Celtic Connections. That’s the name of the festival that’s been lighting up Glasgow’s winter for better than twenty years now. It is also a name which both defines and expands the music included in the events.
This year, Celtic Connections will take place from 17 January through 3 February.
If you’ll not make it out to Glasgow this year will still be ways you can enjoy parts of the festival. There will be more about how you can connect with Celtic Connections later in this story. To see why you’ll want to do that – or even better, visit in person – here are several highlights.
The opening concert, called Syne of the Times, brings together young musicians from mainland Scotland, from Orkney, and from Galicia in northern Spain. It’s a look back and a look forward. Fifteen years ago the opening concert at Celtic Connections, called Harvest, brought together emerging artists and established performers of traditional music: this does the same, with music which will include newly arranged versions of work by contemporary Scottish composers Lauren MacColl and Duncan Chisholm, and a reprise of the music from the Harvest concert as well.
Galicia is the partner country for 2019’s festival so you’ll have the chance to see a number of Galician artists. Monica de Nut and Luis Martin, for example, will be the support act for top Scottish duo Emily Smith and Jamie McClennan. On another night, the many hued instrumentation of the band Talabarte will share a bill with what has been called one of Scotland’s most powerful folk bands, RURA.
There are many and varied hues to the music and the origins of performers at Celtic Connections, always. The through line is a strong connection to tradition – which may at times mean looking back, at times placing traditional subjects in contemporary context, at times pushing and moving and bending tradition forward – and sometimes, all of those things.
Senegalese kora maestro Seckou Keita and classically-trained Welsh harpist Caitrin Finch bring their collaboration to the festival. It’s work in which they are charting inspirational common ground between seemingly disparate traditions. Acid croft innovators Shooglenifty worked with Rajastan’s Dora Dora on their latest album. They’ll bring that to an evening in which they share the stage with the women of the Kinnaris Quintet, a stringed instrument improvisation collaboration that’s delighting people across Scotland and beyond. Top Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes will be joined for an evening by one of Iceland’s most inventive musical collectives, the string group amiina.
The well-loved Irish and Irish American group Cherish the Ladies. will return. Their fine musicianship and engaging stage presence always enchant Glasgow audiences. So does Eddi Reader, one of Scotland’s best loved singers, who’ll be bringing music from a recent release at well as favorites from her back catalogue. Legendary American folk singer Judy Collins will bring her classic style to the festival. Kathy Mattea, whose folk and country music is always both thoughtful and thought provoking, returns to the festival after several years away. The high energy and spot on collaboration of Blazin’ Fiddles always energizes listeners, and for the festival they will be joined by one of Scotland’s most respected artists, singer Karen Matheson.
Fiddle player Duncan Chisholm and singer Julie Fowlis . spent the good part of a year researching, writing, and composing music and visual material for the project which became An Tres Suaile: The Third Wave.
It has been one hundred years since HMY Iolaire, carrying three hundred men returning to the isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides after WWI, sank at the entrance to Stornoway harbor. The piece, commissioned by the arts center An Lanntair in Stornoway and by 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary, was first perfomed at An Lanntair and made so powerful an impression that the one off night has been expanded to include a performance at Celtic Connections.
On another evening, exploring another way of setting history in context, bluegrass, Americana, folk, and old time singer and songwriter Rhiannon Giddens will join up with the specially assembled Celtic Blues orchestra to explore varied musical territory. At another concert, Mary Ann Kennedy will bring varied aspects of Gaelic language music in Glasgow to the spotlight.
All of this is just a taste of what Celtic Connections is like: there are more than 300 concerts and related events on the schedule, with artists from around the world and across Scotland participating. Audiences come from around the world and close to home too, just as do those on stage. For all that, it is a festival that maintains a warm and welcoming spirit for both performers and audiences.
This is all brought together as Celtic and American strands converge for the Transatlantic Sessions concerts in the closing days of the festival. Award winning folk and country songwriter Gretchen Peters and top bluegrass instrumentalist Molly Tuttle come from the US this year, singer and songwriter Cara Dillon brings new and traditional music from Northern Ireland, and the house band includes stars of Celtic and North American music, among them John Doyle, John McCusker, Aly Bain, Michael McGoldrick, Jerry Douglas, and Phil Cunningham.
Venues range from pubs to restored churches to purpose built concert halls. In addition to concerts, after the main concerts of an evening finish, late into the night there are the Festival Club, where the music and the craic goes on, sometimes, until the light of the next day. There are also the somewhat, sometimes, quieter Late Night Sessions and the House of Song.
Perhaps you’ll not be in Glasgow for the whole event. but many radio and television broadcasters and producers will, presenting some material live and recording for later broadcast too. The Celtic Connections social media accounts are good places to learn more about this; you’ll also want to keep an eye on the various aspects of BBC radio, and if you are in the UK, BBC and BBC Alba television. RTE and TG4 from Ireland often have television and radio crews at Celtic Connections too, as does Radio Strathclyde.
For tickets, schedules, and links to social media accounts, keep in touch with the Celtic Connections website.
Photographs of artists at Celtic Connections are by Kerry Dexter, and were made with permission of the artists, the festival and the venues. Artists are, respectively, Emily Smith, Duncan Chisholm, Rhiannon Giddens, Mary Ann Kennedy, Cara Dillon with Zoe Conway and Michael McGoldrick, Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas, and Findlay Napier and Gillian Frame at Late Night Sessions.
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