CELTIC CONNECTIONS – A FESTIVAL FOR ALL TASTES?

Item Posted: Thursday 3rd December, 2009

CELTIC CONNECTIONS – A FESTIVAL FOR ALL TASTES?

Originally conceived as filling a hole in Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall’s schedule in the dark wet days of January, this key winter music festival has grown in size and stature to become a world-wide draw for Glasgow.

35,000 inaugural attendees in 1994, and the organisers themselves, can hardly have expected to be placed, as they now are, as the premier music event in Scotland. Although Scotland on Sunday prophetically said: ‘There is little doubt that the inaugural Celtic Connections will go down as something of a watershed in the current folk scene’, no-one would have been brave enough to predict £1million plus ticket sales for 2009 and an £8 million much needed boost to the Scottish economy. To boot they won the Best Cultural Event of the Year at the Scottish Event Awards 2009.
In 2009, with the festival effectively kicking off the Homecoming celebrations, organisers developed a prominent theme of homecoming, and featured events which traced musical traditions back to their roots. Béla Fleck celebrated the evolution of the banjo in Throw Down Your Heart, whilst a host of top Celtic and Americana talent assembled to perform the traditional songs and tunes which crossed the Atlantic with Celtic immigrants to form the bedrock of American roots music in Transatlantic Sessions – Bringing it All Back Home.
They threw the ultimate 250th birthday party for Robert Burns, with a weekend of celebrations which included a Jamaican Burns Night headlined by reggae legends Sly and Robbie, a 12-hour Burns song marathon and a giant ceilidh in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall led by an all-star band.
Their most international programme to date brought artists to Scotland from across the globe in 2009. Musicians from Africa, India, Russia, Jamaica, Canada, Spain, Portugal, Norway, France and the USA all descended upon Glasgow to perform alongside the cream of home-grown talent.
The festival is not without its detractors. Many of the musicians and events have to stretch a point to be in any way ‘Celtic’; the more traditional end of the music scene sometimes feel under represented, and purists debate the lack of traditional (i.e.old) music on offer; some of the programming has been accused as ‘safe’ using the same old crowd pleasers year after year. It is true that the Festival has become a ‘brand’, and the levels of investment need headline acts that the Festival can be pretty sure will sell out. But all this is to carp too much. With 1500 artists from 30 countries performing over 18 days, anyone who can claim not to find something to listen to must be a rare beast!
Getting the best from the festival
Those of you who are aficionados will already have sussed out what you are going for but here are my quick tips:
• Avoid the big gigs unless you are an avid fan. You can probably catch the performers –especially the big named Scottish ones – at other times of the year.
• Look out for foreign bands and artists who may only rarely appear on these shores
• Check up unusual combinations and line ups. Often a well known name crops up alongside an unknown who might be really tasty!
• Check out reviews (not Celtic Connections blurb) on artists you are not familiar with. Rob Adams of the Herald is one of the few reliable ‘main-stream’ press reviewers – although these often come too late to book or after the event!
• Don’t be afraid to go with the unfamiliar. I’ve made it a rule to go to at least one gig a year that I think I won’t like. I have been pleasurably surprised most years and have found some new enthusiasms as a result.
Late night revels
For those who want to party into the wee small hours there are late night sessions in the Concert Hall each night from 10 til late, and at the weekends the Festival Club is on at the Art School. You never know who is going to turn up, or what the style of music is going to be. But this is a jam session to end all jam sessions, where you will rub shoulders with international stars and the bands of tomorrow.
Short of cash?
If you are keen to go, but the Main Auditorium prices of £20 plus would stretch your pocket to breaking point (especially if you want to go night after night!), there is still plenty for you. Cheaper venues are the Concert Hall’s Strathclyde Suite, St Andrew’s In the Square and City Halls –usually around £12.50.
But there is masses going on for free. In George Square the opening Torchlight Parade opens the Festival with the Scottish Power Pipe Band; The BBC have five live (free but ticketed) shows at their HQ at Pacific Quay; there is a free arts exhibition at the Concert Hall organised by the Cromarty Arts Trust.
There is a great opportunity of hearing some of tomorrow’s stars today at the Danny Kyle Open Stage from 5-7 each evening. Each night a few comparatively unknown musicians get a chance of a brief gig. The quality and styles can be a mixed bag, but the six acts who impress the judges most during the festival go on to a support act at the next year’s festival, so the demand for places is high, and often top talent comes through. Previous winners have launched their careers from this starting point – including The Chair, Adam Sutherland and Karine Polwart.
More info from www.glasgowculturalenterprises.com









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