Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Celtic Connections at home: what's coming up in the first six days

Celtic Connections is one of Europe’s top winter festivals. It is one the Celtic music world’s major celebrations. From its early days in 1994 as a small event at one venue it has grown to an highly anticipated 19 day festival that welcomes more than 300 artists and over 100,000 attendees to more than 2000 across Glasgow.

This season, Celtic Connections is going on line, so you may join in right from home.

Events begin on 15 January and run through 2 February. All access passes are available as are tickets to individual events. Once an events has been broadcast, it will available to view for seven days. Details on ticketing and schedules may be explored at the Celtic Connections website.

I have been attending Celtic Connections in person for more than sixteen years now, and have also been paying close attention as plans have developed and filming has taken place for the events. There’s a sense of excitement -- and of accomplishment -- among all those working the events. For many artists, this marked the first time they’d been able to play with others in nearly a year, as lockdown went into effect in Scotland shortly after Celtic Connections 2020 concluded.

About that: Scotland is in strict lockdown as I write this, too. Film and television production, which has its own stringent pandemic safety rules in place, was allowed to proceed. Though it has meant some planned events couldn’t go forward, there is a full slate of what look tot be great events ready for broadcast. A reminder, too, as every announcement from the festival advises, be sure to observe health and safety measures if you should meet with anyone outside your household to watch.

All that said: What’s on? and what’s best to watch?

I’ve got a bit of advice on that. This article concerns events during the first six days of the fest. I’ll return with other stories on what is going on later in the festival run.

On 15 January, the music begins with the opening Celebration Concert. Word is that there will be a dozen acts taking part in the 90 minute show. The many strands of the music of Scotland in Gaelic, English, and Scots are always a major part of the festival, and there is always a strong international presence as well. With performances filmed across Glasgow music venues and from other locations around the world, this concert both honours and sets the stage for this. Fiddler and composer Duncan Chisholm, who performed at that very first festival and has taken part in many since, will appear with other top Scottish players performing as the Scottish Ensemble. Other artists on the bill include Ímar, Fiona Hunter, Kinnaris Quintet, Le Vent du Nord, as well as surprise guests.

The festival’s first weekend sees the beginning of the workshop program, with top tutors offering lessons via zoom to varied levels of learners on fiddle, whistle, and many other subjects.

Saturday evening the 16th sees two rather different programmes. Early in the evening Celtic Connections in the Community finds artists of colour living in Scotland with backgrounds in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean along with artists from the Roma community, offer their heritage music. Later in the evening, acid croft masters Shooglenifty celenrate thirty years as a band on an evening that also includes the Highlands and Islands fiddle quartet RANT, Paul McKenna’s often social justice infused music, the high energy of the Kinnaris Quintet, award winning traditional singer Fiona Hunter, and Amira Kheirs, whose music draws on her east African roots and desert blues.

Workshops continue on Sunday the 17th during the day. There’s the addition of a music programme for under fives and their families from top traditional singer Claire Hastings (there’s no charge for Claire’s programme. which she offers on Facebook each Sunday morning of the festival).

The first of a Sunday afternoon strand known as New Voices, in which an artist is given the creative challenge) to create an hour’s worth of original music begins with singer and songwriter Josie Duncan. Duncan is a thoughtful artist, “an expert in crafting heart-warming songs which delicately balance traditional idioms and a contemporary outlook” in one description. You may expect to hear songs in both English and Gaelic.

Griot music from Gambia, harp and fiddle and genre crossing music from Shetland, a jazz trio based on piano and a singer who employs jazz, soul, and pop in her work make for an eclectic evening concert as Sona Jobarteh, Chris Stout and Catriona Mackay, and other artists take the stage Sunday evening.

Monday 18 January sees the start of Blazin’ at Celtic Connections, as the award winning band Blazin’ Fiddles begins offering instruction on fiddle, guitar, and keyboards during the day. As evening comes, it’s dream collaboration as several of Scotland’s best loved singers and songwriters join up for a programme called Come Away In. Karine Polwart, Eddi Reader , Rab Noakes, Siobhan Miller, and Findlay Napier share music in a song circle from the banqueting hall of the City Chambers, Glasgow’s 18th Century Municipal building on George Square.

On the 19th, the Blazers continue their workshops, and there’s an online take what has become a welcoming strand at the in person festival, a concert designed to be accessible and enjoyable for people with dementia, and their friends and families presented by Catherine Tinney and Luc McNally.

In the evening, well loved and always creative band Breabach will play, Malian artists Bassekou Kouyate whose main instrument is the ngoni will bring his high energy band, Highlands harp player Rachel Newton will offer original and traditional music, Aidan O’Rourke at Kit Downes will share music from the 365 music cycle, and rising singer Katherine Priddy will join in.

The concert on Wednesday the 20th will offer a feast of top class music as well. Blue Rose Code, who is Edinburgh-born songwriter Ross Wilson, is a musician with diverse tastes at the edge of alt-folk. LYRE are a new group of traditional strings players Patsy Reid, Alice Allen and Marit Fält. Scottish acoustic troubadour Rory Butler recently released his debut album. Karen Matheson, known for her work as lead singer of the band Capercaillie as well as her solo albums, is well loved as one of Scotland’s if not the world’s top vocalists. She will be bringing well loved favourites in Gaelic and English as well as music from her new solo album due out in February.

Each evening’s programme offers a varied selection of music all on one bill.

If you’ve never been to Celtic Connections, perhaps choose one or two evenings or a workshop that sounds interesting. I’m thinking you will be back for more.

There is more. These events are happening in the first six days of the festival. Stay tuned for more about the festival here at Music Road, and explore the Celtic Connections website, Celtic Connections website, too.

Photographs of Karen Matheson bnad, Sibhan Miller band, and Aidan O'Rourke ensemble by Gaelle Beri; photographs of Duncam Chisholm and Eddi Reader by Kerry Dexter

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