Interview with Celtic Connections’ Donald Shaw

Posted on February 7th, 2012 in Recent posts by .

Well it’s all over. Celtic Connections has – until next year of course – come to an end, and I imagine there were a few sore heads in Glasgow yesterday as a result.

From the almighty opening with banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck and Le Vent du Nord’s tenth Anniversary celebration, to ABC’s headline gigs – Admiral Fallow, Treacherous Orchestra and King Creosote & Jon Hopkins to name just a few; from ‘Deadly Duos’ featured at the City’s Piping Centre, to the impromptu pick-up bands in the festival club and the infamous ‘sessions’ spontaneously taking place everywhere you looked, there was something for everyone under this impressive and eclectic musical umbrella.

Since its incarnation in the mid 90s, CC has garnered a reputation as a stellar festival that represents music across the spectrum, but the festival saw a change in direction when Donald Shaw – Scottish musician, composer, producer, and one of the founding members of the group Capercaillie – came onboard as artistic director in 2006.

“Despite my initial hesitations about the role, I was keen to look for a way to develop the festival from the point it had reached when I came on board,” Shaw tells me during a quick chat in the Concert Hall, during which he candidly admits that he initially turned the role down as he didn’t think he had the background or experience to pull it off.

But how wrong he was, and develop it he certainly did, bringing with him a new element to the festival, namely a host of world music acts, a genre previously ignored by the festival. The 2012 edition of CC saw artists from Pakistan, Portugal, Sweden, Senegal, Armenia and the Australian outback, in addition to the more the more traditionally ‘Celtic’ and traditional folk acts such as Lau, Breabach, Kathryn Tickell, Martin Simpson, Dick Gaughan and June Tabor.

But what is his response to those who criticise the new direction, claiming that these new world acts bear too tenuous a relationship to the umbrella under which the festival’s line-up initially sat?

“The folk musicians that I have approached from countries around the world have always jumped at the chance of coming to Glasgow, meeting other artists from other parts of the world and finding a common voice,” Shaw tells me. “They all have something in common: namely that they are writing new songs while drawing on old traditions and I think it’s for this very reason that none of the world music artists that I’ve booked have thought it at all strange to be invited to play a Celtic festival.”

And more than just introducing these acts to the festival’s audience, Shaw has been eager to encourage ‘cross-fertilisation’ of genres – underpinning the ‘connection’ aspect of the festival’s asuspicious title. This year saw the radical young Irish fiddle trio Fidil perform with Senegalese griot singer and kora player Solo Cissokho, and fadista Ana Moura sing along with N’Diale (a new collaboration between Breton fiddler Molard and Malian vocalist Diarra).

Long may these magical musical experiments continue…

But for those of you that can’t wait until next year for more of the same, CC will be staging a first-of-its-kind, two-day music festival on the Isle of Skye as a finale to the Year of Scotland’s Islands. Taking place on March 23 and 24, the Big Top will feature Rosanne Cash, The Civil Wars, the Michael McGoldrick Band, Aoife O’Donovan of Crooked Still fame, Highland favourites Dàimh and Mànran, who recently won the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Award for Album of the Year.


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