Chris Bartter

Chris Bartter

Chris Bartter is a Glasgow-based writer and cultural activist, blogging at captaingrumping.blogspot.co.uk. Chris was the Communications Officer at UNISON Scotland for 20 years.

Mayday in Glasgow
Thursday, 20 April 2017 10:53

Mayday in Glasgow

Published in Festivals/ Events

MayDay Celebrations spread across Scottish Central Belt.

Glasgow Friends of MayDay (GFoMD) today announced another stellar line-up for the sixth annual Great May Day cabaret celebrating International Workers’ Day (May Day). This annual event at Oran Mor takes place this year on MayDay itself - Monday May 1 – this year’s public holiday.

This year’s headliners are the acclaimed and award-winning Edinburgh-based roots collective Southern Tenant Folk Union. Ably supported by Leicester singer-songwriter and activist Grace Petrie, the welcome return of Marxist magician Ian Saville, folk legend Arthur Johnstone, godfather of Scottish stand-up Bruce Morton, Ayrshire’s second-best ever poet Jim Monagahan, plus Fraser Speirs, Stephen Wright, and Gavin Paterson.  All hosted by Dave Anderson and supported by Thompsons Solicitors.

Chris Bartter, Chair of Glasgow Friends of MayDay said. “It’s great that the cabaret has attracted major talents like Southern Tenant Folk Union, and that Grace Petrie can come up and spend some time letting Scotland hear her fresh new style. It is especially good that we can run a number of cabarets this year.”

This year, Mayday cabarets are also taking place in Irvine (Celtic SC – Fr1 28/4), West Lothian (Loganlea Miners Welfare – Sat 29/4), and Blantyre (Miners Welfare – Sun 30/4). Playing all four cabarets are core acts Ian Saville, Bruce Morton, Jim Monaghan, Fraser Speirs and Stephen Wright. They will be joined by Grace Petrie in Glasgow, Blantyre and Loganlea, rising star Maeve Mackinnon in Irvine and Blantyre, Arthur Johnstone in Irvine, Loganlea and Glasgow, and talented singer Calum Baird in Loganlea

This year’s Mayday marches will take place on different days around Scotland, with the largest on Sunday April 30 in Glasgow. Others will be on Sat April 29 (Aberdeen, Dundee and Fife) and Sat May 6 (Edinburgh and Irvine). Both Glasgow and Edinburgh’s marches feature Paul Laverty, screenwriter of  I, Daniel Blake as a keynote speaker. Details here - http://www.stuc.org.uk/campaigns-and-external-events/mayday-2017.

Other events around the MayDay weekend also include events at the Tron as part of its Mayfesto season, and a short tour of a one-man play about the miners’ strike. Undermined by Danny Mellor, touring with the backing of Unite Community, will play Aberdeen (The Blue Lamp – 26 April); Dundee ( Arthurstone Comm Lib - 27); Edinburgh (Out of the Blue Drill Hall- 28); and Glasgow (STUC-29).

These and many other events will be featured in the programme to be available shortly via the GFoMD website. http://may1st.org.uk/

For further information please contact:

Chris Bartter (Chair GFoMD – 07715 583729)

Stephen Wright (Fairpley - 07734 350247)

History, Community and Activity: the Havana Glasgow Film Festival
Tuesday, 15 November 2016 19:40

History, Community and Activity: the Havana Glasgow Film Festival

Published in Festivals/ Events

Chris Barrter finds themes of History, Community, and Activity in the first of a two part review of the Havana Glasgow Film Festival.

The Havana Glasgow Film Festival (HGFF), currently screening in Glasgow (from 11-19 November), has already shown excellent films – both from Cuba and Scotland. And its ‘Passport to Cuba’ doesn’t end till Saturday!

Last weekend showed how film can energise and activate communities. On Saturday four short films made by TV Serrana, a community-based TV studio set up in the Cuban Sierra Maestre, demonstrated the ingenuity and resourcefulness of this cut-off community, creating their own hydro-electric power (La Cuchufleta), or adapting kids karts to transport goods and people (La Chivichana)! Scottish films emphasised how people need to find their own history and apply it to today’s struggles (Together we will swim again). The most striking parallel between cultures were two films featuring older women (in the Sierra Maestre, and on Lewis) living on their own. Feisty was the hallmark!

Sunday was for the Cuban Cine Pobre (low-budget) Festival. HGFF Director, Eirene Houston, a juror this year, took the chance to bring home the winners. Established in 2003 by prominent director Humberto Solas to encourage ‘low-budget’ filmmakers and bring filmmaking into the reach of communities and groups, El Tren de la Linea Norte did exactly this – screening a slice of Cuban life not usually seen in public - a forgotten Cuba of broken communities (incidentally giving the lie to those who claim criticism is banned in Cuba).

However the stars of the day were ironically, a US film, Tangerine, and Humberto, a film bio of Solas himself. Tangerine, shot entirely on iPhones, follows a day in the life of SinDee Rella a black transgender LA prostitute, searching for her cheating boyfriend and the woman he has been sleeping with. Despite its unprepossessing setting, it delivers a huge slice of human life with humour and empathy. Humberto is a traditional film bio, but the obvious love of his stars and colleagues shines through to illuminate the unique talent of this amazing man.

Cuban Ambassador Teresita Vicente Sotolongo, came to support the festival and see Amor Cronico, which mixes together a Cuban concert tour by singer Cucu Diamantes and a (fictional) romance. She said ‘The HGFF is the most wonderful example of Cuban culture. I hope it will grow in the coming years, and for sure, it will contribute to the already excellent relations between our peoples.”

Still to come are some star films, especially Bailando con Margot (Dancing witb Margot) – Thursday 17. 20 15, a ‘neo-noir’ mystery and the first feature film by Arturo Santana, who is coming across from Havana for a Q&A thanks to sponsorship from Unite; Cuba Libre – Thursday 17. 14.45 - a historical drama on the Spanish American War in Cuba and Los Bolos En Cuba – Friday 18. 19.45 - a warm, nostalgic and irreverent film reflecting the time of friendship between Cuba and the Soviet Union.

On Friday morning also, there is an important masterclass by Festival co-Director, and writer, Hugo Rivalta. He will be talking about cinema’s role in the Cuban revolution. - 11.00 Friday 18 in the Glasgow School of Art (Reid Building).

The final day focuses on Cuban animation, and the success of the festival will be celebrated in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Museum on Saturday, where Gordon Cree will be playing Cuban salsa on the huge organ, and some recently discovered Cuban film archives, brought to Scotland for restoration, will be shown.

The programme is available on the Havana Glasgow Film Festival website - http://www.hgfilmfest.com/ programme.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016 14:49

‘Poor Cinema’ links Cuba with Scotland

Published in Films

Chris Bartter tells us about an unlikely countercultural film festival in Cuba, and an even more unlikely link with Glasgow.

What do you think of when you hear the words ‘Film Festival’? Cannes? Celebrities? Multi-million media tycoons? It might be good to bring your attention to an increasingly celebrated film festival that features none of these things.

Once every two years a small Cuban town – way off the beaten track even for Cuba – plays host to the International Cine Pobre Film Festival; a festival that has now earned an international reputation. This year Eirene Houston, Scottish screenwriter and director of the Havana Glasgow Film Festival which started last year, was one of the jurors for the four days of film! 

Held in Cuba’s Gibara (a small fishing town 700 miles from Havana), the Cine Pobre Festival (Cine Pobre literally translates as ‘Poor Cinema’ but more accurately means ‘Low Budget’) was started by well-known Cuban film director Humberto Solas in 2003.

Eirene Houston says “Gibara was declared a National Monument in 2004 and despite the remoteness, or perhaps because of it, Cine Pobre has become a very special and well loved festival. The very close relationship that has been built over the years between the festival and the people of Gibara is so much of what gives the festival its charm.”

Low budget the films are, but not poor quality. It's a type of cinema of restricted economic possibilities, made in less developed countries, or increasingly in better off countries where independent film makers have fewer and fewer resources. Solas was clear that “this will mean in the near future the insertion into cinematography of social groups and communities who had never before had access to the exercise of film production.” His vision was to utilize new technologies in filmmaking to “tear down the wall of film distribution, which is dominated by a handful of transnationals and which alienates the public.” (Humberto Solas Manifiesto del Cine Pobre: see http://cinefagos.net/paradigm/index.php/otros-textos/documentos/432-manifiesto-del-cine-pobre)

This opening up of the filmmaking process to community and social groups continues in the ethos of the festival despite Solas’ death from cancer in 2008. And it extends to the involvement of all of Gibara. Eirene says “The opening ceremony involves the participants in a parade through the town down the main hill, and the whole town turns out to watch and get involved in the festivities! And the juries go round the town’s local committees to give presentations of the films.”

Over forty films were selected for the competition, including fictional shorts and feature films, documentaries, and animations and video art. Eirene says “The films had both quality and diversity. Filmmakers from every continent were represented, from countries with a long-established cinematic tradition (United States, India, Germany, France, Burkina Faso) and others with an emerging industry (Chad, Ecuador, Lebanon, Macedonia, Mauritania). The themes covered were similarly eclectic, including serious, historical, funny and heart-warming looks at love, migration, communication, alienation and engagement."

The films came from all over the world, and while the main winner was a US film, Tangerine, shot entirely on iPhones, all the other category winners came from Cuba. In an exciting coup for the Second Havana Glasgow Film Festival due in November, Eirene has managed to snaffle the winners.

“We’ll run a ‘Cine Pobre’ day.” She says. “I have the category winners. The films we'll be showing are the documentary Humberto, La Pared de Las Palabras (as another chance to see), feature documentary El Tren de La Linea Norte, video short El Bohio, La Despidida a short Documentary, the winner of our planned smartphone competition and then Tangerine.” Other significant films will be announced with the rest of the Festival programme.

The new chair of the Cine Pobre festival is Jorge Perugorria, star of probably the best-known Cuban film of modern times – Fresa y Chocolate. He is clear that he has a responsibility and a commitment to continue Solas’ work. He wants to make the Cine Pobre Festival an annual event, and wants to continue the connection between Cuba and Glasgow. If this year’s plans are successful, it seems a regular slot is quite likely!
Universalism, People and Song: A Last Toast to Burns
Sunday, 31 January 2016 16:45

Universalism, People and Song: A Last Toast to Burns

Published in Poetry

Below is the text of Chris Bartter's address to the Socialist Correspondent Burns Supper held in the UNISON, Glasgow City branch office, February 2015. It was on the theme of What Makes Robert Burns Immortal?

An Immortal Memory? That’s some claim, isn’t it? Particularly for a 37 year-old failed farmer and exciseman. But it is said that only the good die young. Or should the saying be reversed – only those who die young are good? For they don’t have the opportunity to renege on their youthful idealism, or for their early promise to be unfulfilled. However, Burns has had a huge impact on the literary, political, and musical world – not just in Scotland - but across the globe. In some circles that would be enough to consider his memory immortal, but you’re not going to get away as easily as that! Following the eloquent contribution of last year’s speaker, David Kenvyn, I am pleased to still be able to add the views of a fellow countryman after the febrile debate of the last two years – and hopefully I will not be considered as a ‘settler’ or even worse a ‘colonist’.

Invention or Necessity?

Of course we are all products of our background – and to deny one’s upbringing seems to me to be not only a futile exercise but also a self-damaging one. In these days of avatars and false identities it may be sometimes tempting like Jeffrey Archer to invent a beneficial back story, but, I suggest, would probably have as much long term success to ones reputation as his had! Of course literature has more than its fair share of invention – indeed it is an essential part of the genre – and I’ll deal with that later.

One of the myths generally noised abroad – particularly current in Scotland for some reason - is that the English do not know about Burns. If that was once true – and I don’t think it was, I remember learning Burns’ songs at school, at least as much, and probably more than I learnt Shakespeare’s – it certainly has changed and continues to change. Due to the influence of Burns within politics – especially socialist politics, the advocacy of expatriate Scots and literary studies, a basic knowledge of Burns’ life and works in England is at least equivalent to that of Shakespeare, certainly outwith the academic industry that surrounds Shakespeare.

It is, of course, a false comparison on merit, in any case. A comparison between a sixteenth century dramatist and poet and an eighteenth century poet and songwriter is probably as valuable as comparing, say, Oscar Wilde and Adrian Mitchell. But there are now many Burns studies, Burns suppers, Burns admirers and even Burns marketing opportunities – there is even a specially brewed Burns Ale that is made by Shepherd Neame, brewers from Faversham in Kent!

Who was Burns?

So who was Robert Burns? And what makes his legacy immortal? A poet, songwriter and a young man who had an impact both during his short life, and subsequently. He was no ‘heaven-taught ploughman’ – in fact he was taught by both his own father, and by university graduate, John Murdoch. His parents attached great importance to their sons’ education. However he was no stranger to following the plough, and was born and brought up in poverty. This had a significant impact on his life, both in his search for a career that gave him the financial stability to write, and in the empathy he always had with his fellow workers.

It's hardly in a body's pow'r
To keep, at times, frae being sour,
To see how things are shar'd;
How best o' chiels are whiles in want,
While coofs on countless thousands rant,
And ken na how to wair't;
- Robert Burns: Epistle to Davie, a Brother Poet.

The ‘heaven-taught ploughman’ myth, of course is one that was invented by the Edinburgh literary (and indeed political) establishment of the time, so they could create a Scottish Bard who was acceptable to them. Burns, of course went along with this myth in public, creating almost a dual personality, while he was in Edinburgh anyway. Not that this kind of duality is unusual in the literary and artistic world. One of the main influences on Burns, James MacPherson, purported to act as an amanuensis for the Gaelic Bard ‘Ossian’ of whom there is no evidence for his existence. And one can give other examples of the creation of characters, and names to cloak actors, writers and musicians throughout history – from Acton, Currer and Ellis Bell, Mary Ann Evans, Eric Arthur Blair, through to Jimmy Miller and Richard Starkey. (A special prize for anyone who gets all of the better known names for these!)

International impact

Burns was and is hugely important in the international literary canon, influencing, apart from Scottish writers as diverse as Scott and MacDiarmid, writers the world over. American Poet John Greenleaf Whittier was reputed to carry a book of Burns in his pocket and wrote these lines about Burns’ verses.

No more these simple flowers belong
To Scottish maid and lover;
Sown in the common soil of song,
They bloom the wide world over.
- John Greenleaf Whittier, On Receiving a Sprig of Heather in Blossom

This particular reference to song is one I intend to return to. His influence continued in the US – John Steinbeck quotes him in the title of his book Of Mice and Men and JD Salinger deliberately makes Holden Caulfield misquote Burns in The Catcher in the Rye. Burns’ impact is also particularly strong in Russia and especially the Soviet Union, where he was dubbed the ‘People’s Poet’ and where the first ever Burns commemorative stamp was issued in 1956 –the 160th Anniversary of his death. A Russian translation of his work by Samuel Marshak sold over 600,000 copies. And who of that generation will forget the astounding Scotland/GDR Friendship Society Burns Suppers, organized by the late Peter Smith!

Even in China Burns was celebrated – apparently the marching song of the Chinese resistance in WW2 was a translation of My Heart’s in the Highlands

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.
- Robert Burns, My Heart’s in the Highlands

You can hear the Chinese Resistance in these lines, can’t you! Interestingly this was also an indication that Burns was quite prepared to write in standard English as well as Scots, when he thought the need arose.

The struggle against oppression

Possibly as pertinent, although less politically charged is the influence of Burns on English writers. He is an important (if not the main) forerunner of the romantic movement – Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley, all acknowledged their debt to Burns. Well I said ‘less politically charged’, but maybe that isn’t so true. Both Wordsworth and his contemporary, Southey were strong early supporters of the French Revolution as was Burns.

When Brunswick’s great Prince cam a cruisin’ to France
Republican billies to cowe,
Bauld Brunswick’s great Prince wad hae shawn better sense,At hame wi his Princess to mowe.
- Robert Burns: When Princes an Prelates

And if anyone is wondering over a translation of the word ‘mowe’ in the above quote, let us just say, that it is taken from the Merry Muses of Caledonia – the verses of Burns that polite society tend to gloss over! Of course both Southey and Wordsworth changed their views latterly – Southey dramatically so. No-one can of course say what Burns’ subsequent view of the French Revolution was, as he died in 1796, after the period known as The Terror, but before Napoleon had proclaimed himself Emperor. One might as well claim to know how he would have voted in the recent referendum!
Personally I’m with the 20th Century Chinese Premier, Zhou Enlai, who when asked what he thought about the French Revolution is reputed to have replied “It’s too early to say.”!

But support for uprising and ordinary working people is a clear Burns trait. His political writings show his sympathies with people struggling against oppression – the French revolution, The American War of independence, and here, from The Slave’s Lament.

It was in sweet Senegal that my foes did me enthral,
For the lands of Virginia,-ginia, O:
Torn from that lovely shore, and must never see it more;
And alas! I am weary, weary O.

Indeed Abraham Lincoln himself was a big Burns fan – apparently memorising much of Burns by heart. Of course Lincoln was a friend of Scottish Presbyterian minister, James Smith – who he appointed consul to Scotland and who is buried in the Calton Burial Ground in Glasgow.

Music opens doors

Burns’ influence on the development of music and on many later musicians too, are many and varied. Bob Dylan has cited ‘My luve is like a red, red rose’ as the lyric that had the biggest effect on his life. A majority of folk-based musicians acknowledge their debt to him. One of them, Dick Gaughan, along with Dave Swarbrick and a Canadian band formed by Jason Wilson have been exploring Scottish and Jamaican musical links recently. There is some fertile ground to be covered here, as the Scottish links to Jamaica are considerable, and, of course, almost included Burns himself at one point, though I’m far from sure that just adding No Woman, No Cry, to the end of A Red Red Rose is particularly successful. Auld Lang Syne is recognized by the Guiness Book of Records as one of the three most popular songs in the English Language – somewhat ironically!

Indeed a copy of the manuscript version of Auld Lang Syne was commemorated on a £2 coin. The manuscript I’m glad to say, currently resides in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow in the foremost collection of Burns-related material in the world. It resides there due to the work of my partner, Doreen Kean. It was Doreen’s work in pulling together the finances that allowed the city to purchase the MS from Christies in New York.

The immortal threads

So, What ARE the things that make Burns’ memory immortal? There are three clear threads that run through Burns’ work that I think ensure his immortality – threads that are linked but separate. Firstly, his ability to use specific personal images to allow us to visualize the scene, but more than this – to use an individual event or scene to shine a light onto general and universal truths. This needs the talent to both visualize the scene in a way people can relate to – the first lines from Tam O’Shanter for example:

When chapmen billies leave the street,
And drouthy neibors, neibors meet,

Immediately that shows me a scene at the end of the working day where people are on the lookout for a drink after work – something that I’m sure we’ve all experienced! And it also needs the talent to relate these events to general principles – later in Tam O’Shanter for example Burns has the “glorious” Tam

O'er a' the ills o' life victorious!

Haven’t we all put the world to rights over a drink? As a former colleague of mine once said: ‘The difference between us and Marx, is that Marx remembered to write it down!”

This use of the everyday to throw light on general principles is a major part of Burns’ genius, in To a Louse for example, where the sight of a louse on a lady’s bonnet in church takes us via concern, outrage and humour to the realization that she is about to fall foul of the gossip and fingerpointing that he himself has had to suffer –

Thae winks an' finger-ends, I dread,
Are notice takin’.
And finally it ends in the general truth,
O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An' foolish notion:
Now Westlin’ Winds as well, where a fairly standard romantic nature ballad suddenly leads to a condemnation of man’s attack on nature
Avaunt, away, the cruel sway
Tyrannic man's dominion
The sportsman's joy, the murdering cry
The fluttering, gory pinion

This universality is something that has separated the genius from the good throughout literature. Recently we have had to put up with a good deal of nonsense talked about the Great War. But if we go back to the poets who wrote about it at the time, we can see clearly that those that were able to ‘universalise the suffering’ about them – to broaden their vision like Wilfred Owen, ultimately made more long term impact with their verse than did the impressively sharp personal barbs of Siegfried Sassoon. Perhaps we should draw a veil over Jeffrey Archer’s favourite First World War poet (Rupert Brooke) but can I briefly put in a plea for a Scottish poet who seems to me unfairly ignored? Charles Hamilton Sorley may have died very early in the war, but his poems do seem to me to have that broad universal vision.

Art in the Community

Secondly, this ability mostly comes from writers who are close to, or based in, a community. Writers who have an empathy and understanding of the motivations of ordinary people are able to universalize the personal, far better than those who are brought up to look at life as something that is purely something for their personal exploitation and their individual pleasure. This is obviously a strength of Burns’. He wasn’t keen on the Edinburgh establishment, and his poems and songs based in his local communities have a life and reality about them. I’ve already mentioned Tam O’Shanter, here’s the opening of The Cotter’s Saturday Night:

The toil-worn Cotter frae his labor goes,
This night his weekly moil is at an end,
Collects his spades, his mattocks, and his hoes,
Hoping the morn in ease and rest to spend,
And weary, o'er the moor, his course does hameward bend.

Thirdly, artists who use and understand music – especially but not only – folk music are also more likely to have this talent. Music and song is a superb way to identify a concern, clarify an issue, to open doors. Folk songs – and that’s what many of Burns’ songs are – deal with the lives of ordinary working people, their trials and struggles, and also gives a voice to those people. Music and song too, are important for their ability to spread words and ideas into different environments – as Whittier had it

Sown in the common soil of song,
They bloom the wide world over.

Burns was, in my view, as important for his songs as for his poems – possibly more so. He spent much of his short life working to collect lyrics and tunes, to write, and write down, traditional songs he heard at home and on his travels. He was involved with two collections of Scottish songs, and by far the most important is Johnson’s Scottish Musical Museum.

Burns came across James Johnson, and his massive project, when he visited Edinburgh the first time in 1786. He was immediately fascinated with the idea, and began to collect and seek out local people's songs, eventually contributing around 200 songs in total, about a third of the whole work. Obviously this kind of work predated the kind of work that Cecil Sharp, Frank Kidson, AL Lloyd and of course Hamish Henderson did much later. In reality, however, Burns is probably closest to another songwriter and collector - Ewan MacColl - as he often rewrote old songs and introduced new songs to old tunes. Amongst the songs he added to The Musical Museum were:- Auld Lang Syne, My love is like a Red, Red Rose, The Battle of Sherramuir, Scots Wha Hae, Green Grow the Rushes, O, Flow Gently Sweet Afton, Ye Banks and Braes of Bonnie Doon, Ae Fond Kiss, The Winter it is Past, Comin' Thro the Rye and John Anderson, My Jo, and many more.

An immortal legacy?

So then – what is Burns’ legacy? Is it immortal? I refer those of you still listening back to Zhou Enlai! But what we can clearly see is that Burns’ work contains the key factors to maintain its own, and his immortality. It rests in his work. He could pick up and describe the lives of ordinary people. He could relate those incidents to the great principles of life. He could (and did) stand on their side, speak up for their struggles, and call for a better world (incidentally, not a bad philosophy for a political party!). Those talents and his use of song and lyrics mean that his verse has been accessible to other talents – both literary and musical. Especially musical – for ‘the soil of song’ is the key factor that has meant Burns’ work has ‘bloomed the whole world over’ Then raise your glasses and drink a toast to Robert Burns – to his immortal memory!

This text was first published in Socialist Correspondent Issue 22, Spring 2015.

Reem Kelani
Wednesday, 27 January 2016 14:34

Long Live Palestine! Long Live Scotland!

Published in Music

After a long night at a Celtic Connections concert in Glasgow, Chris Barrter introduces us to Burns the internationalist.

Robert Burns’ birthday (25 January) always falls during the period of Glasgow’s Celtic Connections (CC) Festival. As the major Scottish folk song festival, it is really incumbent on them to mark that event. However, rather than taking the easy route, and simply organising yet another Burns Supper, Artistic Director Donald Shaw has always gone the extra mile.

In particular Burns’ internationalist credentials form the main feature of the events CC like to promote. I recall an earlier festival featuring the Bard celebrated by the heavy rhythms of Sly and Robbie – Reggae’s go-to guys for their bass dub beats! This year, the idea of having the umbrella organisation for Scotland’s ethnic and minority communities (BEMIS) arrange the concert along with CC allowed an even wider cultural mix – ranging from the Punjab to Palestine, via Syria and Glasgow’s own Roma community.

BEMIS works very closely with (and is majorly funded by) the Scottish Government, so it was perhaps inevitable that we had a standard politician’s welcome from Minister of Culture, Fiona Hyslop MSP. But we soon moved into areas that were far from standard!

First up was a local band E Karika Djal – made up of some of Scotland’s Roma community from many countries of Eastern Europe with musicians from further afield – originally created as a community project to break down barriers. They kicked off the evening with Djellem Djellem, known as the ‘Romani anthem’, immediately enthusing their audience. They also started the evening’s homage to Burns, with their rendition of Tibbie Dunbar!

Undoubtedly the most warmly received guest, yet probably the least known musically, was Syrian kanun player, Maya Youssef. The kanun is like a very large zither, and Maya held the audience rapt with The Sea Inside - I swear you could hear the sea!, her own composition as a plea for peace in Syria – Syrian Dreams, and of course the obligatory Burns. Auld Lang Syne sounds particularly fine on the kanun, and Maya claimed to have heard it as a child, and loved it before she knew what it was!

The break for food, although welcome – and of course an integral part of the Burns Supper experience – did have the problem of extending the – already late running – evening, and unfortunately meant that headline act – Reem Kelani ended up playing to a half-empty hall. Before her, however, we heard from another joint project between Sarah Hayes (of Admiral Fallow) and Pakistani Poet, Sara Kazmi. Here, however, the music from the Scottish and Punjabi cultures were actually fused together in performance, with poems about rain mixing with pipe tunes, and remarkably complementary lyrics of two bird poems/songs. Burn’s Westling Winds, was the homage here.

Finally the exceptional talent that is Manchester-born Palestinian singer, Reem Kelani, and her band took the stage. She has an impressive multi-cultural background, and that is clear in the approach to songs. While she uses traditional song from Palestine, (and Egypt, Turkey, Spain) and sings mostly in Arabic, she often updates them either lyrically or in their musical treatment – her father’s enthusiasm for early Fred Asataire films have led to a major jazz influence in her own work – and she is also happy to introduce western standards. A Palestinian wedding song, and a lullaby from Nazareth, were followed by a song about the 1919 Egyptian revolution – that she paralleled with Tahrir Square.

‘Long live Palestine! Long Live Scotland!’ she signed off, after probably the most appropriate Burns song for this internationalist night – The Slave’s Lament driving right to the heart of colonial culpability.

Celtic Connections is on in Glasgow until 31 January.