Posts Tagged ‘celtic connections’

Celtic Connections 2016 highlights

Posted on February 8th, 2016 in Live, News, Recent posts, Reviews by .

BlickBassy©Alasdair R Maclean

Singer Blick Bassy who performed at the National Piping Centre as part of the Focus France showcase at Celtic Connections. Photo by Alasdair R Maclean

Editor Jo Frost selects some favourites from her Celtic Connections 2016 experience

My winter pilgrimage to Glasgow and Showcase Scotland (the annual industry gathering at Celtic Connections) this year took place over the last five days of the festival and also coincided with some dreadful weather – even by Scottish standards. But it takes more than a bit of foul weather to dampen this festival’s spirit.

The city’s most atmospheric venue, the Old Fruitmarket, is still a firm festival favourite, although this year it had some competition, courtesy of two new venues: the Drygate Brewery –a terrific new space, boasting a mouthwatering selection of craft beers – and the Mackintosh Church on the other side of town, the only church ever designed by the Glaswegian architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

My first night (January 27) turned out to be an excellent indicator of the quality that followed. First up was uilleann piper Jarlath Henderson giving the premiere of his forthcoming solo album of songs. There’ll be more about Henderson and his new project in the next issue. He was followed by former Carolina Chocolate Drops’ Rhiannon Giddens who simply shone alongside her band and proved she really is the whole package, with her command of the banjo and fiddle, plus the potency of her choice of old-time and blues songs. Giddens also completely stole the show as guest singer in the Transatlantic Sessions’ line-up.



Occitan band Moussu T e lei Jouvents turned on the Gallic charm at their National Piping Centre showcase. Photo by Alasdair R Maclean

When faced with such a vast programme, there can be a tendency to stick to familiar favourites rather than venture out into the unknown. So when I opted to see Lau – a band I’ve probably seen perform live more than any other – at the Royal Concert Hall (January 28), it felt a little self-indulgent. But the trio truly excelled themselves with a stunning spectacle of a show, complete with dazzling lighting, a string quartet and an encore with The Unthanks. It was a concert that simply underlined exactly why Lau continue to be the foremost experimental folk trio on the circuit.

The following night (January 29) I ventured out to the Mackintosh Church. Its high ceilings and Art Nouveau features perfectly complemented the understated and elegant music of RANT – comprising of four of Scotland’s finest fiddlers: Lauren MacColl, Sarah-Jane Summers, Bethany and Jenna Reid. Their beautifully serene set, showcasing music from their new album due out in May, also featured guest vocalists Ewan McLennan and Julie Fowlis. There’s no shortage of fiddle bands at Celtic Connections but this quartet really excel with their delicate and nuanced sound – a welcome departure from the high velocity and frenetic approach of some other acts.


The Scottish band Breabach performed songs from their forthcoming album, Astar, at the Drygate Brewery’s Late Night Sessions. Photo by Jo Frost

The Late Night Sessions at the Drygate Brewery proved to be an enjoyable and civilised alternative to the sweaty, standing room only Festival Club at the Art School. Standout acts were Scottish band Breabach (pictured above), Canadian ukulele player James Hill with Anne Janelle on cello; the kora player with the best smile in the business, Seckou Keita and Dublin folk foursome Lynched.

After the battering winds of Storm Gertrude, there was an altogether more tropical vibe at Drygate on Saturday night, courtesy of Bixiga 70  (pictured below) – the Sao Paulo-based ten-piece who enthralled the crowd with their big, bold brass and percussion-fuelled Brazilian Afrobeat sounds. Within a short space of time, they had the entire room up and dancing like they were in a Latin nightclub.


Besides all the official festival programme, the Showcase Scotland delegates got to see some close-up, special performances from many of the artists at the National Piping Centre. This year’s showcase from the partner country France featured Cameroonian rising star Blick Bassy (pictured top); Anne Carrere, star of Piaf! the show about the iconic singer; much-loved Marseillais band, Moussu T e lei Jovents (also pictured) and newcomers Zoufris Maracas (featured in #114).

On the final afternoon of the festival, the Brazilian festival MIMO was announced as the 2017 partner country with Bixiga 70 giving the delegates a brief yet delicious taster of what we might expect for next year. Watch out for a feature about the band in the July issue.

It’s now become a tradition to have a final jaunt up to the Art School, for the Festival Club where I caught the tail-end of sarod and percussion duo Circle of Sound (aka Soumik Datta and Bernhard Schimpelsberger), together with Cormac Byrne on bodhrán and the new Gaelic group, Imar with a talented young line-up including members from Barrule, RURA, Talisk and Manran. Definitely an act to watch. Roll on January 2017!

Watch highlights of the festival on the BBC site.

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Celtic Connections 2016: Donald Shaw Interview

Posted on January 15th, 2016 in Features, Live, News, Recent posts by .


Songlines talks to Celtic Connections’ artistic director Donald Shaw as the festival prepares for its 23rd edition

This interview originally appeared in the December 2015 (#113) edition

Donald Shaw is a man who wears a multitude of hats. Not only is he the frontman of Capercaillie, but he also runs Vertical Records, who have just released Karen Matheson’s new album, Urram. Then there’s the small matter of being artistic director of Celtic Connections, with next year’s impending launch coming up. When we speak, it’s just ten days to the programme announcement.

“I forget every year what a ridiculously large festival it is,” Shaw says, sounding somewhat relieved that the wait is almost over.

“This is my tenth year, which is really scary because I think about a show, and think ‘Oh I’d love to have that artist back, it must have been only two or three years since they were here though,’ and then I look back at the brochures and realise it was seven years. It’s really weird, it’s like a kind of time warp.”

Given the scale of the programme – 18 days in 20 venues and over 2,000 artists – I wonder if his decade-long experience makes the task in hand any easier?

“I think the process of it in my mind gets easier because I’m more relaxed about the fact that some things are just out of your control, so once you become aware of that and you can’t control the destiny of every idea or every artist, then I think you get settled into it. It’s like life: you look at the positive in everything, so if something doesn’t work out, then it will open the door to something else.”

Last year’s opening night concert was the highly acclaimed and still-talked-about performance of Martyn Bennett’s influential album, Grit, complete with a full orchestra and a bevy of singers. So what has Shaw planned for this year? “In the last ten years there’s been a certain amount of glamour and pizzazz attached to Celtic Connections, with some headlining names and international artists, and although obviously the backbone of the festival is traditional and roots music, sometimes that side of it doesn’t get so much opportunity to be in the lights.” So the opening night on January 14 2016 will feature a concert called The Carrying Stream – Celebrating 50 Years of the TMSA (The Traditional Music and Song Association) in Scotland, an organisation founded by Hamish Henderson.

“It’s really an opportunity for a night for the old ballad singers, young musicians and legends coming together and just celebrating the traditional music of Scotland and the journey the TMSA has taken over the last 50 years.”

Another hallmark of Celtic Connections is its special commissions and this year there are several including Pilgrimer, which is a re-imagining of Joni Mitchell’s Hejira album by the renowned Scottish novelist James Robertson, together with the singer-songwriter Karine Polwart.

Blick-Bassy-©Denis-Rouvre-FreeFor the last 15 years, a 200-plus contingent of music professionals congregates for five days during the festival (January 27-31) at Showcase Scotland, the industry-focused event. Every year there is a country focus and next year it’s France, or more precisely, artists either based in France or with French labels. Particular highlights are the Cameroonian singer Blick Bassy (“a beautiful singer,” pictured right), Zoufris Maracas (“a great, vibey band, very French!”), Cheikh Lô and a very special show, Piaf, for the 100th anniversary of Edith Piaf.

“It’s a really beautiful show, the story of her life and all the songs,” says Shaw. “It’s nice for us, because to recreate the experience, we’re going to do it in the Theatre Royal, an old, art deco theatre – the oldest theatre in Glasgow, which we haven’t used before.”

Another new venue for 2016 is Drygate: “it’s a brewery which is a great new venue, with a really cool upstairs club. We’ve got a few shows in there, under the title ‘The Shape of Folk to Come’ so it’s artists that are a bit more experimental. For instance we’ve got a night of experimental pibroch [pipe] with Calum MacCrimmon from Breabach, with two bands, one from New York.”

With a programme of this scale, it can’t be an easy task to devise a theme. “If there is a theme this year that’s running through it, I’ve kind of paraphrased it in my mind as ‘Pilgrimage, Immigration and Troubadours,’” says Shaw. “We’ve been watching what’s been happening with refugees and immigration, how strange it is that in the last 100 years, music has been defined by the ability of people to travel freely around the world and create new music. When we look at what’s called world music now, it’s almost impossible to think of a magazine like Songlines existing if it wasn’t for the freedom of movement of musicians around the world.”

Donald Shaw’s Festival Picks:
As the man himself says,  “it’s the usual massive programme” so here are a handful of gigs to get excited about…

The Carrying Stream – Celebrating 50 Years of the TMSA, January 14
Piaf! The Show, feat 
Anne Carrere, January 27-28
Pilgrimer, a reimagining of Joni Mitchell’s Hejira album, January 16 (world premiere)

Toumani Diabaté with the RSNO, January 17
Bwani Junction performing Graceland, January 23
RURA, Aoife O’Donovan and The East Pointers – a special collaboration, January 29

+ Find out more about Celtic Connections 2016
+ Enjoy the music of a selection of the artists playing this year with our Celtic Connections 2016 playlist below

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Celtic Connections 2015 Round-up

Posted on February 6th, 2015 in Live, News, Recent posts by .


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.

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Celtic Connections 2015 Highlights

Posted on January 22nd, 2015 in Live, News, Recent posts by .


Songlines Editor Jo Frost heads to Glasgow as this year’s Celtic Connections festival gets into full swing

Glasgow’s annual winter festival kicked off to a rapturous start last week with Nae Regrets, an orchestrated rendition of Martyn Bennett’s Grit album (re-released on Real World last year). For those Bennett fans who missed this sold-out, rave-reviewed opening night concert, good news is that it will be broadcast tonight (January 22) on BBC2 Scotland – and thankfully for those poor souls who live south of the border, it’s viewable on iPlayer from Friday.

There’s still plenty more on offer over the next ten days (and long, long nights). Many of the Scottish highlights are included as part of the Showcase Scotland event, now in its 16th year. Showcase Scotland is the country’s largest international gathering of music industry folk, with over 200 delegates from around 29 countries. Its primary aim is to highlight Scottish music with a view to exporting it globally – and it’s been incredibly successful. Each year there’s an international partner and this year it’s New Zealand, with performances from Waiora (as featured in the Boomerang project in #101), Maori singer-songwriter Maisey Rika, Tiny Ruins, Louis Baker, Thomas Oliver and dub-reggae outfit Trinity Roots from Wellington.


Besides all the New Zealand artists I’ll be checking out for the first time, here are a few of the Scottish acts I’m hoping to catch…

Rachel Newton – Harpist and singer whose latest album Changeling was a Top of the World in #103.
Rura – Currently hot property on the festival circuit and their second album is due for release very soon.
Breabach – Their latest album Ùrlar was one of Songlines Essential 10 Scottish albums and they’re always fun to see live.
Misha Macpherson Trio – BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winners who are due to release their much-anticipated debut album later this year.
Inge Thomson – The singer and multi-instrumentalist from Fair Isle showcasing her intriguingly titled new work Da Fishing Hands, inspired by the sea.
Shooglenifty – Celebrating their first 25 years of ‘acid croft’ music at the Old Fruitmarket. I suspect it will be lively.
Treacherous Orchestra – The elusive Scottish big band, who I’ve yet to see perform live, have a new album out called Grind.
The Chair – Last seen at WOMAD and also celebrating their tenth anniversary in Orkney, these Orcadian lads are guaranteed to bring a party atmosphere to any gig.

Celtic Connections runs until February 1. For more information visit, Catch highlights of the festival on the BBC website.

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