Celtic Connections: 20 Years of Extraordinary Music
Celtic Connections takes place each year from mid January through early February in Glasgow, Scotland. It is one of Europe’s premiere winter festivals, and one of the world’s top Celtic festivals, with hundreds of artists offering their music to audiences who come from across the globe.
SummersSilvolaKamm trio at St Andrew's in the Square
As Celtic Connections marked its twentieth year of lighting up the formerly quiet post Christmas season in Glasgow, the Celtic aspect and the connections were both widely celebrated, with artists including tradition bearers, well known musicians, and rising stars from across Scotland and the Celtic diaspora, from Ireland and across North America, and from countries ranging from Mali to Senegal to Bulgaria to Mongolia to Mexico.
My own journey through eleven of Celtic Connection’s eighteen day run this winter stayed mainly with the Celtic side of things, as did the opening day Twentieth Anniversary Celebration Concert at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. For all its size and prestige, I’ve always found the main auditorium at the Royal Concert Hall to radiate a welcoming presence, which it did on this evening. Chris Stout, top fiddler and composer from Shetland, kicked off an evening that would feature many fine fiddle performances, along with a humorous interlude from The New Rope String Band and an all too short blazing with musical energy set from the top notch and well loved band Capercaillie, known for celebrating tradition while exploring new directions.
Chris Stout at the opening concert
Tradition bearer Sheena Wellington was on hand, as was festival favorite Cara Dillon from Northern Ireland, and from Scotland’s Western Isles Julie Fowlis, on the heels of receiving international recognition for her work on the soundtrack of the film Brave. Eddi Reader offered a soulful take on Wild Mountainside, a song about longing to come home to Scotland written by John Douglas, and there were fiddles, pipes, flutes whistles, and instruments of all sorts aplenty, both backing up the singers and offering tunes on their own. As composer Phil Cunningham pointed out as he began his set, “One of the great things about Celtic Connections is that you get the chance to play with your pals.”
(l-r) Rod Patterson, Julie Fowlis, Karen Matheson
(l-r) Matheu Watson, Phil Cunningham, Catriona Mackay
That was an idea that resonated through the festival. At the Old Fruitmarket (it really was one once) the five members of Solas offered music from a project fueled by friendship and historical research, based on following ideas about band founder Seamus Egan’s grand uncle’s life as an Irish immigrant in the western United States. The project is called Shamrock City. You’ll hear more on that music in days to come.
Mick McAuley of Solas
Sabhal Mor Ostaig, the Gaelic college on Skye, marked its fortieth year with a concert featuring tutors and former students and reflections on how the landscape of Gaelic education - and its place in life in Scotland - has changed since the 1970s. Sharing their talents on stage at City Halls were hosts Kirsteen MacDonald and Mary Ann Kennedy, along with Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas, Christine Primrose, Daimh, and many others.
Duncan Chisholm was celebrating, too, in the elegant surroundings of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, to a packed sold out house which had been well warmed up with Irish tunes from Joanie Madden and her cohorts in the Pride of New York. Chisholm offered The Strathglass Suite, a meditation on his native landscape in the Highlands which had been six years in the making. He was supported by a well chosen band of traditional musicians and a string ensemble as the voice of his fiddle echoed through the halls of Kelvingrove and took the listeners his journey.
Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh of Altan at the Royal Concert Hall
Dermot Byrne and Florianne Blancke wove an intricate connection between harp and accordion one evening in the intimate setting of the National Piping Center, while on another evening at Saint Andrew’s in the Square, Sara-Jane Summers led an evening of exploration of the many voices and styles of the Hardanger fiddle.
You’ve met Summers here before, as she’s shared insights on her native Scottish Highlands. Summers is an expert on Nordic as well as Scottish music, so she was well placed to bring in the talents of traditional and groundbreaking Hardanger players and to share the music of her own trio SummersSilvolaKvam, in which fiddle, guitar, and bass collaborate on music that travels among Nordic, Scottish, and free jazz sounds.
Florianne Blancke and Dermot Byrne at The Piping Centre
A journey to another part of the world was in order one evening at the Tron, as Wendy MacIsaac, Mary Jane Lamond, Kimberley Fraser, and their friends and guests brought a Taste of Celtic Colours and a taste of Cape Breton and Atlantic Canada to Glasgow with fiddle, guitar, song, percussion, piano, and step dance. It was a lively evening altogether. Well filled with story and song and laughter, it was a celebration of the music of this perhaps most Scottish place where Scotland’s emigrant sons and daughters have made their homes.
Mary Jane Lamond and Corrina Hewat at the Taste of Celtic Colours concert
For more about Celtic Connections, both to see more about what went on this year and to learn about upcoming events, you may wish to visit www.celticconnections.com
Photographs were made with permission of the festival, the artists, and the venues involved. They are by Kerry Dexter, and they are copyrighted. Thank you for respecting this.
Kerry Dexter is Music Editor for Wandering Educators. You may reach Kerry at music at wanderingeducators dot com
You may find more of Kerry’s work about music and musicians of Ireland, Scotland, and North America, as well as travel, history, and creative practice, at Music Road, Journey to Scotland, Perceptive Travel, The Encyclopedia of Ireland and the Americas, National Geographic Traveler, and other places.
Feature photo: Cara Dillon at City Halls