Celtic Connections: it is a festival held in the depth on Scotland’s winter that lights up and highlights connection and collaboration expressed through music. Through eighteen nights and days of music, traditions of Scotland and its diaspora are celebrated, as are connections to heritage and tradition in countries across the world. That collaboration extends to the listeners, too: for all that that there are thousands of artists, more than two dozen venues, and thousands more audience members, a sense of welcome among all is a lasting feature of Celtic Connections
Audience members — who also travel from all over the world as well as across Scotland and across Glasgow — will have the chance to be inspired by well known artists including top Americana singer and songwriter Patty Griffin, whose songs share influences from places she’s called home from Maine to Austin to Nashville, soul and roots artist Rhiannon Giddens, whose repertoire ranges from the roots and blues of her native American south to Gaelic songs of her husband’s Ireland, Shetland’s Aly Bain, whose fiddle playing has inspired artists across genres introduced many a listener to folk music, rock legend Rickie Lee Jones whose latest work draws on ideas inspired by her current base in New Orleans, long time leaders of Celtic tradition Boys of the Lough, and singer Karen Matheson, whose work as the voice of Capercaillie and as a solo artist make her one of Scotland’s most influential and best loved musicians, whether she is singing in English or in Gaelic.
There are other artists whose names may or may not be known to you, artists who make their understanding of heritage a base for excursions into the edges and borders of tradition. There are those, too, who choose who use their contemporary skill to reach more deeply into the heritage of music — and at Celtic Connections, it’s not uncommon to find acts who take each of these approaches sharing the bill of an evening.
The four women of the group RANT connect fiddle traditions from the north of Scotland within their own ensemble: sisters Bethany and Jenna Reid come from Shetland, Sarah Jane Summers is from the Highlands, and Lauren MacColl is from the Black Isle. They have invited two singers with whom they’ve worked, Ewan MacLennan who tells his stories in English and Julie Fowlis, who tells hers in Gaelic, to join them. Sharing the bill with these artists from Scotland will be AnDa Union, from Mongolia. From their current base in China, for the past eight years the members of this band have been traveling around the world to share the music of their heritage.
Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh on voice and fiddle, Ciaran Curran on bouzouki, Ciaran Tourish onfiddle, vocals, whistles and low whistle, Dáithí Sproule on guitar and voice, Mark Kelly on guitar and voice, and Martin Tourish on accordion and keyboards of the band Altan have been traveling the world to share past and present of their musical heritage too. In Altan’s case this is the music of Ireland’s far northwest, in Donegal. On their recent album The Widening Gyre they explored connections between that music and the songs and tunes of Appalachia and the American south. That’s a connection they will bring to Celtic Connections this winter.
Connections with the music of France are spotlighted in a number of events at the festival this year including an evening in tribute to the great French singer Edith Piaf. Singer songwriter Blick Bassy lives in the north of France, in fact, but he writes and sings his soulful music in Bassa, one of the languages from his native Cameroon. Vincent Peirani and Emile Parisien offer chamber jazz that combines elements of the jazz and folk music history of France along with their forward looking continuations of that music.
Two different takes on Gaelic music meet up in concert when Gillebride Macmillan, from the Outer Hebrides (you might also know him for his on screen work in Outlander ) joins musical friend Kyle Carey, whose Gaelic Americana style bring in elements of her background in Americana music and the music of Cape Breton.
Aon Teanga:Un Çhengey offer a meeeting of Gaelic minds and musics too, in this case the Gaelic of Scotland, Ireland, and the Isle of Man. A chance meeting at Watercolour Music studios in Ardgour in Scotland’s western Highlands led to the collaboration: Mary Ann Kennedy, co-owner of the studios and one of Scotland’s most influential musicians and broadcasters, Ruth Keggin, the leading vocalist of the young generation of the Manx Gaelic, and Eoghan Ó Ceannabháin, acclaimed seann-nòs singer from Connemara met up when Ruth came to Lochaber to record her debut album, Sheear. Late night conversation around the kitchen table revealed a meeting of like minds and a common passion for Gaelic song as an expression of a language with past and future, and so the project was born. In Glasgow at Celtic Connections, they will be sharing the evening with Les Poules à Colin, a rising Québécois group who draw on family learned traditional music of their home region as well as their own varied tastes and backgrounds ranging from classical to rock.
The festival itself opens and closes with concerts which call to mind, respect, and encourage collaboration. The opening night will see a line up of top musicians pay tribute and recall the history of the TMSA, the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland, which was founded fifty years ago to encourage, support and carry on the traditional music of Scotland. As has become well loved tradition of the festival itself, the Transatlantic Sessions will take place during the last few days. each year these concert bring together both familiar and unexpected collaborations of artists from both sides of the waters, backed by a house band that does the same. Among those taking part this year are Cara Dillon, Rhiannon Giddens, Aly Bain, John McCusker, and John Doyle.
All this is just a hint of the music which happens during Celtic Connections. In addition to the formal concerts there are after hours sessions, the late night Festival Club, workshops for learner from beginner to advanced, and live radio broadcasts — some of which you may access on air or through the internet if you will not be making out to the events. For information on all this and to purchase tickets as well, the Celtic Connections website is the best place to stay informed.
Photographs of, respectively, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Karen Matheson with Capercaillie, Sarah-Jane Summers, Mary Ann Kennedy, Cara Dillon with Zoe Conway and Michael McGoldrick, John McCusker, and John Doyle by Kerry Dexter, made at Celtic Connections with permission of the artists, the festival, and the venues involved.
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