Celtic Connections 2020: Coasts and Celts at the Concert Hall

Capercaillie

18th January – 1st February

After a month long celebration of the best of trad, folk and roots music, Celtic Connections draws to a close. Always the high point of the Glaswegian cultural calendar, this prestigious festival brightens the dark Scottish winter bringing music from across the world to this proud celtic nation. This year, Celtic Connections hosted over 300 events and welcomed around 130,000 people, showing Europe’s top winter music festival continues to be a huge draw for audiences, thanks to its diverse acts from across Scotland, the UK and around the world. 

One of the highlights this year was Coastal Connections, a very special “festival within a festival”, which brought together a wealth of music, film and story-telling linked to the heritage and culture of our shorelines and coastal communities. Funded through EventScotland’s International programme supporting Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters 2020, this festival was a celebration of all things sea and shore. The limelight was somewhat stolen by Storm, the ten metre tall puppet, with eyes are the colour of oyster shells and hair of thick strands of kelp, who rose from the Clyde to lead people in a celebratory march towards the Concert Hall to launch Coastal Connections.

The festival itself involved exploring the nooks and crannies of the Royal Concert Hall, discovering fabulous music and workshops at every turn. Artists like Feis Rois, an impressive sextet from Ross-shire captivated the audience with a piece written by John Somerville in 2014 inspired by the voyage of The Hector, a ship that left Ross-shire and sailed to Canada in 1773. The story of The Hector is one of human endeavour and hardship upon the seas, and the music beautifully played by Feis Rois captured the soulful and mournful journey alongside captivating images. Across the building, Capercaillie led tributes to the music of numerous celtic nations, including songs rooted in Irish, Breton or Gaelic cultures. The highpoint was of course a performance from Tiree-based Skerryvore, proving that the musical heritage of coastal communities continues to be enjoyed; as important and popular today as it was generations ago. 

Other highlights from this year’s festival include performances from Dervish, fresh from receiving a prestigious lifetime achievement award from the BBC, a fitting tribute to the band after over 30 years of recording and performing all over the world. Famous for their energetic performances and commitment to sharing the history of Irish songs, Dervish frontwoman Cathy Jordan had the audience absorbed, particularly during a couple of beautiful duets with the inimitable Peggy Seger, which felt like a very special moment to observe.

Blazin’ Fiddles – the instrumental powerhouse – were dazzling as always. Playing to a packed Concert Hall, the group roused heartbeats with their incredible talent and fiery performances. Masterfully MC’d by Bruce McGregor, the Blazers had people up on their feet dancing throughout the performances.

Rounding off this magical month of music, Transatlantic Sessions, the 17th live edition, brought music and generations together to celebrate the Scottish, Irish and US roots and trad music. Sierra Hull, a three-time winner of the IBMA Mandolin Player of the Year Award sang beautifully, particularly, ‘lullaby’ a moving tribute to a mother’s love from a girl who was far from home. Strathspey’s Rachel Sermanni sang a moving ‘Ae fond Kiss’, and the group ended with a beautiful rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’. Transatlantic Sessions is perhaps the only event in the world where The Boss follows Burns on a set list, and that is precisely why it remains the jewel in the crown of this fantastic festival.

If the dark winter nights seem a little too long without the warmth of a Celtic Connections gig, worry not, next year’s dates have already been confirmed: 14th to 31st January.

https://www.celticconnections.com/

With thanks to Rowan Anderson for this review. See also Artmag.co.uk reviews of Field Music and Robyn Hitchcock at Celtic Connections 2020

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