Monday, April 12, 2021

Tradition with edge: music from Leahy, Karan Casey, and Project Smok

Tradition and heritage: sources of ideas, inspiration, and challenges for musicians. There are as many ways to respond to tradition as there are artists who draw on it in their work. In albums from Canadian musicians Leahy, Irish singer Karan Casey, and the trio Project Smok from Scotland, there are varied ways of working within, without, and at the edges of tradition to explore.

Leahy is a family band from Lakefield in Ontario. They’ve roots in the traditions of Ireland and Cape Breton as well as the varied musics that make up the sounds of Ontario. There are performing roots, too: the eleven siblings of the Leahy family grew up playing music at home, and performing across Canada and winning Juno awards in the process. Members of the band have come and gone and returned since they first became nationally known in the 1990s; for the album Good Water seven family members join in.

Join in they do, and add new dimensions to Leahy’s music as they do. Though you will hear influences of Celtic and folk in the music they offer on their album Good Water, you will also find rock, pop, and progressive influences . It’s a well and thoughtfully done collection of original music; the songs have lyrics of substance and the two instrumentals offer thought provoking ideas, too. The members of Leahy can play and sing, each often taking more than one role. For their main presences on Good Water, Denise and Julie Frances often take the lead vocalist spot; Siobheann on bass and Frank on drums hold down the steady beat of rhythm; Maria brings in guitar and mandolin; Xavier adds accordion; Erin brings in keyboards and fiddle. Guest artists add edge with electric instruments, strings, and horns.

There is edge, certainly, but edge that serves to define the strong musical, lyrical, and creative foundation of the recording. You just might hear echoes of the energy and creative risk taking that infused Call to Dance, the music which first brought Leahy to topping the charts and touring with Shania Twain in the 1990s. You may hear them going in directions you’d not expect from Leahy, perhaps, but directions full of quality and imagination nonetheless. Listen out especially for the uplifting message and fine harmonies and playing on the title track, Good Water; heartfelt singing from Julie Frances on Friend; and class playing from Erin and Xavier on the instrumental Little Moon.

Karan Casey knows about differing ways of looking at tradition and influence in her music, too. She’s been doing that since her days as a founding member of the groundbreaking Irish American band Solas and for more than two decades of solo and collaborative recording projects. In her album Hieroglyphs That Tell the Tale Casey continues to expand her vision and her choices. There are songs by Americana and folk tunesmiths including Eliza Gilkyson, Janis Ian (from whose lyrics the title of the album comes), Bob Dylan, and Patti Griffin, along with a pair of traditional songs and from Casey’s own writing a song about a little known aspect of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising.

Casey has a lovely voice and knows well how to use it; great musical intelligence is one of the hallmarks of her singing as well as her song choice and her songwriting. From from the low key beginning of Hollis Brown to its intense ending, she illuminates the emotions of the hard told story. That she follows it with the quiet intensity of Down in the Glen, that song about the Rising, serves to make the latter that much more powerful. Sixteen Come Next Sunday is Casey’s take on music and lyrics from the tradition, respecting each of those in her own ways.

“I don’t get into the whole ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ question,” Casey told Sean Smith of the Boston Irish Reporter. “For me, the criteria is, ‘Is it a good song?’ We’re always looking for stories that are sung well and delivered with meaning, and that’s what’s most important. It really has always been about the song, and the story...Your creative center has to be genuine. You have to really want to sing that song.”

Every song on Hieroglyphs is a keeper. It is a well sequenced project too. Donald Shaw produced it. Casey is also supported by long time musical collaborators Sean Óg Graham and Niamh Dunne, Kate Ellis, and Niall Vallely, as well as guest artists including Karen Matheson and Maura O’Connell.

The three men who make up Scotland’s trio Project Smok -- Pablo Lafuente on guitars, Ewan Baird on bodhran, and Ali Levack on whistles and pipes -- are mixing tradition and invention in their work as well. On their debut recording Bayview and at their high energy live gigs (including a memorable one at Celtic Connections 2021 online) it’s clear that these three know how to play, and how to play together.

They had the opportunity to record in Helmsdale in Scotland’s northeast, at the studio of well known punk rock musician and producer Edwyn Collins. That’s a studio equipped with vintage microphones and a classic Neve mixing desk. The band knew this would fit with their plan to record an album which respected tradition while being forward looking.

“Experimenting with vintage and analogue equipment, using the best instruments available, gave us an even greater opportunity to fuse contemporary and traditional sounds to produce something really authentic, which sounds close to the source,” said Levack.

Close to the source indeed: all the tunes on Bayview have some connection with place, including Clashnarrow, which is named after the studio in which they recored, Woodlands Drive, from the place where Levack lives in Glasgow, Viewbank from Pablo’s studio in Airdrie, and Airsaig, a west coast place important to all three band members. It’s a sparkling collection of music, which does well fit the band’s intentions of being connected to tradition while adding in new strands.

Bayview is a mostly instrumental album, but a stripped back version of A Girl Like You, the 19190s hit from Collins, finds him joining in as the band play back up on the classic. A meditative track, Ceitidh’s, finds John Mulhearn, Rona Lightfoot, and Megan Henderson adding a touch of voices to the track. Charlie Stewart on bass and James D Mackenzie on flutes also add to that track, while MIke Vass, Moshen Amiini, and Greg Barry are among those who also sit it. The focus is on the sound the trio, though, and a lively and well thought out debut it is, co-produced by the trio along with MIke Vass.

Leahy with Good Water. Karan Casey with Hieroglyphs That Tell the Tale, and the men of Project Smok with Bayview: all the musicians have clear eyed and creative approaches to ways to take sound and spirit of traditional music forward. Give listen for what discoveries await.

You may also wish to see
One, duo album from Donnell Leahy and Natalie MacMaster
Leahy Live in Gatineau dvd, an earlier version of the Leahy ensemble, some the same as on Good Water, and some different. Step dancing too.
Ships in the Forest from Karan Casey
Meet more musicians from Scotland in my story at Perceptive Travel 7 Ways to Explore Scotland through Music

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Photographs of Leahy and Project Smok courtesy of the artists; photograph of Karan Casey at Celtic Connections by Kerry Dexter, made with permission.

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Sunday, March 14, 2021

Ireland's Music: John Doyle: The Path of Stones

John Doyle is a top class arranger, producer, songwriter, and guitarist. That may explain why his on solo projects are a bit far between. It could also explain, at least in part, why they are well worth waiting for.

The Path of Stones is Doyle’s most recent solo album at this writing. It’s a project which draws on all those aforementioned skills along with several others. It is the Irishman’s songwriting and singing however which are to the forefront on The Path of Stones.

That said, the opening track and the first single from path of Stones was a song from Ireland’s 1798 Rebellion, about says, Doyle, “a rambling rake from Clare” who eventually escapes to America. County Clare in the Republic, or Clare townlands in County Tyrone in the North? That’s a matter for discussion. Doyle, comes down on the side of Clare in the Republic, though. He made a few adjustments to the melody but otherwise kept to the tradition for the song he’s known for many years. It’s called The Rambler from Clare.

That proves a good starting point for the journey which Doyle leads through the rest of the album, nine more tracks, all of which are of his own composition.

There’s the lively and intrigung tune called Elevenses, which finds Doyle playing high 5 string guitar and mandolin in addition to guitar, joined by Mike McGoldrick on flute, bodhran, and other percussion.

Lady Wynde offers a tale which sounds as though it could have come from long ago, with Doyle’s strong tenor and Cathy Jordan’s haunting supporting vocals adding depth to the story, helped by Duncan Wickel’s contributions on fiddle and cello.

Doyle is a graceful singer and a fine storyteller. For the title track, The Path of Stones, he drew inspiration directly and indirectly, from another Irish artist, William Butler Yeats. If you are familiar with that poet’s work or images, you’ll find how Doyle has drawn from them in the song. If you’re not, you may be inspired to go look Yeats up. The song stands on its own, though. Melody, lyric, image, and story will give you much to think on long after the song is done.

There are other gems on The Path of Stones. All the tracks are well worth your listening, repeated listening in fact. They are by tunes reflective and upbeat, haunting and uplifting, song and tune alike.

Doyle produced the album, which was recorded in Sligo in Ireland and in North Carolina in the US. In addition to singing and playing guitars and mandolin, Doyle plays harmonium, mandola, fiddle, bodhran, bouzouki, and keyboards on various tracks. In addition to McGoldrick, Wickel, and Jordan, he’s joined from time to time by fiddler John McCusker and Rick Epping on harmonica.

John Doyle's web site

Photograph of John Doyle with green scarf courtesy of the artist,photograph of John in performance made at The Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow by Kerry Dexter with permission of the festival, the venue, and the artists. Thank you for respecting copyright.

You may also wish to see
The Alt, a recording John Doyle, Nuala Kennedy, and Eamon O’Leary
John’s album Shadow and Light
John’s album with Karan Casey, called Exiles Return.
John often collaborates with Cathie Ryan. Learn about her album Through Wind and Rain

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Sunday, March 07, 2021

Scotland's Music: Doddie's Dream

Music is about celebration, community, dreams, hope -- and fun. All those things have come into play in the creation of the tune Doddie’s Dream.

Who is Doddie, what’s his dream, and why will you enjoy this music?

Doddie is Doddie Weir. He is a rugby legend in Scotland and points beyond.

Several years back he started a charity called My Name’5 Doddie Foundation. The foundation’s purpose is to help people who, like Doddie, have Motor Neurone Disease, and to fund research toward a cure for this as yet incurable illness. This past January the foundation had a challenge called Doddie Aid, which encouraged people to run, walk, or cycle to rack up miles for their chosen geographic district to raise money.

When he’s not playing music or presenting on the radio, Bruce MacGregor of the band Blazin’ Fiddles loves to cycle.

“Whilst cycling out by Loch Ness as part of Doddie Aid,” MacGregor recalls, “I had this idea of doing a charity single with a whole host of fellow musicians playing along with me and the Blazers.”

He wrote a tune which has “a real positive lift to it and hopefully it fits in with that amazing collective spirit that was on display during Doddie Aid,” he says.

His bandmates in Blazin’ Fiddles Angus Lyon, Anna Massie, Rua Macmillan, Jenna Reid, and Kristan Harvey quickly signed on to join in and before long they’d recruited what amounts to an orchestra of Scottish folk top liners, and a few surprise outliers too.

Each of the artists and all involved in tech and promotion of the music gave of their talent and time pro bono, too, and artists recorded from their own locations as under current conditions they could not safely gather together.

Participants include fiddle and accordion duo Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham, top Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis, acclaimed composer and fiddle player  Duncan Chisholm, musician and composer Donald Shaw, BBC Take the Floor Presenter and member of Mànran Gary Innes, Megan Henderson, Ewan Robertson and James Lindsay of  Breabach,  Skerryvore’s Martin Gillespie and Scott Wood, BBC Radio Scotland Young Trad winner Ali Levack, piper and whistle player Ross Ainslie, fiddle and cello duo  Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas,  Iain Sandilands on percussion, harp and fiddle duo Iain MacFarlane and Ingrid Henderson, Douglas Montgomery and Brian Cromarty on fiddle and cittern, multi-award winning concertina player Mohsen Amini, member of Treacherous Orchestra and Session A9 Adam Sutherland and Scots fiddle maestro Paul Anderson. 

Acclaimed accordion player Sharon Shannon of Ireland joined in too, as did top dobro player and long time Transatlantic Sessions co-director Jerry Douglas from the US. So did native Scot and well known classical violinist Nicola Benedetti.

It’s not the first time Benedetti has joined up with fellow Scots for a musical project; her album Homecoming, in which Bain, Cunningham, Chisholm, and Fowlis took part is one example of that.

“It is a total honour to perform with such an incredible line up of folk musicians and for such an important cause, “ Benedetti says. “All the proceeds will go to Doddie’s Charity which helps fellow sufferers of Motor Neurone Disease and funds much needed research into this cruel illness. I hope everyone enjoys our wee tune and helps us to raise awareness of MND.”

Doddie himself is thrilled. “What a beautiful piece of music – it really is special, and I am so humbled to think these world class and brilliantly talented musicians have all been part of this.,” he says. “If ever we needed some uplifting music, it is now, and my old teammate Stewart Campbell has produced a fantastic film to accompany the music. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.”

Here’s the trailer for the project, produced by Campbell's firm Tigershark.TV

The track will be available to buy & download on Friday 12 March 2021 with all proceeds going to the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation.


The single is available to pre-order on iTunes and pre-save on Spotify, buyers can go to for more information.

Here’s where to contribute directly to the foundation contribute directly to the foundation

Photo of Blazin Fiddles by Sean Purser; photo of Nicola Benedetti by Andy Gotts; photo of Bruce MacGregor courtesy of Innes Campbell Communications

You may also wish to see
7 Ways to explore Scotland through music, at Perceptive Travel
Music & horizons: stories of hope at Wandering Educaotrs which includes one of my favourite tracks from Breabach
Scotland’s music:Still Time from Karen Matheson

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Saturday, February 13, 2021

Scotland's Music: Karen Matheson: Still Time

What draws a musician to a song or tune, to wanting to learn it and sing it?

That varies with each artist, of course, and sometimes with each song. For Karen Matheson, it was the poetry and image in James Grant’s song Cassiopeia Coming Through that got her thinking how she’d like to present it. It’s a piece with an abundance of both, along with enough room musically for Matheson and producer and partner Donald Shaw to open things up with ideas that flow between jazz and folk. They chose the song to open Matheson’s album Still Time. “Cassiopeia is a beautifully crafted call for change, for hope, for moving forward,” Matheson says.

The way the album came about is in some ways a story of hope and moving forward. Matheson is lead singer and a founding member of the top folk band Capercaillie, with whom she sings in both Gaelic and English.. She also keeps note of songs she would like to record in other ways. This is her fifth solo album, one she had begun working on some time ago.

‘’Ten years ago I was working on a bunch of different tracks, unsure of what direction to go in when I found myself facing a number of personal challenges including the loss of both my parents,” Matheson says. “It felt right to concentrate on the Gaelic songs of my childhood, in tribute to what had given true shape to my life.” The result was the all Gaelic album called Urram, a word which means respect in Gaelic.

“We were then left with a body of work, waiting in the wings to be resurrected at a later date with my sore heart eased and my faith in humanity restored,” she continues. Then came the unexpected pause of lockdown.

“While the world paused, birdsong soared and banana bread baked, Still Time was reborn with the help of some familiar, brilliant musicians who could accommodate the home-recording situation we worked through lockdown,” she says. Those musicians include Shaw and Grant as well as frequent members of Matheson’s road band Hannah Fisher on backing vocals and fiddle, and Sorren MacLean on backing vocals and guitar, along with Alyn Cosker and James MacKintosh on percussion, John Doyle on guitar and bouzouki, Fraser Fifield on saxophone, Anna Massie on mandolin, Ewen Vernal on bass, and others.

The gathering of songs is at once focused and varied.

They are thoughtfully and beautifully sung and backed with taste and creativity. Each track will reveal more riches with repeated listening. Highlights include

A thoughtful tale of life in the Highlands coming to terms with the clearances Recovery is a story with both historic and current resonance. It was written by Callum and Rory MacDonald of Runrig. Matheson’s take imbues the story with powerful yet understated grace.

The Aragon Mill is a story of loss, change, uncertainty, and perhaps, just a thread of hope. American writer and activist Si Kahn wrote it, inspired by the lives of those affected by the closure of the cotton mill in Aragon, Georgia, in the US. It’s a song which has spoken to Matheson for some years; she’s often included it in live performance. “I’ve loved it from the very first time I heard it sung by the brilliant Andy Irvine with Planxty, on their album Words and Music in the early 80s,” she writes in the sleeve notes.

Matheson chose four songs by James Grant for this album; one, in fact, came about because of request she made to the musician. Of the song called Little Gun she writes “This little beauty penned by James was in response to my request for something reflecting the power of parenting, and the raw emotion it brings.” There is the memorable idea “it’s not the fact that I made you, it’s the fact that you made me,” as part of the lyrics, and there’s a chorus --I will let you seek that out -- which will linger in your mind, as well.

Then there’s the title track, Still Time. It was, Matheson says, written by her partner and the album’s producer Donald Shaw twenty years ago. Life’s changes and choices, and the lasting fleeting nature of both those things, come in for consideration in the song. “The words “Still Time” resonated with me while collating the tracks for this album in lockdown firstly on an obvious level of time standing still but also on another level in that there was still time to finish this project which had been lying unfinished for so long!” Matheson explains.

There are other gems: The Diamond Ring finds lively contributions from Dirk Powell on banjo and Hannah Fisher on fiddle and backing vocals, John Doyle and Sorren MacLean on guitar; Cassiopeia Coming Through, another piece written by James Grant, opens the album with a mystical, jazz tinged, image filled story; things are drawn to a close with the Robert Burns classic Ae Fond Kiss as sung at the close of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014.

Still Time is an album with songs of reflection, connection, courage, creativity, and grace. The songs are presented with those qualities as well.

Photograph of Karen Matheson in studio courtesy of Compass Records; photographs of Karen Matheson in performance at Celtic Connections in Glasgow by Kerry DExter, made with permission of festival, artist, and venues involved. Thank you for respecting copyright.

You may also wish to see
Karen Matheson's album Urram
Capercaillie’s album At the Heart of It All,
History into song: Capercaillie’s album Glenfinnan
Another artist to know: Cathie Ryan’s album Through Wind & Rain

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Thursday, January 28, 2021

Celtic Connections 2021 Continues: What's on 27 January through 1 February

Traditionally, at Celtic Connections there would be more than 100,000 listeners enjoying the work of more than 300 artists across Glasgow city centre at this time of year.

As with most things to do with music, things are different this year. Different, yes, but equally interesting. Roots music from acid croft to Sudanese blues, generous helpings of music in Gaelic and Scots, song and tune from rising stars and established creators: it’s all continuing as Celtic Connections heads into the closing days of its 2021 edition.

Tickets, both all access passes and individual tickets (you can view events for 7 days after first broadcast) are still available and there are several no cost events too, including a programme for small children and one that is dementia friendly.

Highlights of what’s on offer 27 January through 1 February:

“Authentic, electrifying and unlike anything you’ve seen before... that’s the way we do it in the Western Isles” is how the Stornoway based trio Peat & Diesel describe themselves. A fisherman, an electrician and a delivery driver who only got a band together so they could play a couple of gigs down the local pub have been taking their rip roaring approach to wider stages-- this time, to Celtic Connections on 27 January.

Later that evening, festival favourites Cherish the Ladies offer their take on the music of Ireland.

From the Wild Atlantic Way in County Clare Joanie Madden on flute, whistles, and harmony vocals, Mary Coogan on guitar, Mirella Murray on accordion, Kathleen Boyle on piano, Nollaig Casey on fiddle, and Lunasa’s Trevor Hutchinson on upright bass recorded a special socially distanced concert for Celtic Connections. Kate Purcell, Don Stiffe, Bruce Foley, and Seámus Ó’Flatharta add their voices and David Geaney and Seámus Ó’Flatharta bring dance to a programme that is both innovative and classic. Sharing the evening’s bill with Cherish are the Scottish quartet Charlie Grey, Sally Simpson, Owen Sinclair and Joseph Peach, who are Westward the Light.

Remember the pipers of Tryst, who walked up Buchanan Street to open the festival? They’re back as part of of an evening featuring varied forms of piping. In their set the ten pipers of Tryst showcase new music inspired by the piobaireachd tradition. Also on the evening Finlay MacDonald brings together a local showcase of music focusing on the innovative Scottish and Irish bellows-piping traditions, and piping from BBC Young Traditional Musician of the year 2020 Ali Levack shows up as part of at set from Project SMOK, a trio who are at their most comfortable pushing boundaries across musical genres.

Transatlantic Sessions is always a top ticket at the festival; this long running collaboration between artists from both sides of the Atlantic features continuing participants including Aly Bain, Phil Cunningham, John McCusker, Michael McGoldrick, James Mackintosh, Jerry Douglas, John Doyle and Donald Shaw and an always a changing cast of artists joining them. This year festival favorites Euan Burton, Julie Fowlis, and Kris Drever will join from Scotland with Molly Tuttle, Tim O’Brien, Alison Brown, and Stuart Duncan chiming in from Nashville. Word comes that recorded performances from earlier years of Transatlantic Sessions will also be in the mix.

Finishing off the evening of 29 January, a journey to Quebec brings in music from Le Vent du Nord , Grosse Isle. and De Temps Antan.

At the weekend, workshops continue, as does Claire Hastings’s programme for under fives and their parents, along with radio broadcasts of the Danny Kyle Open Stage concerts on Celtic Music Radio. Presented by Liz Clark, DKOS has adapted to an online format in style: six acts from the festival long event go to through to the final broadcast on 31 January. Exploring ideas of home and place, Steven Blake’s New Voices commission uses found sounds and samples to weave lush textures around a simple piano spine.

Another final takes place at the weekend: the BBC Scotland Young Traditional Musician Award 2021 concert. Six finalists will offer sets -- there’s no charge to view this concert -- with song, harp, pipes, piano, and fiddle. Among Young Trad winners in earlier years are Gillian Frame, Robyn Stapleton, Emily Smith, Anna Massie, and Benedict Morris; many finalists have gone on to fine careers in music as well.

Innovative music drawing from varied roots traditions fills the bill on Sunday evening. Dean Owens’s gift for storytelling and the landscapes of the American southwest fuse in a set of music from his most recent recording. Originally from the high desert of Northern New Mexico, multi-instrumentalist Cahalen Morrison returns to the festival as a solo act with Americana based music. Rhiannon Giddens has electrified Celtic Connections audiences with her voice, banjo, and fiddle solo and in performance with the Celtic Blues Orchestra. She returns in creative collaboration with Italian pianist and percussionist Francesco Turrisi. Bringing creativity from Scotland to the evening is top singer and guitarist Kris Drever, who is a fine songwriter as well an a gifted interpreter of the music of others.

On Monday evening, it is the Western Isles and Gaelic language and music to the fore. A night of music and song from North Uist, celebrating the island’s musical talent and heritage, will see top artists including Julie Fowlis and Ellen MacDonald, the Taigh Chearsabhagh House Band featuring Padruig Morrison, Anna Black and Seonaidh MacIntyre, up-and-coming talents Eilidh Lamb, Robert John MacInnes, Doireann Marks and Fionnlagh Mac a’ Phiocair, and the legendary Duncan MacKinnon presenting a programme entirely in Gaelic bringing to life the language and culture which of the Outer Hebrides. This evening is presented by Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Centre in partnership with the Centre for Island Creativity.

There’s more to discover as you explore Celtic Connections 2021’s digital first festival. Festival organizers and production crew from Beezer Studios in Glasgow are doing excellent work in support creativity and presenting the work of musicians. Celtic Connections is delivered by the charity Glasgow Life and is funded by Glasgow City Council, Creative Scotland and The Scottish Government Festivals EXPO Fund.

Tickets, schedules, and more information at the Celtic Connections website

You may also wish to see
At Wandering Educators From Glasgow, virtually: Celtic Connections begins
Music, Heart, Hope: Celtic Connections begins
Celtic Connections 2021: what’s coming in the first 6 days

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Monday, January 25, 2021

Celtic Connections Begins: Music, Heart, and Hope from Scotland

When Celtic Connections began in 1994, there were those who thought organizers were more than a bit cracked in the head to stage a music festival in January, in Glasgow, in the midst of Scotland’s winter.

What began as a rather small event has grown over the years to a 19 day festival, attracting performers and visitors from across the world to celebrate roots music in all its varied forms. From a specially created folk big band concert at Glasgow’s SSE Hydro to intimate one and two person gigs at the recital rooms at City Halls, Celtic Connections has become one of the UK’s and Europe’s top winter festivals, traditionally welcoming more than100,000 attendees and 300 artists to Glasgow.

Celtic Connections has weathered many changes over its more than two decades. With ongoing uncertainty in all areas of life caused by a global pandemic, though, should there be a festival come winter 2021? Could that work?

Digital first Celtic Connections is working brilliantly (the festival is ongoing at this writing; tickets and information at Also note that performances were all recorded under Scotland’s strict health and safety guidelines for film production).

There are things that are different and things that remain the same from the in person festival.

One thing that is the same: Celtic Connections is a festival of hope, and of heart.

The festival was piped into its start as notes skirled from pipes played of members of TRYST as they walked through unusually quiet streets in Glasgow’s city centre to the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. There they met up with the Celtic Connections Big Band 2021 a gathering of Scotland’s top folk musicians who drew them into a lively set.

As the first evening progressed there was a quiet fiddle tune from Duncan Chisholm, an original song based on a Robert Burns poem from Karine Polwart, along with a fast paced wave of welcoming music from across the water from Le Vent du Nord in Quebec. Artists sent in songs from Gambia and Spain, and across Scotland. Fiona Hunter added in Aye Waulkin O in Scots. Karen Matheson stood in the midst of the Big Band to offer O Nach Eiśdeadh in Gaelic. The Big Band closed things out in tribute to the late trad-fusion composer Martyn Bennett with his tune Karabach.


During the 19 nights of the festival’s scheduled run, one or two concerts are offered. Most follow the Celtic Colours example of making each night a sort of ambassador event, with each night including sets from three to five acts.

Several highlights of what has happened thus far:

Duncan Chisholm filled the great hall of Kelvingrove Art Gallery with tunes both reflective and lively. Vibrant backing from musical friends Innes Watson on guitar, Hamish Napier on keys, Jarlath Henderson on pipes, and the string players of The Scottish Ensemble added to the evening as did thoughtful interview segments in which Chisholm chatted with musician and broadcaster Joy Dunlop about creativity and landscape.

New Scots in Concert saw musicians with backgrounds fromAfrica to India to the Caribbean to Roma culture sharing their talents. It was a indeed a varied program. Singer Brina from Jamaica and Ando Glaso Collective with polkas were two very different acts on the gig.

Acid croft masters Shooglenifty added high energy to an evening which included top class playing from the Highlands and Islands fiddle quartet RANT, blues infused singing from the Sudan from Amira Kheir, Scots song from Fiona Hunter, and creative singing and songwriting from Paul McKenna.

New Voices, an hour of new music from a rising composers or songwriters, is a popular strand at Celtic Connections, happening every Sunday afternoon of the festival; Josie Duncan, known for Gaelic song, offered song in English for the first New Voices of 2021. In addition to her creative music, it was touching to see how delighted Duncan was to be able to share her music with listeners, even though she couldn’t see us...

Song was the focus of the concert called Come Away In: Karine Polwart, Eddi Reader, Siobhan Miller, Rab Noakes, and Findlay Napier, backed by Aaron Jones and Dave Milligan, made a songwriters’ circle, sharing songs and stories from Glasgow’s City Chambers. Music they explored included The King’s Shilling from Miller, There’s More to Building Ships from Napier, Come Away In from Polwart, and Maid o’ the Loch from Reader.

Karen Matheson shared the title song from her forthcoming album Still Time along with other songs in English and Gaelic, well supported in creative backing from her band members including Donald Shaw, Fraser Fifield, Hannah Fisher, and Sorren MacLean. Those sharing the evening with Matheson included the recently formed group Lyre, which proved to be an innovative joining of talents from string players and composers Patsy Reid, Alice Allen, and Marit Fält.

Watching the six members of Blazin’ Fiddles play is always a treat. In this Celtic Connections concert in addition to the top class music they always offer, it was an added benefit to see the joy they took in being able to get together to make and share music after a year of rarely being able to do so.

The folk of Beezer Stdios, who have been handling the production of all the Celtic Connection concerts, well know how to shoot and edit live music. Thanks to their work such subtle aspects of muscial creativity are there to enjoy.

There is more to Celtic Connections, as it’s on going at this writing

Once you have purchased a ticket, each concert is available to watch for seven days after first broadcast, and there all access passes as well as individual tickets available.

Individually ticketed workshops are available too, as are no cost events for small children, and those living with dementia, and several radio broadcasts which you can also enjoy online. Visit the Celtic Connections website for information on all this, and to book tickets. Photographs by Gaelle Beri and Kerry Dexter

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Monday, January 18, 2021

Celtic Connections 2021: a look at what's to come 21-26 January

Celtic Connections began brilliantly, with pipers walking through Buchanan Street into the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall with a tune paying tribute to pioneers. They were met by the specially organized Celtic Celtic Connections Big Band 2021. This group of Scotland’s top folk players was a constant through opening night, brining energy and context to performances from Glasgow and beyond.

The first week has unfolded with grace and energy in line with and beyond those opening moments.

What’s next, though?

Highlights to look out for during day six through twelve, 21 through 26 January, at Celtic Connections 2021:

Before I go further I will also point out that tickets are available, both for individual events and an all access concerts pass. Details at the Celtic Connections web site. Also to note: times mentioned are Glasgow/GMT; when you pirchase a ticket though, conerts available for seven days after first broadcast.

Ross Ainslie is a player of pipes, whistles and cittern who has release four albums of his own and is well known as a band member collaborator, and composer. A founding member of Treacherous Orchestra, a contributor to Hamish Napier’s award winning album The Woods, Ainslie of regularly appears with Salsa Celtica, India Alba, Tim Edey, and others. This night he fronts his own band.

High energy band Talisk bring a trad based lively presence, while top folk-trad group Manran will offer its always creative take on Scotland’s traditions into the evening’s mix as well. Top Scots songwriter and singer Siobhan Miller will bring her thoughtful music to the mix, as will singer songwriter Beth Malcolm.

The next evening, 22 January, will feature the music of Blazin’ Fiddles. Blaze they do. Fiddlers Bruce MacGregor, Rua MacMillan Jenna Reid, and Kristan Harvey, Anna Massie on fiddle and guitar, and Angus Lyon on keyboards are as worth watching and listening to for the quality of their interactions as for the top quality tunes. Note, too that the Blazers are offering workshops during the day in the days leading up to this concert. Xavier Diaz and friends will bring their own energy and style, recorded in their native northern Spain in Santiago de Compostela. Deirdre Graham will add Gaelic song to the progamme.

23 January sees a daytime filled with workshops for learners and improvers, and an evening that honours varied and international aspects of tradition. The evening focuses on a concert by The Womanly Voices of Jodhpur Riff which was recorded in Rajastan in India, with eight women who individually are leaders and groundbreakers in their tradition. The Nordic countries join in through the band Dreamers’ Circus with a contribution recorded at their home in Denmark. South Uist native and Glasgow resident Kathleen MacInnes brings Gaelic song into the mix. Later in the evening, there is a separate concert which finds Scotland’s Admiral Fallow band offering their indie take on Scotland’s music.

On Sunday afternoon the 24th it’s time for the next part of the New Voices strand. Charlie Stewart has found inspiration for this set of music from time spent at home with his parents and time in an unusually quiet Glasgow during the pandemic.

In the evening, there’s a late night concert as Argentinian-Swedish singer José González brings his music from Gothenburg, Sweden. Before that, though, the five women of The Kinnaris Quintet will, if history serves, tear up the stage with their high quality and high energy take on trad shared through fiddle guitar, and mandolin, and The Secret Sisters duo bring music from the Americana side of things. Music from the isle of Mull is featured as well as An Tobar Presents brings performances from Sorren MacLean, Hannah Fisher, Roody Woomble, and Mairearad Green.

On 25 January James Grant & the Hallelujah String Quartet will perform a set supported by multi-instrumentalist, composer and singer Siobhan Wilson and nu-folk singer-songwriter Zoë Bestel.

It isn’t on the Celtic Connections roster of video performance, but Karen Matheson and Eddi Reader, both longtime festival favourites and two of the most well loved and accomplished singers in Scotland, will be part of a program about the music of Robert Burns (it is Burns night after all) available on BBC Radio Scotland.

On theTuesday 26th January, the four piece band Fara with roots in Orkney, will be on the bill along with folk trio Assynt, fiddler Chloë Bryce and singer Amy Papiransky. Rachel Walker, who writes and sings and in both Gaelic and English, will be adding in her voice, as well.

You might also want to look at the offerings at Celtic Music Radio, which is hosting on air and online broadcasts of the nightly Danny Kyle Open Stage concerts. These gigs feature up and coming artists from across Scotland and are always highly popular in person at the festival. Celtic Music Radio will also be broadcasting three days of Celtic on Campus earlier in the day (it’s a lunchtime event in Glasgow) and a bit earlier in the week, from 20 through 22 January.

The Celtic Connections web site has ticketing and access details for all of their events. The festival runs through the beginning of February, so there’s more to come...

Photographs of Celtic Connections Big Band and Fara by Gaelle Beri; photograph of Karen Matheson by Kerry Dexter

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posted by Kerry Dexter at 0 Comments