Glasgow’s internationally revered winter music festival, Celtic Connections returns for its thirtieth edition in venues across the city from Thursday 19th January to Sunday 5th February 2023.
After two years when, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the music was first moved to digital performances and then to a hybrid of live and online events, the festival is back with a fully in-person programme.
Donald Shaw, Celtic Connections’ creative producer, acknowledges that there remains an element of uncertainty in promoting live concerts in the current economic climate.
“These are tough times for everyone,” he says, “and we just have to remember that the arts are not just about playing music. They’re also about creating a sense of well-being and if people remember the great feeling they get from experiencing live music, hopefully they’ll be inspired to come out to the festival.”
The 2023 programme is certainly designed to attract audiences away from the comfort of their homes. It begins and ends with concerts that define the Celtic Connections approach, with a massive opening concert that features seasoned artists who have lit up the Celtic Connections stage since the festival’s early days and younger musicians who have emerged over its history. The closing Transatlantic Sessions is similarly big in scale with an equally star-studded line-up.
Singer-songwriter Karine Polwart, bluegrass singer-mandolinist-guitarist Sierra Hull, Scandinavian roots band Basco, Hebridean sensations Peat & Diesel, Glasgow pan-Celtic stylists TRIP, New York-based Scottish harpist Maeve Gilchrist and jazz piano-saxophone duo Fergus McCreadie & Matt Carmichael underline Celtic Connections’ cultural diversity in the Opening Concert. They’ll be supported by the bespoke big band that was formed for 2021’s digital-first Opening Night and joined by surprise guests.
Transatlantic Sessions, which runs on Friday 3rd February, as well as on the final night, this year welcomes Martha Wainwright and Tennessean Amythyst Kiah alongside Hothouse Flowers frontman Liam Ó Maonlai and Capercaillie’s Karen Matheson, accompanied by a customary slick house band.
In between these nights there are world premieres, including Moving Cloud. A collaboration of contemporary dance and traditional music created by Celtic Connections and Scottish Dance Theatre, this features a new score performed by a 14-piece folk ensemble including violinist Greg Lawson of the Grit Orchestra.
Celtic Odyssée sees a virtuosic Breton band joined by musicians and singers from Asturias, Ireland, Wales, Isle of Man, Cornwall, and Scotland. And among the festival debutants are the Irish Chamber Orchestra who will feature with the outstanding singer Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh in a programme of classic sean nós.
Leading Scottish fiddler Duncan Chisholm premieres his new album, Black Cuillin, with a seven-piece band, string section and guests, and adventurous fiddle and harp duo Chris Stout & Catriona McKay join the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in a cutting-edge marriage of the folk and classical traditions.
The festival’s connections with Africa will be celebrated in a meeting of Malian and Gaelic music featuring Mali’s Trio Da Kali with award-winning Gaelic singers Jenna Cummings and Kim Carnie, piper-composer Ross Ainslie, and American Old-Time and roots musician Dirk Powell. Further Malian representatives include singer Rokia Koné, from Les Amazones D’Afrique, and the very popular Amadou and Mariam while North Africa will be represented by Moroccan-French folk-rockers Bab L’Bluz with their dynamic frontwoman, Yousra Mansour.
Scotland’s kinship with Scandinavia sees Nordic virtuosi Dreamers' Circus and Finnish nordgrass innovators, Frigg joining powerful Scots string band Kinnaris Quintet in presenting a progressive take on their respective traditions in Celtic Runes.
Americana will once again feature prominently. In addition to appearing on the Opening Night, Sierra Hull shares a concert with Nashville-based singer-songwriter, and one-half of fiddle duo 10 String Symphony, Rachel Baiman. Singer, composer and traditional ballad enthusiast Anaïs Mitchell brings her group Bonny Light Horseman. Singer-songwriters Lucinda Williams, Beth Nielsen Chapman and Aoife O’Donovan return to Glasgow and making their first appearance in the city in many years, the former bluegrass wunderkinds Nickel Creek, in which mandolin marvel Chris Thile and singer-fiddler Sara Watkins launched their careers, play a rare Scottish concert.
Homegrown talent, as always, plays a major role in the festival. Launching a new album, singer Gillebride MacMillan, from Uist, is among a strong Gaelic cast, which also features the esteemed siblings Seumas and Kenna Campbell, of the Skye tradition-bearing family the Campbells of Greepe, leading a group of younger Gaelic singers in showcasing the invaluable work of song collector Frances Tolmie. Highland band Breabach present music from their latest album, Fàs, and singer Rachel Walker and bouzouki player Aaron Jones perform their new album, Despite the Wind & Rain.
Acclaimed young bands Ímar, Talisk and Gnoss, non-binary musical force Hen Hoose and folk-rock quintet Matthew & the Atlas are also among those who, for Donald Shaw, represent some of the best music Scotland and the world has to offer. “I can’t wait,” he says, ”to revel in a live festival once again.”
From Songlines, December 2022