Brian Ferguson: Celtic Connections finds fine talent

Among those to get their first big breaks via this route were Karine Polwart. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Among those to get their first big breaks via this route were Karine Polwart. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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IT IS a typically dreary and grey Saturday in Glasgow, but it is not just plastic beakers of tea and coffee that are giving a warm glow to the people crammed into every nook and cranny of Adelaide’s, a 19th century church on Bath Street.

The 400-strong crowd is made up of the lucky attendees at what has become one of the hottest tickets of the final weekend of the city’s Celtic Connections festival.

The Danny Kyle Open Stage – named after the late folk music figure and long-time friend of Billy Connolly – has long been seen as a major launchpad, not least because six acts are chosen to support a major act the following year.

Among those to get their first big breaks via this route were Karine Polwart, now one of the nation’s most respected singer-songwriters, and fiddler Adam Sutherland, a founder member of Celtic supergroup Treacherous Orchestra, one of the headline acts at Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations.

Another party band from the festival’s late night scene, The Chair, stole the open stage show after a mass invasion from Orkney. Their rousing “stomp” music – about as far removed from the “shortbread tin” image which has dogged the Scottish tourism industry – can now be regularly heard providing the soundtrack to VisitScotland promotional campaigns.

The competition final on Saturday was the culmination of two weeks of showcases for unheralded acts, drawn from all over the world, with the quality so high that Celtic Connections now encourages visiting music industry delegates to fit a visit into already-packed schedules. Indeed, two of the youngest finalists, 28-year-old Shetland singer Arthur Nicolson and Orcadian guitarist Griogair Morrison, incredibly just 15, virtually stepped off their wind-buffeted planes from the northern isles and on to the stage at Adelaide’s. I was completely blown away by both.

I can vividly recall the startling impression a young Highland singer made on me with her achingly beautiful voice and incredible stage presence a few years ago.

My last Saturday at this year’s festival was spent in her company – along with 500 of her followers – at a packed-out Kelvingrove gallery. We heard how she had started the year as one of the headline acts at a festival in Australia.

In the festival, the singer – who is still only 22 – had been one of the stand-out acts at the big Celtic Connections Burns gala at the Hydro, which was later broadcast on BBC2. And last month, Rachel Sermanni was also unveiled as the face and voice of a major new campaign for the Royal Bank of Scotland.

She is but one example of who young Morrison and Nicolson could try to emulate with their first taste of success.