Celtic Connections

Skipinnish & Friends

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Rob Adams


If this jumping full house is what happens when Skipinnish reach number 46 in the UK download singles charts, then here’s to the response should they ever go to the very top of the pops.

There’s much more to the Highland band drawing one of the largest attendances at Celtic Connections 2016 than last summer’s chart excitement. While their captain, accordionist Angus MacPhail, suggested that some 2,500 of those present had turned up to hear special guests, Waterboys and Saw Doctors founders Leo Moran and Anto Thistlethwaite, and the other hundred or so were Skipinnish fans, in reality the success was testament to the hard work MacPhail especially has put in over the past decade and more, building the Skipinnish brand and earning a reputation across the Highlands and beyond for delivering real-deal Highland music with both a rich sense of tradition and a contemporary relevance.

If Leo and Anto did a fine job of warming up the audience with their singalongs and mischief, it was Skipinnish’s Highland hoolie that ultimately had them on their feet, dancing in the aisles even. Superb musicianship, with a three-man pipes and whistles team joining MacPhail and Campbeltown fiddle legend Archie McAllister as the melodic focus, and the strong voice and irrepressible presence of Robert Robertson ensured quality as well as commitment, light and shade.

The poignant story of HMY Iolaire and its images of toys washed up among the bodies on Lewis beaches was beautifully told by Robertson and Caitlin Smith, one of three guest Gaelic singers, and the more celebratory, anthemic The Ocean of the Free maintained both the maritime connection and the high standard of new material the band is adding to its traditional roots.

Their heroes, Runrig’s Alba and their own hit, Walking on the Waves, gave the “all rise” signal and as band and audience were captured on the onstage screen, which had added strong images to the music throughout the set, Robertson’s choirmaster role was quickly dispensed with and the roof was duly, and metaphorically, raised.