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Roger McCann

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Celtic Connections

Posted 2017-01-19 15:17:31

 Even without a professional weather forecast, we can say with certainty that Glasgow in the early part of a new year will be wet, windy and cold. There will be grey mornings that never lighten, that seep into early darkening afternoons. On such days, the much used Scottish word ‘dreich’ is especially apt.

However, it’s far from gloomy. This is a time for meeting up with family and friends and making the effort to get out to enjoy and perhaps be inspired at a few of the fabulous concerts that are part of the Glasgow festival known as Celtic Connections.

For 2019 the festival runs from 17th January - 3rd February 

The  festival was first thought of as a way of brightening up winter nights with a few performances of what was then usually referred to as ‘folk music’. But it’s never been all about big bearded baritones wearing hairy jumpers and singing sea shanties.

There is still a choice of concerts where folk songs fill most of the programme but such is the breadth and standing of Celtic Connections now, that the best musicians and singers from different genres, from ceilidh to country, salsa to psalms are delighted to be invited to perform in Glasgow in January.

Where once folk music could be found only in the smoke - filled back rooms of a few pubs, now the concert goers sit in comfort in diverse venues including the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, the Old Fruit Market, Mitchell Library Theatre and The Hydro, Glasgow’s new stadium.

Of the 2000 artistes who participate in Celtic Connections, some will also be invited into Glasgow schools to give pupils an insight into styles of music that may at first seem to be particularly foreign.

Meanwhile, other groups of school pupils travel - imagine the excitement - to the Royal Concert Hall at the top of Buchanan Street to enjoy mini concerts on the impressively large stage. For some children, this may be their first time seeing and hearing energetic step-dancers from Canada, or bagpipes being played alongside electrified fiddles and guitars, or as happened one year, a performance by a group of Mongolian throat singers.

Throughout the festival, Scotland’s prodigious traditional music talent is particularly well represented and each year it seems those involved appear to be younger and ever more assured.

As well as those who have had formal musical training there are numerous equally talented performers from across the country and beyond who get the chance to perform before an audience at what is known as the Danny Kyle Open Stage.

The late Danny Kyle was a passionate supporter of traditional music and song and a campaigner for the on-going resurgence of this particular art form. Each afternoon over the course of the festival, some five or six acts take their opportunity to shine under the watchful eyes of a panel of experienced judges. If chosen, the best six acts go forward to a final. For the eventual winner, the prize will be a coveted support spot at a prestigious Celtic Connections concert the following year.

 What’s more – these afternoon performances are open to the public and are free!

Over the years, a few of the most outstanding of these performers have gone on to take their music and songs around the world.                  

If you are inspired by this show of talent the weekend classes for complete beginners, as well as competent players, may appeal.

There are ‘come and try classes’ for children and adults in dancing, singing, conversational Gaelic and various instruments.  

If the idea of learning to play Irish pipes or ukulele is unrealistic, you may still come out of a class flushed with success, with a new-found ability to keep an all-important rhythm going by clacking a pair of spoons together, or by shaking a couple of bones.

Over the course of the years there have been many memorable concerts at Celtic Connections where the Glasgow audiences have sung choruses when prompted, danced enthusiastically in the aisles and applauded during standing ovations with encore after encore.

For an emotional production called, ‘Far, Far from Ypres’ the audience joined in the singing of World War 1 songs and, through stories and poems read by a narrator, learned a little of the war time experience of soldier Jimmy MacDonald who, like thousands of other enlistees, could have come from any town or village in Scotland.

When the last encore of each concert has died away late night enthusiasts make their way to the Festival Club and the other designated venues which stay open until the wee small hours. This is where musicians who may have been performing earlier will meet their counterparts and take to the stage to play in informal, unrehearsed collaborations – furthering friendships and connections that are at the very heart of this festival.

                  First published in The People’s Friend        


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