Celtic Connections 2018 programme is more diverse than ever
- Alex Johnston
- 3 November 2017
The 25th festival brings together musicians from Scotland, Northern Ireland, the USA, Cuba, Finland, the Congo, Mali and elsewhere
Celtic Connections first stepped onto the festival scene 25 years ago, and it's celebrating its quarter century in 2018 with its most diverse programme yet, with eighteen nights of music to get you through darkest January.
Celtic Connections is one of the very few festivals about which it can truly be said that it has something for everyone. It's long since expanded beyond its initial focus on folk music, and although the 2018 programme has such beloved figures of the folk scene as Kate Rusby, Julie Fowlis and The Levellers, there's also Malian singer Oumou Sangaré, who broke five years of silence with her 2017 album Mogoya featuring the great Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen; country singers and sisters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer, singing songs from their duet album Not Dark Yet; and the Cuban singer-guitarist Juan de Marcos and his Afro-Cuban All Stars.
From Tennessee, there's singer and mandolin prodigy Sierra Hull, only 26 but already on her fourth album: 2016's Weighted features guest stars Béla Fleck, Alison Krauss and Rhiannon Giddens, among others, and was nominated for a Grammy. Fiddler's Bid, from Shetland, headline a concert of their native Shetland fiddle music and are joined by Finland's splendidly-named Frigg, a seven-piece band playing their own country's fiddle tunes.
The Roaming Roots Revue focuses for the first time on a single artist. Roddy Hart, the Lonesome Fire and a host of transatlantic special guests pay tribute to the songbook of the late Tom Petty, who gave the world such much-loved numbers as 'I Won't Back Down', 'Free Fallin'' and, as copyright lawyers the world over are agreed, a sizeable chunk of Sam Smith's 'Stay With Me'. ('Sam's people were very understanding,' as Petty drily commented at the time.) Congolese singer and bandleader Jupiter Bokondji appears with his irresistible band Okwess, mixing up soukous and conga music with funk, soul and rock.
The 25th Anniversary Concert features a celebration of all the artists who've played in the festival over the years, and among the guests are Eddi Reader, Tryst, Saltfishforty, Cherish the Ladies, Sharon Shannon, String Sisters and Kris Drever. If fusions of traditional and contemporary classical musics are your thing, harp/fiddle partners Catriona McKay and Chris Stout team up with King Creosote and Scottish Ensemble, while elsewhere Northern Irish musician Hannah Peel adopts her Mary Casio persona for a performance of her work Journey To Cassiopeia, which describes a voyage by an octogenarian from Barnsley to outer space; she's joined by Tubular Brass, who'll also be having a go at Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. Another performance to look out for is This is the Kit, whose mesmerising single 'Hotter Colder' was rotated very much on Radio 6; 2018 could be the year that sees Kate Stables and her ragtag bunch ascend to a new level of popularity.
The international partner for 2018 is Ireland, and the festival has collaborated with Culture Ireland on bringing leading and emerging Irish artists to the festival, some of whom will feature in the Showcase Scotland weekend.
Celtic Connections' drive towards diversity is not unique to itself. As festival director Donald Shaw says, it's all part of the direction that Scottish music itself is taking: 'The influence and inspiration that the traditional music scene has had across the whole musical landscape in Scotland and worldwide has helped to make the journey of Celtic Connections all the more adventurous and exciting.' Long may it continue to draw connections.
Celtic Connections is in various venues, Glasgow from Thu 8 Jan–Sun 4 Feb 2018.