Just as the excitement of Christmas and the New Year starts to wane and the reality of a long, dreary winter looms, along comes Celtic Connections festival – the perfect antidote to January blues.
This year looks set to be a hugely exciting one for Scotland, what with it being the 21st year of the festival; the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup take place in the summer and not forgetting of course, the big question over Scotland’s independence referendum.
With a programme featuring around 2,000 musicians, stretching over 18 days and nights, you’d be really hard pushed not to find something to suit your musical tastes at Celtic Connections. Here are a dozen concerts I’d be attending if I could relocate to Glasgow for the next 18 nights…
The opening concert features classical violinist and champion of Scotland’s very own El Sistema equivalent (the Big Noise project), Nicola Benedetti. She’ll perform together with Julie Fowlis, Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain.
January 16, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
And the winner for Glasgow’s busiest man goes to…. Donald Shaw, who in addition to running the festival, will be performing a special 30th anniversary concert with his own group, Capercaillie.
January 18, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
Buika & Mayra Andrade
Two highly original singers on the same billing: Buika from Spain whose latest album was one of Songlines Best Albums of 2013, and Cape Verdean singer, Mayra Andrade, who has a new album called Lovely Difficult.
January 21, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
The Gloaming & Patsy Reid
The group I’m most excited about seeing is The Gloaming – five super-talented artists who have created a beautiful, self-titled debut album of strikingly original Irish music (a Top of the World in the next issue). Another highlight is the support act, Scottish fiddler Patsy Reid who releases a new album, The Brightest Path, next month.
January 22, City Halls, Grand Hall
A series of pairings take place over the course of the festival at the National Piping Centre. Two that particularly stand out are Scottish harpist Catriona McKay together with Swedish nyckelharpist Olov Johansson, followed by Lau’s Kris Drever with Irish banjo player Eamonn Coyne.
January 23, National Piping Centre
Salsa Celtica & Rura
The subject of our next Beginner’s Guide, Salsa Celtica, make a long, awaited return with a new album called The Tall Islands (to be reviewed in #99). They’re supported by Scottish quintet Rura.
January 24, O2 ABC
Raghu Dixit & Shellie Morris
A firm favourite with the Songlines team, Raghu Dixit makes a welcome return with his band, together with Australian-Aborginal singer-songwriter Shellie Morris. Both artists are part of this year’s special Showcase Scotland focus on Australia and India.
January 24, Oran Mor
International Burns Concert
Robert Burns’ birthday provides the perfect excuse for a global gathering at Glasgow’s newest venue, the SSE Hydro. Alongside the strong delegation of homegrown artists such as Karen Matheson, Karine Polwart and Rachel Sermanni, there’s South Africa’s Mahotella Queens, Greek-Cypriot singer Alkinoos Ioannidis, ex-Crowded House singer Tim Finn and Raghu Dixit.
January 25, SSE Hydro
Manu Dibango & Debademba
The octogenarian saxophonist Manu Dibango will no doubt get the crowds moving in Glasgow’s most atmospheric venue, the Old Fruitmarket. The support act is Debademba, the West African duo who were a surprise hit at WOMEX in Cardiff.
January 26, Old Fruitmarket
Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project
Canadian banjo innovator Jayme Stone returns with a new project celebrating the work of Alan Lomax. He’ll be joined by some Celtic Connections regulars, Tim O’Brien and Bruce Molsky.
January 30, St Andrew’s in the Square
McGoldrick, McCusker & Doyle
Another deadly combination at the National Piping Centre, but this time it’s a trio – Mike McGoldrick, John McCusker and John Doyle.
February 1, National Piping Centre
The ever-popular Transatlantic Sessions kick off another tour, following their sixth series on the BBC. Aly Bain and Jerry Douglas will, once again, lead the proceedings, with a host of familiar faces, plus a few new ones such as Sarah Jarosz and Shawn Colvin.
January 31 & February 2, Royal Glasgow Concert Hall