Time flies when you’re having fun and so the 18 days of brilliant live music that was the 2020 edition of Celtic Connections (16 January – 2 February) went by way too quickly, as usual. The popular winter music festival with its mix of folk, celtic, trad, Americana and world music once more attracted large audiences from the UK and abroad. What’s more, there seem to be new fans joining the stalwart CCFest fans flocking to Glasgow every winter to see world class acts jam together and discover the freshest talent of young musicians from Scotland and further afield.
I managed to get quite a few good concerts in again this year starting with volunteering as an artist liaison for a fantastic double show at the Tron Theatre by US Indie-folk artist Noah Gundersen, supported by Brighton-based Bess Atwell. The event also included a short presentation by suicide prevention charity TWLOHA. The same day I witnessed the emergence of STORM, a stunning 10m tall moving puppet (see pic above) made of recycled materials to commemorate the festival’s Coastal Connections Day. The night after I headed down to St. Lukes for Kentuckian Tyler Childers, who has a strong fan base in the UK and came recommended by friends, but somehow didn’t hit the right notes for me. Iris Dement, on the other hand, who I had wanted to see for a very long time, was a real revelation. While her unusual voice might not be everyone’s cup of tea, her witty and intriguing stories and beautifully songs made me feel more like being at a house concert rather than in a large concert hall.
Probably my favourite gig this year was Canadian Frazey Ford and one of my favourite Scottish bands, Adam Holmes and the Embers from Edinburgh, at St. Lukes. Whoever booked those two as a combo should be congratulated as their unique styles complemented each other extremely well. It was a beautiful night with lots of happy people in one of the nicest venues in town. On the second Saturday I volunteered at the Drygate looking after the Folk Circle consisting of English folk singer Reg Meuross with Scottish singers Lori Watson and Kim Richards and some of their musician friends. Their melodic music would have probably been better suited to a quieter venue, but it was still a lovely concert. The night after I had been invited by a friend to join him for the Phil Cunningham 60th birthday bash at City Halls (pic below). We had pretty good seats and the line-up kept getting surprise additions, such as Eddi Reader, Karen Matheson as well as a children’s sibling duo playing traditional instruments almost like pros. The nearly three-hour show was a fun-filled celebration and a night to remember.
My third week started with the first of two Seirm recordings for BBC Alba, which this year took place at The Arches next to Central station (rumbling train sounds included!). The best thing about being part of a recording for TV is always being so up close to some of the most amazing musicians, while it also requires a lot of patience as the set-up between artists takes quite a while. On that night’s bill were Dervish (pic below), RURA, Aoife Scott (Irish singer Frances Black’s very talented daughter), the very entertaining The Poozies and Della Mae from Boston (now Nashville). I had to drag myself away just before it finished to catch the tail end of The Milk Carton Kids in the RCH, who I had never seen live before and whose harmonies and beautiful, quiet melodies were truly mesmerising.
The night after, at The Old Fruitmarket, was another one of my favourite festival shows: Brooklyn-based Anais Mitchell (pic below) and her newly formed trio Bonny Light Horseman with fantastic guitarist Josh Kaufman and singer Eric D. Johnson of Fruit Bats. Seven months pregnant and having recently won eight Tony awards and a Grammy for her folk opera ‘Hadestown’ a few days earlier, Mitchell was positively beaming on stage and I loved every bit of it. The last night of the festival was another highlight for me: the Translatlantic Sessions, this time featuring Tenessee mandolin virtuoso Sierra Hull (whose songwriting workshop that morning was fantastic), Dervish singer Cathy Jordan and young Edinburgh-based songwriter Rachel Sermanni as well as a host of amazing festival musicians.
While 18 days of music seem fairly long to those used to 2-3 day music events, it is somehow never long enough once the festival gets going. One thing is for sure though: Celtic Connections is a fantastic way for visitors to experience all the friendliness and hospitality Glasgow has to offer and a chance for locals to welcome the new year with a bang!
Here are my reviews of previews editions of the festival in 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 and some practical tips for your first visit to Glasgow during Celtic Connections.
Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with review tickets for some events. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival.