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Christy O'Hanlon

Writer

Glasgow’s annual trad/folk festival has returned to resuscitate the city back to life, but what can we expect from this year's lineup?

As the festive glow of Christmas begins to fade into the gloomy January nights, it can be easy to feel exactly like how the booze cabinet is currently looking: sad. But fear not, for these dark and dreary nights can mean only one thing in Glasgow: the return of Celtic Connections. From 16 January to 2 February, over 2,000 musicians and performers from around the world will descend on Glasgow and resuscitate the city back to life for 18 days of concerts, ceilidhs, talks, art exhibitions, and workshops.  

Celtic Connections started back in 1994, striving to celebrate the very best of Celtic music and tradition from not just Scotland, but across the globe. The festival, now in its 26th year, is Europe’s biggest folk, roots and world music festival, arranging gigs, performances and workshops all over the city which are open to people from all walks of life. Celtic Connections has a core focus of providing education about Celtic traditional music and performance, and the festival has been extremely supportive and encouraging towards the involvement of emerging talent in its line-up in particular. The festival provides lesser-known bands and musicians with a platform next to some bigger names in the folk/trad scene, where they can showcase their talent to friendly and enthusiastic audiences. Each year, the festival also gives thousands of school children the opportunity of attending free concerts during the day, ranging from traditional Gaelic song-singing, to Southern American jazz and blues. The vast and diverse range of concerts and workshops available at Celtic Connections have given the festival its positive and inclusive reputation and have helped the festival reach the level of success at which it currently sits. 

The festival commences on January 16, with the trailblazing GRIT Orchestra taking to the stage at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. The GRIT Orchestra made their debut on the Celtic Connections stage five years ago and have since become a vital part in the festival’s concert schedule. Supported by the Scottish Government’s Festivals Expo Fund, six members of the orchestra have been commissioned to create new symphonic compositions inspired by the Declaration of Arbroath, ahead of its 700th anniversary in April. The GRIT Orchestra are also playing in celebration of the late Scottish musician, Martyn Bennett, who played an important role in the evolution of Celtic fusion music. This year of the festival will mark 15 years since Bennett’s passing, and the GRIT Orchestra project has been described by Celtic Connections founder, Donald Shaw, as “a declaration of intent to grasp the thistle and give a sense of confidence to orchestral works from Scottish folk composers. It’s about freedom, exploration and intent.” The GRIT Orchestra at Celtic Connections has a track record of being one of the more popular events on offer during the festival and is a sure bet to a fantastic evening that will celebrate and explore Scottish history, music and tradition. 

Despite the growing popularity of Celtic Connections, it is evident that the festival’s main principles of supporting smaller acts are still being presented. Throughout the festival, there are many opportunities to see fresh-faced musicians, however none more so than the Danny Kyle open stage which takes place every night of the festival. Each evening, the open stage provides a space for newer musicians to take to the spotlight of Celtic Connections, with the six best acts - as voted for by judges - winning a supporting slot at next year’s festival. The open stage has been a starting point for many musicians in the folk/trad scene who are now gaining a reputation for themselves, such as Rura, DLÙ band, and Karine Polwart. With tickets for this event being free and such a diverse amount of talent on offer, it really would be a shame to miss out on this Celtic Connections-style battle of the bands! 

Personally, any weekend gig at Celtic Connections wouldn’t feel right without a visit to the festival club, or as festival regulars call it, the gig where "anything goes". Although traditionally held at the art school, this year the club is being held at The Glee Club on Renfrew Street, acting as an afters to all the events taking place on Friday and Saturday evenings. The line-up for the festival club isn’t revealed until the evening of the show and is scattered around the different bars of the venue, so you’ll be sure to hear musicians of all genres striking up their instruments for an impromptu jam sesh.

Celtic Connections truly is at its core a total celebration of music, people and tradition. The festival has opened doors for so many young musicians and bands, and has equally provided audiences with a festival experience unlike any other. The sheer diversity of acts available to see during the festival is undoubtedly a major factor in its success, and with 26 triumphant years under its belt, it’s hard to imagine that the Celtic Connections momentum will slow down anytime soon.

Check out celticconnections.com for more info and ticket prices



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