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Issue 24 - Festival of music

Scotland Magazine Issue 24
January 2006

 

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Festival of music

Celtic Connections is a breeding ground for new talent. Helene Dunbar reports

Thirteen years ago, a Celtic music festival was launched in Glasgow to fill a hole in the Royal Concert Hall’s winter schedule.

Glasgow in January is typically a cold and grey place and there wasn’t much happening in the city’s post-Christmas period so it was hoped that the festival would provide a diversion for locals and tourists alike.

Although some doubted whether visitors would willingly subject themselves to the Glasgow winter, that first Celtic Connections festival brought 32,000 people to the Royal Concert Hall. In the years since, the festival has grown into a staple of the international festival music scene, seeing more than 100,000 music lovers flock to some 300 shows held in 10 of the city’s venues.

Not only has the number of visitors grown though. The music has branched out as well from its focus on purely Scottish traditional to include roots and world music from Ireland, North America Spain, Cape Breton, and all points in between.

Over the years, the list of the festival’s participating artists reads like a musical who’s who: Joan Baez, Bob Geldof, Capercaillie, Kate Rusby, Sinead O’Connor, Alison Krauss, Shane MacGowan, Runrig, Eddi Reader, Evelyn Glennie, Carlos Nunez, Dougie MacLean, Billy Bragg, Beth Neilsen Chapman, Mariza, and perennial favorites, New York’s Cherish the Ladies and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Named Celtic Connection’s International Group of the Year in 1996, the five-piece Cherish the Ladies will be playing their 11th festival in 2006. This year, their show will be even more special as they’re set for a United Kingdom launch of their new album Woman of the House (Rounder Records) in the Concert Hall on January 18th.

Like the band, the album has close ties to Celtic Connections as they found themselves inundated with guest musicians while playing the 2005 festival.

“The previous year, Liz Kane, who is a great fiddle player, toured the UK with us and she was joining us at the festival,” explains founder and flautist Joanie Madden.

“Then Laoise Kelly, the harpist, said she wanted to come over. So (accordionist) Sharon Shannon says ‘if you guys are coming over, I’m coming over early,’ so Sharon was there. Kate Rusby (ex-lead singer of The Poozies) was at the festival and Heidi has always been a great fan of (singer) Eddi Reader so we got both of them as well as Karen Matheson from Capercaillie.

“We knocked all these tracks out in one day in the studio; came up with all the ideas, arranged them, put them together and just did it. There’s a freshness and a magic to it. I think it’s one of the best recordings we’ve ever done.”

‘Magic’ is certainly a word you hear in regards to Celtic Connections in general. Prior to the evening shows, there is typically an ‘Open Stage’ which hosts free performances by a never-ending variety of upcoming musicians.

For night owls, something special happens once the evening concerts are finished. The Festival Club hosts the musicians who usually either played shows that day or are lined up for the following day although you never really know who will be playing until they take the stage.

A number of themed events take place including the ‘Musical Ark’, a revolving series of duets held in a number of the festival’s venues simultaneously with the musical duos racing from one venue to the next and the ‘Young Tradition’ and ‘Master & Apprentice’ concerts which pair newcomers with more established musicians.

Workshops are offered, which in 2005 encompassed such diverse topics as ‘Learn to play Small Pipes in a Day’, ‘Come & Try Step Dancing’, ‘Whisky Masterclass’ and “Womens’ Samba Workshop.

Celtic Connections has spread to other venues in Glasgows including The Piping Centre, The Barrowlands, The Arches, Tron Theatre, Tramway and Glasgow Cathedral are also hosting shows and events.

Virtually all the venues are within either walking distance or a short train or taxi ride from the Concert Hall. The Hall itself is easily accessible from the city centre, is located across the street from the Buchanan Street bus station, and is a three minute walk from both the Queen Street Train Station and the Buchanan Street tube station.

The 2006 festival was due to take place from the January 11th to the 29th. For more details visit www.celticconnections.com