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Huge expectations fulfilled

Pauline McLean | 20:17 UK time, Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The man from the Times describes it in football terms.

A concert of two halves, he says of last night's much anticipated performance by The Chieftains and Friends at Celtic Connections.

Just as well for me, because arriving 15 minutes late for the prompt 7.30pm start, and too polite to ask 20 people to stand up and let me in, I watched most of the first half on a monitor in the foyer (the auditorium so packed there's not even a latecomer's seat on the end of the row to spare.)

So the first half - with its apparently messy sound and slow build up was lost on me.

Instead, I got the roller coaster second half.

Ensemble piece

Just over an hour of music, singing, piping, dancing and storytelling which featured not just The Chieftains but American legend Ry Cooder, Mexican band Los Cenzontles, Galician piper Carlos Nunez, singers, stepdancers and just when you think they can't fit anyone else on stage - the whole Scottish Power Pipe Band.

Those who came to see an individual performer - Ry Cooder in particular - might have been disappointed because this is an ensemble piece, part musical history lesson, part talent show and no-one gets more than a few minutes in the spotlight.

The songs - for the most part - are from The Chieftains' latest project, a collection of songs about the San Patricio, a downtrodden group of Irish immigrants who deserted the US army in 1846 to fight with the Mexicans.

The ballads are particularly poignant but there are upbeat dance numbers too with the stage suddenly filled with the swirling skirts and multicoloured hats of the Mexican dancers alongside the truly breathtaking Canadian stepdancers.

Huge expectations

At 9.30pm Chieftains frontman Paddy Maloney announces that we're reaching the end of the evening - which seems disappointingly soon especially for those of us who rolled up late.

But the final number which reintroduces every performer - including the pipe band - does in fact last for the best part of 20 minutes.

Then there's an encore of Good Night Irene - where once again everyone gets to join in (including the audience) and the night draws to a close with everyone on their feet, clapping along to a Celtic wedding song as the dancers lead members of the audience round the hall, in an impromptu conga.

Huge expectations - but they delivered all they promised in spades.

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