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Just back from Kazakhstan with the Kazak Ceilidh Commandos (Myself, Gary Innes, Ewen Henderson & Alec Dalglish). Also joining us for a few sets, the famous “Spud the Piper”. Had an absolute blast of a time in Atyrau and Aksai. We were out playing for 2 burns supper events and played a few other gigs in between. Managed to survive the extreme weather, although not sure if that was due to the thermal underwear or the few drams keeping us warm :-) I’d say they both played their part! We got to visit the orphanage where the proceeds from the Atyrau Burns Society goes to and it was a real humbling experience. The boys who have been there for the past 5/6 years were filling us in on the dramatic improvements they’ve seen in the orphanage, where not so long ago there was no hot water/showers or toilets. Now, there’s double glazing throughout, proper heating and hot water and plenty toilet/shower facilities for the children.

Just before heading to Kazakhstan, it was a few weeks of full on music here in Glasgow at Celtic Connections. First up I played The Tron with Kathleen Boyle. It was a great night of music and craic. The place was packed with familiar faces which made it more fun. Kathleen’s dad Hughie might have just stole the show with his grand entrance and storytelling. The following evening I was playing as part of the Auld Lang Syne concert in the Royal Concert Hall. The line-up for this was huge and I won’t even try to recall everyone involved. It was held together by Phil Cunningham and John McCusker and needless to say, was great craic.

The next day was full on again. I was very fortunate to be asked to play in three of the commisions as part of the “Homecoming Suite” which featured the RSNO playing new pieces by several composers. I played on Steve Forman’s, Chris Stout’s and Tommy Smith’s pieces and each piece was very distinctive and brought it’s own challenges. Some absolutely beautiful music written and I was honoured to be involved.

After a couple of days rest  I was lucky enough to be involved in the Guitar Summit Concert. This featured 7 top guitarists; John Doyle, Russ Barenberg, Tony McManus, Ian Carr, Anna Massie, John Goldie, Tim Edey and myself on bodhrán. It was a real pleasure to play with and also just listen to these guys do their thing.

The following day I was playing with Julie Fowlis back in the Concert Hall again. To a packed auditorium. We opened the show with a Gaelic song just accompanied by bodhrán which has taken me literally about 2 years to get my head around, due to the complex phrasing of the words. I think we might just have pulled it off :-) The gig went really well and it’s always a lot of fun for me playing in Julie’s band.

Last, but by no means least was the Box Club gig. The main gig itself in the Strathclyde Suite was great and everyone was in good form, however it was later that night in the Festival Club that we had that special moment. After 2 weeks of the festival, energy levels are naturally going to drop and before going on stage we were all definitely a bit tired. However, the adrenaline that kicked in from the audience response was indescribable. If only you could bottle it and sell it :-) I don’t think I’ve ever seen the club like this. There was stage diving and crowd surfing and really felt quite surreal. We gave it everything we had and had a great buzz. A great way to finish up the festival for me.

As well as playing quite a few gigs, I also got to check out some great music which is a rare treat these days. Bela Fleck with Toumani Diabate, and Mairtin O’Connor band being just two of the highlights for me.

Well, that’s all for now folks. I’m in the studio tomorrow with Gary Innes & Ewan Robertson who are working on a new album, then in the studio with Fred Morrison later on in the week. Will post more about this later. Next week I’ll be packing my bags again as I head off to the States for a month, touring with top Irish band Danú. Tour dates will be updated shortly.

Over and Out :-)