Capercaillie at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, 29.11.13

It had been a while since I last saw Capercaillie play. That was at Chichester Festival Theatre about three or four years ago. So when Charlie, their fiddle player, said he had got me a couple of tickets for the London gig on this 30th anniversary tour, it was like an extra birthday present for me. In the end, things changed and I went on my own, but that was fine and I was able to make use of the spare seat later.

I made my way to London and found the Queen Elizabeth Hall, where there was an absolutely bloody awful jazz band playing in the foyer. At first, the woman at the desk couldn’t find the envelope that I knew was waiting for me, so I got hold of Charlie (not literally) and asked what name it was under. Ah. That made sense. Now armed with both ticket and after-show pass, all that was left to do was wait to be let into the hall.

My after-show pass. Nice to have friends, isn't it?

My after-show pass. Nice to have friends, isn’t it?

In the meantime, I got talking to the lady working there (sorry, if you’re reading this, but I can’t remember your name), who said technically, we weren’t supposed to dance (WTF???) but that if enough people got up, they couldn’t do much about it.

It turned out that Charlie had managed to get me decent seats – six rows from the front – and a short while later, a lady sat down in the aisle seat, but her husband was in the row in front, a little way along. When he came to talk to her, we got chatting and arranged for them to sit together and for me to have the aisle seat for when I got up to dance, coz I was determined to at least try.

Brian and Regina after the show.

Brian and Regina after the show.

I saw Mike coming out from the backstage area and called out to him, which drew me a few looks, but I didn’t care. Mike had seen me, and now I knew for certain where the backstage door was. Result.

I took a photo of my view before the band arrived, which was just as well. As the lights went down, an announcement came over the tannoy saying phones and watches with alarms should be switched off and no photos please.

My view of the stage from row F.

My view of the stage from row F. Thanks, Charlie, dude!

What killjoys these people are. I have no gripe with the staff, you understand. Rules are rules. But whoever made up the ‘No dancing’ rule is a [insert expletive of your choice here].

This being the 30th anniversary of Capercaillie – their first album Cascade was released in 1984 – the band performed songs and tunes spanning those years, including some from the latest album, At the Heart of it All. They kicked off with Skye Waulking Song (‘My Father Sent Me to the House of Sorrow’) from the Nàdurra album (Gaelic for ‘Naturally’) and switched between songs and tunes until coming to the end of the first part of the set with Alasdair Mhic Cholla Ghasda followed by some jigs.

I got up at one point, with one other person, when Donald invited people up to dance (for the Jura Reels? If any band members are reading this, can they please clarify?), saying there were more of us than of them, but it didn’t take long for the vultures to swoop and we were told to go back to our seats.

There was a brief interlude during which many in the sold-out hall went to get refreshments. I stayed where I was and talked to Regina while Brian was off getting a drink. During this time, I went down to the stage, as Ewen and Donald were sorting out their instruments. Karen had earlier introduced a new-old harmonium that Donald had bought online for a pound (“It wasn’t worth it,” he said), and I couldn’t remember what it was called, so I told him I had been thinking of it as a whirligig. So he said he would change the name. Then I spoke to Ewen (previously of Deacon Blue fame), and it was so nice, as it really had been ages since we had spoken.

The second set began slowly, with the beautiful Ailean Duinn Nach Till Thu An Taobh-Seo, another one from the new album, followed by my favourite from the same album, Abu Chuibhl’ (a spinning song). The thing about Gaelic songs is that it doesn’t matter a jot if you don’t understand what the lyrics mean. They’re just as beautiful as if you did and it also makes sure people are aware of the language. If they’re ignored, they die, and it would be a tragedy if that happened to Gaelic.

One Manus had written for To The Moon, called Nil Si I nGrà (meaning ‘She’s not in love’ in Irish Gaelic), was stunning as he joined Karen on the vocal, then Homer’s Reel was followed by the beautiful Both Sides the Tweed, which Karen dedicated to her old singing partner Helen, who was in the audience. It made me cry. I knew it would.

Things started to speed up towards the end. Seice Ruiridh, a song in which Karen sings at about a hundred miles a second, was followed, after the band pretended that was it, by Rob Roy Reels. And I wasn’t allowed to get up and dance, remember. It was fucking impossible. I went mental in my seat. These reels make up a set that starts fast and gets faster and, by the end, I really was going mad. Then, for what I thought was the last song, The Tree, there was no way I was gonna stay seated. I got up. I stood in the aisle. And I danced like a fucking banshee. (Believe me, that’s the best way to describe my dancing when I’m lost in the music.)

After a standing ovation and a point-blank refusal to sit down, the audience went crazy when the band came back for a second encore. Karen said this last (really last) was a request, and launched into the stunning Fear A’ Bhata.

Then, it really was the end. The band took a bow and left the stage, and then the lights went on.

I spotted Charlie and Karen coming out from backstage and said hi, grabbed random band members for hugs and then went, armed with after-show pass, with Brian and Regina to the backstage area. Me, I just walked in. I wondered where the couple were, but they came in a bit later. “The trick is,” I advised them, “to just walk in and hope no one throws you out.” But perhaps that’s just me being brazen. Personally, I find it beneficial to walk backstage as though I’m supposed to be there. The band all know who I am (I made plenty sure of that years ago), so it’s generally all right.

So then we mingled. It was really lovely to be able to catch up after so long and, this time, I had even brought a CD for them to sign.

8 band members. 8 autographs. I win.

Most of the tracks on At the Heart of it All were included in the set. 8 band members. 8 autographs. I win.

Charlie kept wanting to know if I would be OK going back to Brighton. “I’ll be fine, Charlie.” “Are you sure?” “Yes.” It was very sweet and lovely and so I asked if he’d like me to let him know when I was back safe. It might be late, I warned him. Yes, he would like that.

Goodbyes said and hugs exchanged, I got my band photo (a bit blurry, sorry, guys):

Donald, Chimp, Ewen, Manus, Karen, Mike (at the back), Charlie and Che. They are joined by two of Charlie's family friends.

Donald, Chimp, Ewen, Manus, Karen, Mike, Charlie and Che. They are joined by two of Charlie’s family friends.

And that was it. I caught a late train back to Brighton, sent Charlie a text as promised, and the evening was officially over.

Thanks for a fabulous gig, guys. I’ll try not to leave it so bloody long, next time.

More information about the band can be found here.

The new album, and more, can be purchased directly from the label here.

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