Maori singer-songwriter, Maisey Rika
Editor Jo Frost picks out a few of her highlights from this year’s Celtic Connections in Glasgow
It would be foolish to try and sum up all the highlights of a festival that spans 18 nights, across more than 20 venues and features over 2,000 musicians. By the time I arrived in Glasgow for Showcase Scotland (the gathering of 200 music delegates), the festival was already well underway and the talk of the town was all about Nae Regrets, the opening night, sold-out concert – an orchestrated rendition of the late Scottish musical maverick Martyn Bennett’s Grit album.
The nature of a festival of this scale is, unless you’ve mastered the art of teletransportation or cloning, that it’s inevitable you’ll spend the morning after the night before reproaching yourself for not having made that last-minute dash to the other side of Glasgow to check out the gig everyone is now talking about. This year I managed to see around 30 groups in four nights. It’s not a bad tally but it did involve a certain bloody-mindedness and discipline, especially when you’re really getting into the groove of one group, only to have to leg it down Sauchiehall Street to catch the final chords of another.
One musician who left a big impression – and who cropped up in numerous different outfits, is the young Scottish musician Ross Ainslie. Most commonly seen as a duo together with Jarlath Henderson, this was definitely Ainslie’s defining festival. Besides featuring in the aforementioned opening night concert as part of an 80-strong orchestra, he was also part of Tunebook, a trio who performed at the National Piping Centre; the dazzling if not a little unrelenting Treacherous Orchestra and in a New Voices commission – a scheme launched to give up-and-coming artists the opportunity to write and perform new works. On evidence of this, Ainslie is an impressive young talent to keep an eye on.
Among the many familiar and big name acts on the programme were the alt-bluegrass band, Punch Brothers who are always guaranteed to put on a highly polished stage show and demonstrate their staggering musicianship. Regular Scottish festival favourites such as Shooglenifty, Breabach and The Chair all put on thoroughly entertaining shows that got locals and invited international delegates alike, pogo-ing up and down like loons, especially in the late-night festival club at the Glasgow Art School. Only at Celtic Connections is it no surprise to hear that somebody was spotted playing air bagpipes with huge enthusiasm!
It’s all the new discoveries that make this annual winter showcase a real treat. Among this year’s Showcase Scotland highlights were two singers, Mairi Campbell and Robyn Stapleton, who really stood out as part of a special Gaelic and Scots reception for delegates hosted in the elegant surroundings of the Glasgow Art Club. The invited New Zealand contingent ranged from dub-reggae courtesy of Trinity Roots and the striking Maori musician Horomona Horo with Waiora, who captivated everyone with their ancient Maori instruments and haka. But it was the Maori singer-songwriter Maisey Rika (pictured), who charmed most with her silky voice, filling the beautiful space of St Andrews in the Square. Rika and her band were followed by Shine, a vocal and electric harp trio consisting of Corrina Hewat, Mary Macmaster and Alyth McCormack. They’ve reformed after a decade-long break and their gorgeous harmonies and mixture of traditional Gaelic and self-penned songs meant prior plans to check out various other gigs that night were ditched and instead I treated myself to an uninterrupted set of entrancing music.
The weather was distinctly dreich, as the locals say, but Celtic Connections always does a cracking job of dispelling those dreary January blues – thank you!
To watch more highlights from Celtic Connections 2015 visit the BBC website.