Not that I’m wanting to wish the rest of this year away and launch into hyper-drive past Christmas but Celtic Connections is fast approaching (15 January–1 February 2015) and as you’d expect there are a fair number of people getting excited about the line-up. The latest artist to grasp the limelight of the festival is Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison who is among the huge mix of new artists confirmed for Celtic Connections 2015. When you’ve got 2000 artists covering the genres of roots music, world, indie, jazz, folk, soul and Americana where in the hell do you start from when selecting highlights?
It’s not helped that you are thoroughly spoilt for choice when you have the likes of multi-award-winner Karine Polwart and the much loved Barnsley songbird Kate Rusby are performing. The list goes on as you’ll see below but one particular highlight for me which I’d like to push out front is the opening concert – the live world première of Martyn Bennett’s final masterpiece Grit which was re-issued by Real World records this year having been originally released in 2003, and widely recognised as a towering landmark in contemporary Scottish music. For the festival the concert will consist of an almost entirely studio-created album, reconstructed by violinist and composer Greg Lawson for a custom-designed orchestra of folk, jazz and classical players of around 80 musicians and singers.
If you want to understand why we, and so many others, get so animated over Martyn’s work then take some time out to watch this documentary on the making of Grit.
Highlight Concerts Added to Line Up
Other highlight concerts added to the 2015 line up include Horizons which is a new partnership project promoting music from the British Isles’ constituent nations and regions in the international market, with tonight’s line-up focusing on singers and songwriters. Representing the home team is multi-award-winner Karine Polwart, whose songs’ poetic lyrical economy, understated emotional intensity and uncanny human empathy are all exquisitely articulated in her radiantly incisive voice. From England comes the much loved Kate Rusby, having earned another fistful of glowing reviews for her 2014 album Ghosts, while her husband, singer and banjo ace Damien O’Kane, showcases the resonant vocals and interpretative affinity with Northern Irish material that have earned him comparisons with Paul Brady and Len Graham. Bilingual Welsh balladeer Al Lewis features in his new country-folk duo with Mississippi-born Alva Leigh, and Ireland’s Declan O’Rourke performs fresh material from his most recent album Howlin’ Lowly Moons. (For more information on Horizons please see below notes to editors)
Wired to the World: Treacherous Orchestra with Michael McGoldrick big band promises to be wild night – much of the downstairs seating area in the main auditorium of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall will be cleared so that the audience can strut their stuff at the action-packed Afro-Celtic party. Raising the bar in folk fusion are Glasgow’s mightiest dirty dozen, the Treacherous Orchestra, who look set to generate uncharted peaks of euphoria as they preview their imminent second album, Grind. Flautist, whistle player and uilleann piper extraordinaire, Michael McGoldrick – who’s lately been switching hats between jet-setting duties in Mark Knopfler’s band, 30th anniversary gigs with Capercaillie, and his dream-team trio with Johns McCusker and Doyle – needs little introduction here, but gigs at the helm of his own hand-picked band of brothers are always a festival highlight. Formed out of conflict and displacement, Malian quartet Songhoy Blues preach peace and reconciliation via hypnotic Tinariwen-style grooves and defiant blues-rock swagger. Completing the line-up, Cameroonian singer Coco Mbassi performs mainly original material, subtly blending African sounds with jazz, gospel and soul.
Ten years on from the original With Strings Attached, a landmark Celtic Connections performance featuring Highland fiddle supergroup Blazin’ Fiddles with some of Scotland’s top singer-songwriters, the band again turn their hands to sumptuous song arrangements for Strings Attached – The Next Generation. Discussing the 2005 show, Blazin’ Fiddles ringleader Bruce MacGregor said, “We wanted to show the adaptability of traditional music, but also to raise the question of just what is a folk song?” – points which have arguably been both answered and expanded in the interim, with the guest singers all embodying diverse contemporary definitions of ‘folk’. From Scotland, Adam Holmes and Rachel Sermanni have each established themselves among today’s most affecting and distinctive vocalists and songsmiths, while ex-Crooked Still singer Aoife O’Donovan, now pursuing a highly praised solo career, brings a Stateside dimension to the project. Together with an augmented Blazin’ Fiddles line-up, the concert also features the glorious and innovative vocal might of the Inverness Gaelic Choir, plus other surprise guests.
Master Galician piper Carlos Núñez returns to Celtic Connections 2015 with a brand new commission entitiled Carlos Núñez ‘The Atlantic Corridor’, in association with the gaelic college Sabhal Mor Ostaig on Skye, where he was inspired to visit following “the distinct possibility that the bagpipe arrived to Scotland by way of an Atlantic corridor, and that its closest relation is the Spanish Gaita”. (Hugh Cheape) Along with special guests from Scotland and South America Núñez and his band aim to once again reflect Celtic music’s subsequent leaps-and bounds evolution (in which Núñez himself has played no small part), splicing traditional and original material, from Galicia, Ireland and Brittany, along with newly created Scottish piping arrangements.
Inspired by a sea voyage around Scotland’s west coast, retracing a route sailed by author Neil Gunn in 1937, award winning musician/composer Mike Vass’s captivating new work Mike Vass ‘In the Wake of Neil Gunn’ integrates traditional, classical and electronic elements with film, photography and spoken-word excerpts, vividly evoking the moods of the sea, weather and landscape together with the power of Gunn’s writing. Vass leads a 10-piece ensemble including string quartet, fiddle, guitars, oboe, flute and bass.
Glasgow’s Gaelic arts organisation An Lòchran will present Slàinte Mhath over the last weekend of the festival where they will invite the audience to revisit that hallowed hostelry Bùth Dhòmhnaill ‘ic Leòid (Donald MacLeod’s Pub), where, in the (translated) words of 20th-century bard Donald Macintyre, all sorts foregather/That come from the bank of the Clyde and down from the glens and Our minds will be on music and we’ll have plenty of songs. A hearty celebration of Gaelic drinking songs, traditions and stories, the show features musical director Mary Ann Kennedy, Arthur, Eilidh and Ruairidh Cormack, Rona Lightfoot, Robert John MacInnes, Sineag MacIntyre, Angus MacLeod, male vocal group Trosg and a four-piece house band, with narration from Angela MacEachen.
Step Into My Parlour featuring Michelle Burke will make a welcome return to Celtic Connections 2015. Having started out as a twohander performance in Edinburgh’s eponymously tiny Wee Folk Club, during the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe, Irish singer Michelle Burke’s Step Into My Parlour has grown arms and legs in the course of subsequent stagings. While the Old Fruitmarket surely sets a new record as the world’s biggest parlour, the show’s charmingly homely intimacy will welcome all who accept the title’s invitation. Jointly conceived by Burke and her visual-artist sister Laura – who created the evocative set design. Step Into My Parlour takes its audience back to their great grandmother’s era, with a quirky mix of traditional and music-hall songs, family stories and antiquated household hints. Burke’s expanded cast-list includes the iconic Cathal McConnell, fellow singers Heidi Talbot and Kathleen MacInnes, multi-instrumentalist Anna Massie, English harmonica prodigy Will Pound and pianist James Ross, with other surprise guests sure to make an appearance too.
Chastity Brown will also be making a welcome appearance at Celtic Connections 2015. Rarely has an artist generated such a storm of ecstatic acclaim as Tennessee-born singer and songwriter Chastity Brown, with her 2012 album Back-Road Highways, showcasing her earthy yet honeyed voice, passionate delivery and poetic lyrics. Distilling elements of gospel, soul, jazz, blues and country, and likened by critics to a 21st-century Nina Simone, she’s poised to release the follow-up in spring 2015.
The west end’s Oran Mòr will welcome Adam Cohen who chooses to embrace rather than evade the fact of his being Leonard Cohen’s son, Adam Cohen’s new fifth album We Go Home draws on that relationship to create moving meditations on parental and filial experience, and the passage of time and wisdom between generations.
World Music Artists Added
The Brazilian MC, singer and songwriter Criolo, a key figure in Sao Paulo’s hip-hop underground, extended his audience worldwide with his multi-award-winning second album, Nó na Orelha, released internationally in 2012. Performing at Celtic Connections 2015 with a full band, he mixes hip-hop with samba, Afrobeat, soul and reggae, overlaid with trenchant, poetic critiques of modern Brazil. This show is partnership with British Council, Transform and Creative Scotland.
Also hailing from Brazil is singer songwriter and gifted guitarist Chico César. A major star in his homeland, Chico draws on the distinctive folk traditions and dance rhythms of his native north-eastern region, combining them with samba, reggae, rock and pop.
The O2 ABC will welcome two exceptional world music artists on Friday 23rd January. The unique cultural traditions of Salento, in the heel of Italy’s boot, find thrilling expression in the performances of Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino, an internationally acclaimed seven-piece ensemble whose spectacular blend of music, song and dance centre on the ancient and mysterious traditions of pizzica tarantata.
Conjuring wondrous musical magic from the barest essentials – just four human voices – South African group Complete draw on the Zulu-derived tradition of Isicathamiya singing, combing its call-and-response format with gospel and R&B. Originally discovered by the great Hugh Masekela, they’re now taking their inspirational sound to an international audience.
The following weekend will see Congolese band Konono No.1 take to the O2 ABC stage. With a fan-base ranging from world music audiences to electronic and avant-rock devotees, the extraordinary Konono No.1 channel traditional sounds – thumb pianos, ritual grooves and chanted vocals – through equipment fashioned from salvaged car parts and other junkyard finds, creating a visceral, distortion-laden sound that’s both primeval and futuristic.
Dance at the Festival
There will be a special dance show entitled The Second Coming at Glasgow’s Tramway for four nights during next year’s festival. Inspired by the poetry and plays of WB Yeats, The Second Coming is a spectacular fusion of traditional Irish music, song and dance with aerial circus, theatre, narrative and film. It centres on the concept of Yeats’s own ‘second coming’, as he returns to contemporary Ireland with a message of renewal for today. Co-produced by Fidget Feet Aerial Dance company – currently artists in residence at Limerick’s Irish World Academy of Music and Dance – and the Hawk’s Well Theatre in Sligo, it features a seven-strong troupe of gravity-defying dancers, and integrates archive audio and film footage of Yeats himself. Musical director Michael Rooney has composed a stunning live score, and also performs on harp and concertina, together with Mike McGoldrick (flute/whistles), John Joe Kelly (percussion ) and Damien O’Kane (banjo/guitar/vocals)
The beautiful Mackintosh Church has been added as a venue for Celtic Connections 2015. There will be three very special concerts performed within this iconic building.
An Evening with Mairi Smith and Friends will be a concert not to be missed. The delicately earthy, sublimely elemental timbre of Lewis-born Mairi Smith’s voice, and her profound understanding of the Gaelic tradition, have made her one of Scotland’s most revered singers in any language. In this Celtic Connections concert she explores and celebrates the close Gaelic kinship between Scotland and Ireland, in company with sisters Tríona and Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill, whose illustrious joint CV takes in work with Skara Brae, The Bothy Band, Relativity and Coolfin, as well as solo work and the recent supergroup T with the Maggies. Also featured are two of the younger Scottish singers that Smith continues to inspire, Brave soundtrack star Julie Fowlis and former Daimh vocalist Calum Alex MacMillan.
The sounds of Ganesh Kumaresh with Trio AAB will also be reverberating of the Mackintosh Church walls during next year’s festival Combining serious musicianship with an infectious sense of fun, Scotland’s Trio AAB – twin brothers Tom and Phil Bancroft, on drums and saxophone, and guitarist Kevin Mackenzie – cite influences that range from “post-Ornette bop to The Sound of Music”. Here they team up for an exciting and adventurous cross-cultural exchange with leading Indian violinists Ganesh and Kumaresh Rajagopalan, plus percussionist Anantha R Krishnan.
The final concert to take place in the Mackintosh, for 2015’s festival anyway, will be An Evening with Jimmie Macgregor and friends Now 84 years young, Glasgow’s own Jimmie Macgregor has enjoyed an astonishingly long and diverse career, working variously as a schoolteacher, quarryman, mortuary attendant, potter, illustrator, radio/TV presenter – and above all, of course, as one of Scotland’s most cherished and important folk musicians. His long-time partnership with the late Robin Hall reached a TV audience of millions through their celebrated nightly appearances on the BBC’s Tonight show, and later on the White Heather Club, with many of their songs going on to become folk standards. Few performers can have anything like as many musical friends to pick from, so settle back for an evening of the choicest entertainment.
More here: www.celticconnections.com