Top picks Celtic Connections 2015
With thousands of artists and hundreds of events, Celtic Connections 2015 has something for everyone
We’ve picked out our favourites from the 2015 Celtic Connections festival to help you navigate the exceptional programme...
Mary Hampton & Mike Heron
Celtic Connections prides itself on spinning folk and traditional music in new and unexpected directions, and if ever a gig epitomised that philosophy, it’s this one. Brighton-born singer Mary Hampton might work within folk traditions, but her haunting vocals take them into strange, sometimes surreal landscapes – but the quiet intensity of her delivery is unforgettable. She’s joined by Edinburgh-born psych-folk hero Mike Heron, the man behind the Incredible String Band’s mad harmonies and twisty tunes (although his music’s taken on a more celebratory edge since working with his daughter, Georgia Seddon). Two Kiwi newcomers complete the bill: soul-tinged folk singer/songwriter Louis Baker, and slide guitar rocker Thomas Oliver. (DK)
Platform, Sat 24 Jan.
Taraf de Haïdouks
One of the most astounding live bands in the known universe, Taraf de Haïdouks are the exemplars of Romani music. Originally coming together to play weddings and baptisms in their home town of Clejani, Taraf have brought scorching high-energy and soulful Gypsy music to an international audience, along the way influencing artists such as A Hawk & a Hacksaw, Beirut and Mr Bungle. They’re currently in their 25th year, touring the glorious new album Of Lovers, Gamblers & Parachute Skirts, and still pushing their music ever further and faster. Expect a thoroughly raucous evening of unbelievable virtuosity and unfettered joy. (ME)
Old Fruitmarket, Sat 24 Jan.
Craig Armstrong, Orchestra of Scottish Opera
Such is the cinematic sweep of Glasgow-born Craig Armstrong’s epic music, it’s only right that he should be joined by a full symphony orchestra – and one used to playing opera at that. He’s the man who provided opulent soundtracks for The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet (among many other movies), music from which comes after the interval. Beforehand, he reveals a more personal side with tracks from It’s Nearly Tomorrow, his first solo album in ten years – from wistful ballads to brooding instrumentals. No wonder they need the grand setting of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. (DK)
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Tue 27 Jan.
Konono No. 1
Buzzing with distorted likembe thumb pianos and relentless beats played on junkyard percussion, the ecstatic trance music of Kinshasa's Konono No. 1 is one of the most exciting sounds on the planet. Although their international breakthrough came with the 2004 release of Conogtronics, Konono has been active since the late Sixties, when founder Mingiedi took elements of masikulu, a traditional Bazombo style using drums and elephant-tusk horns, and applied likembe and DIY electronics. Collaborations with Björk and Dutch avant-punks The Ex attest to their leftfield appeal. Supporting Konono on their Scottish debut is Tuareg guitar hero Bombino. (SS)
02 ABC, Thu 29 Jan.
Written as an homage to sun-speckled summers on Tiree, where the founding members of Skerryvore met, the group’s latest album Chasing the Sun is the perfect antidote to the dark, dank Scottish winter. Back at the festival that always welcomes them as one of its most rousing live acts, they celebrate their 10th anniversary and after a decade the hard work really shines through. A toe-tappingly intoxicating blend of fiddle, guitars, mandolin accordion and bagpipes, this is a band who love every minute of performing together and have developed an instinctive ability to feed off each other’s energy and showmanship with effortless panache. (RD)
O2 ABC, Fri 30 Jan.
Frànçois and The Atlas Mountains with Burkinabé
With a unique blend of dreamy French indie-pop and vibrant Afro-funk, Frànçois and The Atlas Mountains are not ones to be easily pigeonholed. The band’s latest album Piano Ombre perfectly illustrates their eclectic sound and has taken them on extensive tours of Africa and Europe. They’ll be joined by two special guests from Burkina Faso – Sanou Darra on balafon and Djiga Boubacar on ngoni. Additionally, one of Scotland’s hardest working bands today, Kid Canaveral will open the show with their brand of infectious guitar-pop, getting the crowd warmed up for Frànçois and co. (NG)
The Arches, Fri 30 Jan.
Lambchop with Maggie Bjorklund
As purposeful, intimate and intense an album as art-country visionaries Lambchop have ever produced, Nixon is as good an introduction to the Nashville group as any new listeners could hope for. Fans, meanwhile, will relish the opportunity to hear in its entirety the band’s defining release — a punchy, dramatic and wonderfully graceful collection of songs. Members past and present join frontman Kurt Wagner on stage for a stripped-back performance. More than just cult favourites, Lambchop epitomise an exploratory daringness which triumphs with their swirling blend of country, jazz, soul, noise, R&B and vintage pop. (RD)
Old Fruitmarket, Sat 31 Jan.
Tony Allen & Ibibio Sound Machine
As the legendary drummer with Fela Kuti's Africa 70, Tony Allen invented the rhythms which drive Afrobeat, the revolutionary mix of highlife, jazz and Yoruba music which burst out of 1970s Nigeria. Allen's rolling grooves bristle with a nervous funky energy, even on his more reflective tracks. Since leaving Africa 70 in 1979, Allen has enjoyed a varied career as a bandleader and collaborator, drawing on dub, hip-hop and electronic influences to create a hybrid sound he calls Afrofunk. Support comes from the terrific Ibibio Sound Machine, whose blend of highlife, electronica and Nigerian folklore positively soars. (SS)
02 ABC, Sat 31 Jan.
More events you can’t miss
Angelique Kidjo with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Sat 17 Jan.
Roaming Roots Revue, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Sun 18 Jan.
King Creosote performs 'From Scotland with Love' and Tiny Ruins, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Thu 22 Jan.
The Barr Brothers and Adam Holmes & The Embers, Tron Theatre, Sat 24 Jan.
Van Morrison, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Mon 26 Jan.
Calexico and BC Camplight, Old Fruitmarket, Sun 1 Feb.