On 11th January 2018, Celtic Connections performed in Valletta for the first time at Offbeat Bar in Merchant Street. Offbeat is usually a jazz venue, and they were taking a chance that their clientèle would appreciate celtic music.
Both the band and our usual followers had been decimated by the Australian flu so we did not have expectations of a large audience. Imagine our surprise when we arrived to a full house, waiting patiently for us to start. The lineup was accordion, cajon, drum, low whistle, cello, harp and two fiddles, aided wonderfully by our sound engineer/roadie/helpmate Steve. It is not a large venue so we went acoustic.
It was evident from the outset that we were in for a good session. From the first note, there was clapping, cheering, and we have recruited two new players! Richard and Gail, who play at a folk group in Gozo brought their melodeon and bodhran in true session style, and Richard even led a few tunes, some of which were in our repertoire and some which were not, but we muddled along with an accompaniment.
We had intended to have a break every third set, but the momentum was such that we just carried on with a short break for a drink. The bar did well, having to send out for more supplies!
Our combination of reels, jigs, slip jigs and airs went down a storm. There was not enough room to dance, but the bar staff and the audience managed to jig around a bit and the whole vibe was exhilarating. Our old favourite Strip the Willow set ending in Foxhunters brought the house down.
Our audience was new to us, mainly Maltese and international visitors and ex-pats, who had read about us on our Facebook page - thanks to Anne our low whistler - and the Offbeat site. Our usual followers will be joining us next time so we hope for another good crowd.
The next gig there is on 9th Feb, and then we have been engaged for St Patrick's Night on 17th March.
There were a lot of surprised people there who did not know quite what to expect, but we had to do two encores and they want us back, so we must have done something right!!
On 10th December, Celtic connections held one of their quarterly Open Nights, when friends can come and listen, dance, have a bite to eat and a drink with the band.
At Notte Bianca, several of Duncan and Julie's dance class came to listen at Casino Maltese and danced to our music there - an interesting mix of celtic, latin and ballroom! We issued an invitation to them for the open night and not only did they attend, the teachers brought along their daughter and son-in-law who are local Latin Dance champions to give us a demonstration. Their enthusiasm was great and a good time was had by all. The food was its usual excellent self and the wine and beer flowed, as did the mulled wine.
We had around 60 altogether. Enormous thanks to Julie for organising us all, setting up and clearing up on the night. There was not a lot of food left!!
Our next one will be in the spring, probably after we have recovered from the St Patrick's spate!
The band was very busy over the Christmas period, and we had a "splinter" easy listening group for a couple of gigs, as well as our usual charity Christmas concerts, this year held at Casa Arkati in Mosta and Id-Dar tal-Providenza in Ghar Lapsi.
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S CHRISTMAS FAIR
On 30th November, the Four Jays - Jenny on keyboard, Jane on cello, Jonathan on flute and Jaqui on vocals - were joined by Duncan as our "Little Drummer Boy" at the Intercontinental Hotel to provide background music for the afternoon. Thanks to Steve who managed our sound system. Our repertoire for that one consisted of Christmas songs - from White Christmas to "Walking in the Air" with a finale of community carol singing around the Christmas tree. We tried to include as many languages as possible, so ended up with French, Catalan/Spanish, German, Italian and English carols. Our resolution to stay "dry" foundered at the first hurdle when we found the mulled wine bar!
It was a charity event, so when a chance remark suggested we put out a hat, we upsized and used a red bucket with a big gold bow. Thanks to the efforts of Helen Golden who touted the bucket every half hour on the premise that the punters would have recycled by then, we raised €250.
They have asked us to perform again next year for them. May try to be a bit more ambitious with the material! If Duncan is going to be a fixture, then perhaps we should be the DJays.
This was the second concert we have done for this elderly residential home. On 3rd Dec, we were in the new dining room which was filled with 100+ residents, most of who joined in with all the carols from our community carol sheet. It went very well and the highlight of the day was "Ninni la Tibkix Izjed" a traditional, very well known Maltese carol, the equivalent I suppose of our Silent Night The audience all burst into such strong voice that Jaqui was able to sing the descant against them. It was so good we repeated it as our finale. Again we were acoustic with only the singer amplified. Duncan's wife Julie, our general factotum, did a splendid job cheerleading and had 2 proposals of marriage from the residents!
ST PATRICK'S CAROL SERVICE
This was the following day on 4th Dec and was just the Four Jays. It was a traditional service with readings and popular carols. We added "The Little Drummer Boy" and "Holy Night"as items performed just by the band. One of the readings was an explanation of the history and provenance of "Holy Night"which was unplanned but dovetailed very nicely.
This is a most wonderful establishment, run by the church as a residential home for those with severe mental and physical handicap. It has the most modern equipment and hydrotherapy pool, and a theatre. However for this concert we played in the chapel which was large enough to hold our audience of around 100.
The event started dramatically when two minutes before the start of our performance, Jaqui tripped over a cable and fell face-first into a chair, cutting her upper lip. As the singer, this posed a bit of a problem as it bled rather a lot.
We ignored the cut and Jax did a Pavarotti impersonation except it was not sweat she was mopping with a handkerchief, it was blood, which thankfully soon stopped flowing.
Again, the residents really participated, banging, bashing and shaking the percussion items we distributed and singing the words if they knew them or could read from our carol sheets. "Ninni" was once again a great favourite, but had the added complication that one of the residents right in front of us sang it all through the concert, independent of what else we were singing at the time. Definitely a challenge to the vocalist!
We were treated to tea and cake afterwards, which was very welcome.
We all felt we had made a contribution to the spirit of Christmas with this concert and Casa Arkati.
Every year, Valletta opens its closed doors to visitors who can gain access to usually unaccessible places such as the Prime Minister's Office and the less public areas of the Presidents Palace. It is also a time when the arts have a one night Festival and live music is to be found scattered in multiple venues through the city. Visitors roam from venue to venue sampling all the musical offerings.
This year, Celtic Connections Malta played at Casino Maltese in Republic Street. Normally a relatively sober private club, the marble foyer was a great space for us to play in. We expected a fluid audience, but were very pleased when we realised that people were coming in to have a listen and then decided to stay.
Our jigs, reels, waltzes and polkas had our audience clapping, cheering and eventually dancing in happy abandon! It was very entertaining to see line dancing and ballroom sequence dancing done in perfect time to our music.
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We were very well fed and watered by the staff of casino Maltese, who despite being run off their feet by the hundreds of people present made sure we had everything we needed, including some large fans which became necessary as the atmosphere hotted up!
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The finale came with a boisterous second rendition of Dingle Regatta where the entire audience rose in time with the band at the last stanza.
It was a great night!
Celtic Connections was asked to play for the St Patrick's Day function hosted by the Irish Ambassador at the Hilton Hotel in the company of Her Excellency the President of Malta on 15th March 2017.
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We were a smaller than usual group of nine players due to the space constraints of the venue, but nevertheless, we made a good sound, despite the sound reverberation from the elevated staging we were perched upon. It was an evening of music interspersed with speeches and excellent finger food. During the evening we made a few new musical friends and caught up with some from the past.
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We felt very privileged to be asked to play for this event, and enjoyed the occasion very much.
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