BOBBY Womack, Suzanne Vega, Lloyd Cole, Nicola Benedetti, Seth Lakeman and Imelda May are among the stars who will be helping Glasgow’s biggest music festival come of age next year.
They will be joined by some of the biggest names in world, folk and Americana music at the 21st annual Celtic Connections, which will embrace the city’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games, the 100th anniversary of the First World War - and even the independence referendum.
Benedetti is to headline the opening gala, performing a live version of a new Scottish-themed album she is recording with three of the festival’s biggest stars Julie Fowlis, Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain.
Highlights in the programme include major showcases of Indian and Australian music - there will be 10 visiting acts in total - and a celebration of the 1960s “Laurel Canyon” music scene that inspired the likes of Joni Mitchell, The Eagles, Jackson Browne, The Grateful Dead and The Byrds. The latter will be masterminded by Glasgow singer-songwriter Roddy Hart, under the banner of Roaming Roots Revue, launched last year as the “indie version” of the festival’s hottest ticket, the Transatlantic Sessions concerts, which are also returning.
The festival, staged across 18 days in January and February, has confirmed several Commonwealth-themed celebrations and a major concert in its opening weekend marking 100 years since the start of the First World War.
However, unlike the Edinburgh International Festival, which sparked controversy by ruling out any shows in 2014 directly addressing next year’s independence debate, Celtic Connections will be inviting artists from around the world to discuss what a “yes” vote would mean for Scotland’s culture.
Organisers say the programme will explore Scotland’s links to a host of countries around the Commonwealth, and will effectively be the biggest ever celebration of the country’s musical legacy to the rest of the world.
The opening gala with Nicola Benedetti, her debut at the festival, will also feature Quebecois music legend Yves Lambert and one of Malawi’s leading acts, Peter Mawanga, whose bands will be performing along with Phil Cunningham on the night.
Donald Shaw, the festival’s artistic director, said: “It would have been extraordinary to conceive 20 years ago that an internationally-recognised and extraordinary classical music star like Nicola Benedetti would be so engaging with traditional music.
“The show is very much her idea. She’s producing a new record she’s calling her ‘Scottish album’ which she’ll be recording with Aly Bain, Phil Cunningham and Julie Fowlis. The album is actually being recorded that week - we’re doing the live version before it is even recorded. She literally gets into Glasgow the day before the show because her schedule is so busy.”
The most ambitious show at the festival will be a gala international Robert Burns concert on the Bard’s birthday, on 25 January, with special Commonwealth guests including Crowded House’s Tim Finn, from New Zealand, Australian guitarist Jeff Lang, South African vocal The Mahotella Queens and Indian folk music star Raghu Dixit joining home-grown acts like Dougie MacLean and Karen Matheson.
Among the stars lined up for the festival’s First World War commemoration, Far Far From Ypres, are Barbara Dickson, Phil Cunningham, Ian McCalman and Dick Gaughan.
Other headline acts at the festival include double Oscar-winner AR Rahman, who composed the music for Danny Boyle’s film Slumdog Millionaire and is known as “the Mozart of Madras”, Cameroonian saxophone player Manu Dibango, who turns 80 just before the festival, Malian husband-and-wife duo Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia, and Jamaican reggae star Winston McAnuff.
Previous favourites making a return in the festival’s 21st year include Capercaillie, who are currently celebrating their own 30th anniversary, Salsa Celtica, Peatbog Faeries, Treacherous Orchestra, Rachel Sermanni and Gaelic songstresses Julie Fowlis and Kathleen MacInnes.
Other guest stars include American singer-songwriters Shawn Colvin and Sarah Jarosz, both of whom are in the Transatlantic Sessions line-up, Irish stars James Vincent McMorrow and Sharon Shannon, and Sadie & The Hotheads, Downton Abbey star Elizabeth McGovern’s country-folk act, who appeared at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Glaswegian indie-rock favourites Mogwai will be appearing for the first time - along with Scottish Album of the Year winner RM Hubbert - at the festival. At the other Celtic Connections show at the Hydro, newly-reunited pop-rock outfit Del Amitri will be making their Celtic Connections debut.
Mr Shaw, who admitted he was in favour of independence, said he had not come under any pressure from the festival’s funders, who include Glasgow City Council, to either embrace or avoid the issue of the referendum in his programme.
“It’s a big year coming for Glasgow with the Commonwealth Games coming and we’ve tried as much as possible to make that part of the programme. But the referendum is also relevant as well - there’s no point in denying that.
“It’s not really within my remit to talk about the politics of the debate, but put it this way - I wouldn’t be upset if this time next year we were announcing an 18-day holiday for Celtic Connections.
“We are going to be have two talks on the theme of the referendum, called If The Song Changes, which will feature different line-ups of musicians who are coming in for the festival, from places like Iceland, Ireland, Norway and Quebec, along with some political commentators, like Lesley Riddoch, and some Scottish musicians.
“Clearly, it would be pointless me setting up some kind of pro-independence discussion, but the idea behind this is to discuss what it might mean and how the cultural landscape here might change with independence and also ask musicians from these countries what it feels like to be in a country of a similar size to Scotland.
“I suppose my question to Irish musicians would always be: ‘No matter how bad things get, would you want to be part of a union again?’
“It’s not really going to be a political discussion, as such, but it will be more about how music in Scotland can be affected.
“We won’t be looking at that theme through any of our concerts, but that theme exists anyway. If you have artists at the festival from places like Quebec, Catalonia or the Basques there will be a political thread within their music anyway.”
Tickets for all confirmed shows at the festival, which runs from 16 January-2 February, are on sale now.
Celtic Connections 2014 highlights
Opening Concert, Royal Concert Hall, 16 January: Classical music star Nicola Benedetti offers a preview of her new Scottish-themed album, performing with fiddler Aly Bain, accordinist Phil Cunningham and Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis.
Far Far From Ypres, Royal Concert Hall, 17 January: Soldiers’ songs, music-hall favourites and home-front anthems from the First World War are revived by a cast of more than 20 singers, including Barbara Dickson, Dick Gaughan, Ian McCalman and Mairi MacInnes.
Roaming Roots Revue, Royal Concert Hall, 19 January: Glasgow singer-songwriter Roddy Hart will be returning to curate the indie music scene’s answer to Transatlantic Sessions, this time celebrating the Laurel Canyon music scene, including the music of Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and The Eagles.
International Burns Concert, SSE Hydro, 25 January: The festival’s biggest ever show will feature Crowded House founder Tim Finn, Indian folk star Raghu Dixit, and Scottish singers Karine Polwart, Karen Matheson, Rachel Sermanni and Dougie MacLean.
Bobby Womack, Royal Concert Hall, 27 January: The 69-year-old soul and R&B legend, who had his first hit with The Valentinos in 1962, continues his recent revival, which has included appearances at the Glastonbury and Latitude festivals this year.
Mogwai & RM Hubbert, Royal Concert Hall, 28 January: The Glaswegian indie-rock favourites Mogwai will be appearing for the first time at the festival - along with the Scottish Album of the Year winner, guitarist RM Hubbert.
Imelda May, Old Fruitmarket, 30 January: The most popular and lively venue among Celtic Connections’ regular festival-goers plays host to the return of the Irish rockabilly star.
AR Rahman with the BBC SSO, Royal Concert Hall, 30 January: The man dubbed “the Mozart of Madras” is a multi-instrumentalist, singer and composer, who holds the distinction of selling more albums than Elvis Presley, The Beatles and all of the Jacksons combined.
Transatlantic Sessions, Royal Concert Hall, 31 & 2 February: The festival’s undisputed hot ticket will see American singer-songwriters Shawn Colvin and Sarah Jarosz join regular Stateside visitors Darrell Scott and Tim O’Brien in the star-studded line-up.
Suzanne Vega, City Halls, 1 February: More than a quarter of a century on from hits like Tom’s Diner and Luke, tickets for the pioneering American singer-songwriter’s show is expected to be one of the most sought-after in the programme.