Festival Files: Celtic Connections Festival (Glasgow; Thursday 16th January to Sunday 2nd February 2020)

Celtic Connections logo

After the winter break, our Festival Files are once again fully operational and will guide you to discover some the best music festivals happening throughout the year.

The first episode of 2020 is dedicated to a festival that, since 1994, is lightning up the long January nights in Glasgow, Celtic Connections.

Since its inception, the event has offered a busy and captivating calendar “celebrating Celtic music” as well as the international stars of the “world music world”. Today, Celtic Connections delights its audience welcoming more than 3000 artists, putting on stage more than 300 shows (including live performances, DJ-sets, late-night jam sessions, workshops, movie screenings, talks…) scattered across the city and showcasing a wide range of styles from folk to indie rock and jazz to Americana.

To know more about the 18-day-long event, which will get underway at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Thursday the 16th of January with a tribute to the late Martyn Bennett, we had the pleasure to reach Donald Shaw, Creative Producer for Celtic Connections.

Can you give us a brief history of how Celtic Connections came about?

It was an initiative by the Royal Concert Hall in 1994 to create a festival of Celtic music for what was a normally a quiet time in the hall.

What is your involvement in Celtic Connections?

I’m Creative Producer for the festival, I book the artists and produce bespoke shows.

What really sets Celtic Connections apart from the UK’s other festivals?

It’s an unusually big festival to have in the winter. Also it focuses heavily on unique collaborations and unusual projects as well as having a large international presence.

Can you describe the process of curating artists – What works for Celtic Connections and what doesn’t?

We curate artists that have some connection with roots music – be that traditional, folk, blues, gospel or world music. In fact the only music form we don’t really programme is mainstream pop music.

Which acts have you been eager to book in the past and would like to see turn up in the future? 

In the past, big critically acclaimed stars have included Laura Marling , Tom Jones, James Taylor, Youssou N’Dour, Kris Kristofferson, Angelique Kidjo, Bobby McFerrin – ones for the future are this year’s programme!

What is your favourite element of the festival? 

Experiencing the wonder and atmosphere of the audiences

What has been your favourite part of planning this festival?

Seeing an ambitious idea go from months of phone calls to actually being announced.

We are used to consider summer as the official music festival season. So, happening in mid/late-January, Celtic Connections can be seen as a whitefly. Why did you choose January to run the festival and how this decision helped or harmed its growth?

As said, the Royal Concert Hall picked January because it wanted to create a festival of Celtic music for what was a normally a quiet time in the hall. Also, I think the festival has benefitted from attracting artists who are not normally touring at that time of year.

What’s the relation between Celtic Connections and the local community? How does the festival interact with Glasgow?

We work hard to make sure that the whole community can benefit from the festival. We have an education programme – supported through our Celtic Rovers member – that helps enable school children to try out traditional Celtic instruments such as the bodhran, fiddle, clarsach and whistle, with some of the country’s  best professional Celtic musicians sharing their experience and skills. Pupils and teachers are also given opportunities to attend free concerts for schools, which are held at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Presented by professional Celtic, traditional and world music artists, these give many children the chance to enjoy their first experience of live music.

Our Celtic Connections In The Community programme works with the ethnic minority voluntary sector organisation, BEMIS, to involve people from diverse cultural communities in music workshops run by professional Celtic musicians, and workshop participants will perform at Tramway on January 25, in a major festival highlight: BEMIS Presents Les Amazones D’Afrique & Special Guests.

Several festival events are held in venues throughout the community, including the Glad Café – a not-for-profit music venue on Glasgow’s south side.

Brexit is influencing so many industries across the board that it’d be hard not to discuss it in relation to the music sector. How might this uncertainty impact on your festival in the next few years? A: To be honest we don’t really know

Although festivals each try to carve out their own niche, there are also overlapping themes, genres and artists. How competitive are festivals over the same resources, and is collaboration encouraged to ensure a more level playing field?

Outside of or including Celtic Connections, what has been the best performance you have ever witnessed as a festivalgoer?

I have many favourite moments from over the years. I think I would pick The Punch Brothers . (This American bluegrass band’s 2015 show received rapturous reviews in 2015. “GRCH’s chairs are close to collapsing in the collective swing,” wrote one critic.

In January, Celtic Connections is turning 27. What do you expect from/look forward to in the next 27 years?

Hopefully continuing to be an essential vehicle for the evolving and vibrant home-grown traditional folk scene in Scotland

Finally, in a few words, how would you introduce Celtic Connections to a potential newcomer?

They could join me in my weekend drive around , when I try and witness 10 minutes of 20 shows in one night!


Despite the festival is only a few days away, you can still buy your tickets for the events following this LINK

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