABORATION to help advance Scottish Roots Music and all forms based on or influenced by the music. The success of this organization will be good for all of us: individual musicians, students, professionals, educators, institutions, Scotland, America, all the Celtic nations….

Read more posts about the TransAtlantic Seaway:

The Transatlantic Seaway Music Collaboration is a production involving students, faculty, and alumni of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and Strathclyde University in Glasgow, with support from the City of Glasgow UNESCO City of Music.