Doing it for the girl: Celebrating the women of Celtic Connections
Hitting back at male-centric festival lineups, Celtic Connections showcases the breadth of talented women
There has been justifiable concern over the last few years that the summer music festivals have become an uncomfortably male-dominated affair with lumpen indie rockers and superstar DJs selected for all the plum slots. Conservative booking policies aside, these are not particularly fertile times for female representation in rock and (to a lesser degree) pop music.
It's a different story in the world of traditional music where women have long been visible and successful as singers, songwriters and instrumentalists. Even a cursory glance at the typically eclectic Celtic Connections line-up bears this out, with high profile headline concerts from the veteran singer Shirley Collins, ace accordionist Sharon Shannon, country doyenne Mary Chapin Carpenter, blues guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor, experimental composer Anna Meredith and classical percussionist Evelyn Glennie, even before you consider the many instrumental ensembles such as Cherish the Ladies and RANT, harmony duos like Lewis & Leigh, and upcoming singers such as Rachels Newton, Sermanni and Walker.
One of the more unexpected names on the bill, stretching those Connections in intriguing directions, is Olivia Newton-John, immortalized for most as Sandy in Grease, though her background is in country pop. She teams up with singers Beth Nielsen Chapman and Amy Sky to sing songs old and new. And in the most prestigious slot of all, the singular Laura Marling headlines this year's Opening Concert with the Scottish Symphony Orchestra performing Kate St John's string arrangements of her songs.
To heap riches on to bounty, Roaming Roots Revue's theme this year is Women of Song – surely their widest ranging subject matter yet. Even if the performers were to confine themselves to the women of roots and country music, there are abundant brilliant artists to celebrate. Kitty Wells blazed a trail for female musicians in Nashville as far back as 1952 with her jukebox hit 'It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels' in swift riposte to Hank Thompson's no-good-woman-bashing 'The Wild Side of Life'. Fifteen years later, Dolly Parton called the establishment's bluff with 'Dumb Blonde', all the while cutting through the industry like a recognition-seeking missile.
There was a place for women behind the scenes too. The great country songwriter Cindy Walker was composing from her mid-teens and got her big break by pitching boldly to Bing Crosby. Shirley Collins, meanwhile, was quick to defend her role as a fellow researcher in Alan Lomax's 1959 field trip across the southern States, where they discovered rural bluesman Mississippi Fred McDowell and recorded hundreds of folk songs for posterity.
The likes of Norma Waterson and the McGarrigle Sisters are held in high esteem for their stewardship of a tradition, while closer to home the legacy of Sheila Stewart, the last of her line of Scots travelling folk, will be celebrated at the Where You're Meant To Be Ceilidh.
In creating positive precedents, these pioneers encouraged subsequent generations that making music was a natural choice, such that there are now scores of young female musicians populating our folk sessions and showcase competitions such as Young Traditional Musician of the Year.
Celtic Connections, various venues: Glasgow, Thu 19 Jan–Sun 5 Feb.