Transcending Traditions: Celtic Connections 2019

I’ve been coming to Glasgow for Celtic Connections every January since 2016 and ever since first arriving in the city I felt it might be a good place for me to live. So last autumn I finally made the move from London and it was fantastic to be in town for the whole 18 days of the festival (17 Jan – 3 Feb 2019) for the first time!

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Being the largest winter music festival in Europe, the event has been a success story for many years now. It not only attracts a huge number of locals who enjoy outstanding music from different parts of the world, it has also become a magnet for visitors from other countries who brave the winter weather in order to experience the unique atmosphere of Glasgow city.

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This year was no different and the festival boasted a bumper programme of acts from the worlds of folk, Americana, classical, Indie, roc & blues, spoken word and many exciting cross-over collaborations.

Week 1

The festival started for me with a celebration of Tiree music festival (see pic above) at the Old Fruitmarket including Trail West and Skerryvore. On Saturday I was looking after two very different bands as a volunteer artist rep, May Erlewine, melodic Americana from Michigan, and the Como Mamas, three fabulous gospel singers from Mississippi, at Mackintosh Church (one of my new favourite buildings in the city, well worth a visit). On Sunday I was at King Tuts for the first time for an afternoon session of up an coming artists part of Hazy Recollections. Later that night I popped into a couple of gigs that were happening around the corner from each other: Irish trad musician Daoiri Farrell and friends playing ‘The Dublin Session’, Charles Esten of the Nashville series fame, sold out, but alas not my kind of thing and a bit of The Roaming Roots Revue at the Royal Concert Hall including the always excellent KT Tunstall. After taking a much needed break for two nights I was back on Wednesday with a session of lovely Welsh music including songwriter Gwyneth Glyn in the Strathclyde Suite of the RCH. On Thursday I very much enjoyed seeing Americana artist Caroline Spence again who supported US musician Steve Forbert at St. Andrews.

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Week 2

My second festival Friday was a night of old-time and more modern Appalachian tunes and songs with Canadian trio The Lonesome Ace Stringband. On Saturday I was looking after two more bands for the day: Andrew Combs & Charlie Whitten from Nashville and Amy Helm from New York. They played Oran Mor and both were excellent, Andrew & Charlie complemented each other perfectly while Amy and band played an energetic set for an enthusiastic audience. The day after I went to see Madison Violet form Canada at the Fruitmarket and then headed over to St. Luke’s for Tennessean Ashley Monroe. On Monday I was at the Rhiannon Giddens show at the RCH (with surprise support by Kaia Kater). With such an outstanding voice she can really sing anything well, but although the orchestra arrangement was fascinating, it didn’t touch me as much as her other work usually does. Midweek I caught Canadian Leeroy Stagger at King’s Theatre (a new venue for both the festival and me) and then headed over to the Mitchell Theatre for Emily Smith and her husband Jamie McClennan, who I hadn’t seen for years and who was as good as I had remembered, a more Americana sound this time around. I only caught one of the BBC Seirm recordings at Hillhead Bookclub this year, but it was again a wonderful line-up including Tim O’Brien and Blue Rose Code, one of my Scottish favourites of recent years.

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Week 3

The third Friday of the festival I was so tired after a long week at work and constant concert going that I just wanted to get some sleep, but a friend abroad messaged me to say check out the line-up at St. Luke’s tonight. So I reluctantly ventured out into the cold and was pleasantly surprised the venue was seated for the night, hurrah. The first band up, Pretty Archie from Cape Breton pretty much woke me up within five seconds and I also really enjoyed Chance McCoy’s first solo set at the festival. Nashville-based headliner Nicki Bluhm and her band were excellent, but I was too sleepy by then to really appreciate it. Saturday was my last time looking after festival bands this year and I was at the Old Fruitmarket (see pic above) again for a very exciting collaboration by Karine Polwart and a selection of other musicians (Shetlander Inge Thomson, Graeme Smilie, Louis Abbott of Admiral Fallow etc.). Her ‘Scottish Songbook’ consisted of a diverse selection of popular songs by Scottish bands of the past and present from Annie Lennox to Frightened Rabbit with a lot of humorous banter thrown in. My final gig of the festival was at the O2 Academy across the river, another great listed building and impressive former cinema. The show started with Canadians Pretty Archie (see pic below), followed by the very rocky Hooten Hallers from Missouri (both bands’ first visit to Scotland) and the popular The Dead South, Canadian bluegrass with an edge.

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You might be reading this and wonder if you have been to a completely different festival. Around a dozen different musical offerings on many nights make it a tough choice for festival goers. This year I often simply went by what hadn’t been sold out yet or was easy to get to if the weather was particularly adverse (it was in fact, fairly OK for this time of the year, phew). I also tried to make it to a few venues I had never been to in the years before.

You don’t need to move here like I did to enjoy what Glasgow has to offer, but this exciting Scottish city is definitely worth a visit, especially during Celtic Connections. Read more about previous editions of the festival (2016, 2017, 2018) and a guide to Glasgow during Celtic Connections. Hope you’ll join us next year!

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