FolkWorld Issue 41 03/2010; Live Report by Alex Monaghan

Celtic Connections

Exotic Delights of Glasgow
Celtic Connections 2010 Passes the Test

In the second fortnight of the new year, approximately 1,500 folk, roots, world, traditional, indie, bluegrass, jazz and classical musicians performed at around 300 events taking place in 19 venues across Glasgow under the auspices of the 17th Celtic Connections Festival. Or so the festival organisers reckon, and I'm happy to take their word for it, because Celtic Connections has become one of the world's premier folk music festivals. One North American artist described it as "sort of Scotland's answer to Milwaukee's Irish Fest" - no comment. It's certainly on a par with Celtic Colours in Cape Breton, or Lorient's Festival Interceltique in France.

Even so, it's hard to believe that the festival is now old enough to drive. It's still a very vibrant and dynamic event, with a focus on young performers and a youthful ambience. Musical director Donald Shaw, of Capercaillie and Vertical Records fame, didn't look a day over fifty as he joined in with pipers and percussionists from Sao Paolo to Perth.

Cara Dillon

Cara Dillon @ FolkWorld:
FW #22, #34, #38, #39

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Among many regular features, the opening concert is perhaps the most remarkable: newly commissioned work every year, usually written for a combination of classical and traditional musicians. 2010's concert featured the work of Jim Sutherland and his fusion ensemble the True North Orchestra. Tartan Weave stood out for me, a mix of Percy Grainger and The Easy Club: I'm hoping some of the more White Heather moments were at least partly tongue-in-cheek.

Another Celtic Connections institution is the Festival Club, where artists relax and punters can expect a medley of impromptu floor spots from familiar faces or new names. This year the club was based in the mercifully dark and black-draped premises of Glasgow's School of Art, where the drink is relatively cheap and the graffiti is of a reasonable standard. I listened happily to singer-songwriter trios, splendid traditional sessions, unaccompanied Scots singers, a fantastic Spanish six-piece, and pretty much everything in between. By midnight the main bar was standing room only, and the chances of actually hearing the music were about fifty-fifty. People were painting their friends' faces, splashing beer on their neighbours, and slowly going deaf, while some of the world's best musicians sang and played their hearts out on stage. Great fun, just like a typical night out in Dublin.

The big concerts attracted big names, from Angelique Kidjo to Wolfstone. Mike McGoldrick launched his new album Aurora here, fresh off the presses, and it's a cracker. The annual piping concert featured Vale of Athol Pipe Band, but also made room for the youngsters of Inveraray & District whose meteoric rise through the piping world may herald the next generation of talented musicians. Combining these two pipe bands in a selection of Gordon Duncan tunes was just one example of the "mix and match" approach at Celtic Connections concerts. Shetland fiddle diva Catriona MacDonald joined eclectic fiddle and nyckelharpa trio Bellevue Rendezvous. US talking blues band The Deadly Gentlemen shared a stage with The Bevvy Sisters, an altogether earthier group from Edinburgh. Reggae singer Jason Wilson, Dave Swarbrick and Dick Gaughan made a distinctly left-of-centre line-up. The Peatbog Faeries were paired with Norwegian fiddler and composer Gjermund Larsen - I hope he knew what to expect!
Brian Finnegan

Brian Finnegan @ FolkWorld:
FW#7, #11, #12, #30, #31, #31

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With such an extensive programme, there were inevitably a few cancellations - notably Tom Paxton whose wife was taken ill - but there were also last-minute additions and surprises. Donnchadh Gough (of Danú) and Mike McGoldrick joined John McSherry on stage for a great finale to his concert. Even more impromptu music was to be had on the streets, pipers and fiddlers playing in daytime temperatures of three degrees above freezing. The previous week, it was fifteen below!

Of course there's always a high proportion of home-grown Scottish talent at Celtic Connections, and quite a few Canadians paying tribute to their Caledonian roots, but there was also a substantial gathering of Irish performers, some of them more Stateside than Shannonside. 2010 saw appearances by Niall Vallely, Seamus Begley, Luka Bloom, Liz Carroll, Brian Finnegan, Maura O'Connell, Cara Dillon, Alan Kelly, Lúnasa, Dervish, Liam O'Connor, John Spillane, Guidewires, Tim O'Brien, Colum and Tommy Sands, and many more. John McSherry's quartet were in great form, Donal O'Connor backing and fronting the band on fiddle and keyboards, while the double pipes of McSherry and McIlduff were gloriously wild and playful.

Niamh Ní Charra supported John, and made several other appearances including an impressive gig with Carlos Nuñez which ended in a Breton pinkie dance right round the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Niamh's superb concertina playing lent itself to the Brazilian theme of Carlos' concert, with song, percussion and guitar illustrating the connections between the Amazon basin and the Galician pipes and flutes which Mr Nuñez deservedly symbolises. Brazilian connections were also evident in Shetland fiddler Chris Stout's performance with a trio from Sao Paolo. In fact, the jigs and reels (churros and rilos, if I remember aright) from Brazil were not that far removed from Clare and Sligo music: Rio de Jamestown, maybe?

There is so much going on at this festival that it's impossible not to miss most of it. Even if you concentrate on Irish music alone, you have to choose between John McSherry and Niall Vallely, between Brian Finnegan and the Cork Singers concert. And that's ignoring all the non-Irish acts. I've often felt that Celtic Connections would be better named World Connections, if World began with a C. The festival's namesake radio show changed its name many years ago to Global Gathering, and I always struggle to see the Celtic connection with several of the artists appearing at this festival. Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu was a great attraction for some, and I was disappointed to miss The Hotclub of Cowtown (a fantastic live act). The Gypsy Queens & Kings, Balkanarama, Raul Malo, Nikaido Kazumi and several others were similarly not on my Celtic radar, but maybe Carlos Nuñez had the right idea when he referred to The Chiefatins as the "masters" of Celtic music, the group who put our music on the world circuit, so that almost everyone now has some musical connection to the traditions of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Galicia, and every tiny outpost of the Celtic fringe. Whoever gets the credit, Celtic music was certainly alive and well and living in Glasgow for most of January 2010.

Photo Credits: (1) Celtic Connections logo (from website); (2) Cara Dillon (by Adolf 'gorhand' Goriup); (3) Brian Finnegan (by Alex Monaghan).

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