By ROSALIND GRIFFITHS
NEXT year’s Celtic Connections in Glasgow will have its customary Shetland links, with some performers hailing from the isles and others being managed locally.
Billed as Scotland’s premier winter music festival, it is now in its 16th year and will boast 200 events over 19 days, starting on 15th January. Acts from more than 20 countries comprising 1,000-plus artists will be taking part, with established performers and the best of new acts.
Stars taking part include Grammy award-winning American Nanci Griffith, Eddi Reader, Edwyn Collins and former Catatonia lead singer Cerys Matthews. And acclaimed Senegalese singer and percussionist Youssou N’Dour has just been announced as one of the headline acts.
The festival is still taking shape, according to local music manager Davie Gardner of Atlantic Edge Music Services, but many bands are already definitely performing.
These include one of Shetland’s most celebrated exports, fiddler Aly Bain, who plays with accordionist Phil Cunningham. They will be on stage at the Royal Concert Hall.
Renowned Shetland fiddler Catriona Macdonald will also be at the festival in the band Blazin’ Fiddles, who have been scorching their way into the Celtic consciousness since 1998. They will play solo, duo and ensemble contemporary and traditional tunes at the Fruitmarket.
Firm favourites Fiddlers’ Bid, who have appeared at the festival on many previous occasions, are a confirmed booking. The seven-piece instrumental powerhouse, managed by Atlantic Edge Music Services, have been described by BBC Radio Scotland as the “best Celtic fiddle band in the world”, and will play at the Fruitmarket.
Another confirmed booking is the band Bodega, in which Shetlander Ross Couper is the fiddle player. The band, familiar from the Johnsmas Foy, was formed in 2005 and won the Radio 2 Young Folk Musicians of the Year Award in 2006. Mr Gardner is their manager and agent.
He also manages another festival participant, Edinburgh singer/songwriter Dean Owens, formerly the front man for The Felsons and a well-known face in Shetland.
Another act with Atlantic Edge is well-known Scottish singer Mary Ann Kennedy, who, as well as being a prominent Gaelic singer, is a BBC Scotland presenter. She will be performing with eight-piece Gaelic band Na Seoid (the heroes) – the band, also managed by Atlantic Edge, recently had the honour of opening the BBC’s Gaelic language channel.
Mary Ann Kennedy and Na Seoid will be supporting Mariza, a Portuguese act which will play at the final night in a sell-out concert at the Royal Concert Hall.
Well-known Shetland musician Chris Stout is another confirmed booking and will be performing with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. A talented fiddler and composer, he has received acclaim for his personal interpretation of Scandinavian tunes and fusion of Celtic traditional music with classical and jazz.
There are other possible Shetland (and Orkney) performers lined up, according to Mr Gardner, and the isles’ element will be a strong contribution to the event and be even stronger in the future.
Mr Gardner said: “Celtic Connections is one of the most important festivals of the year in the UK if not in Europe. It is a delight to me to have so many [of my] artists recognised and I am proud to be associated with it.”
In addition to the acts already billed, the festival offers the Open Stage, which has been an integral part of the event for the last six years and features live music at the Concert Hall daily at 5pm.
The Open Stage gives new musical talent the chance to shine under the Celtic Connections spotlight and has been the launch pad for many now familiar names such as Adam Sutherland, Karine Polwart and GiveWay.
The six best acts win through to the coveted final night concert.
A unique aspect of the 2009 festival will be a 12-hour Burns song marathon on Burns night, 25th January, to mark the 250th anniversary of the poet’s birth.
Last year the festival sold 120,000 tickets and at least the same numbers of visitors are expected this time.