VIOLINIST Nicola Benedetti has kicked off the 21st Celtic Connections music festival in Glasgow with her debut appearance at the event.
The 26-year-old was the star attraction at the event as she unveiled a host of material from a new Scottish-themed album due for release later this year.
She performed alongside Gaelic songstress Julie Fowlis and a host of other leading traditional musicians from Scotland and overseas at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.
Before performing, she admitted to the 2000-strong audience that she had a dose of stage fright beforehand.
She said: “I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous in my entire life. I was standing backstage a minute ago saying ‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it.’
However Benedetti wowed the 2000-strong audience with her performance, had them clapping along with her playing and even raised a few laughs by wisecracking with musicians Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham. She left the stage to a standing ovation.
The show, the first of more than 300 at the event, was a complete sell-out in advance, with organisers saying the violinist’s presence on the bill had been expected to attract a whole new audience to the festival.
The gala curtain-raiser was stage ahead a string of shows expected to attract full houses over the next two and half weeks.
The debut of Glasgow rockers Mogwai at the event to mark their 20th anniversary, appearances by American singers Suzanne Vega and Beth Nielsen Chapman, and the return of Irish stars Imelda May, Sharon Shannon and James Vincent McMorrow have been among the hottest advance tickets.
Other events approaching a sell-out include the annual “Transatlantic Sessions” showcases at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall - which will feature two other American singers, Shawn Colvin and Sarah Jarosz, as special guests.
The festival’s multicultural credentials will be underlined with a guest appearance from celebrated Indian composer AR Rahman - who masterminded the soundtrack to Danny Boyle’s Oscar-winner Slumdog Millionaire - alongside the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, while soul legend Bobby Womack will be appearing at the event for the first time.
More than 8000 tickets have been sold in advance for the biggest ever concert at the festival, which will see reformed Scottish pop favourites Del Amitri take the stage at the SSE Hydro for their first live appearance in more than a decade.
Artistic director Donald Shaw said the festival was likely to deploy the venue again in future due to the response to the Del Amitri show and a gala “Homecoming” concert in the same venue the following evening, with South African outfit The Mahotella Queens headlining a fiesta of world music for Burns Night.
At least 100,000 festival-goers are expected at the event, which was initially launched to help fill the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall at a traditionally quiet time of year.
Shaw said: “All our ticket sales are doing really well at this stage.
“The shows at the Hydro have more than matched our expectations, the advance sales are great. I don’t think this year will be a one-off.
“A lot of our artists, like Sharon Shannon and Kathleen MacInnes, who have been to the festival before and have their own audience are looking like selling out again, which is amazing really, but I don’t think that would necessarily happen if they were on in Glasgow in May.
“We’re very pleased at things like the Roaming Roots Revue, which we introduced last year as a kind of indie version of Transatlantic Sessions.
“It wasn’t that busy last year but it’s looking like it might sell out this year, and that’s without any real headliners.
“For me, that’s really encouraging as it suggests there is a younger audience connecting with the periphery of folk music and where singer-songwriting is going at the moment.”
The festival is being staged across 20 venues around the city ranging from the City Halls and the Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow Art Club, The Arches and the O2 ABC in the city centre to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and Oran Mor in the west end, the Pearce Institute in Govan and the Platform arts centre in Easterhouse.
However for the second year in a row much of the festival’s traditional hub at the concert hall will be out of bounds due to an ongoing refurbishment and extension of the building. The Mitchell Theatre is standing in as a replacement venue for smaller-scale shows.
There was a further headache for Shaw and his team when plans to use the new Reid Building at Glasgow School of Art for the late night festival club were scuppered after tickets had gone on sale by late-running building work. Instead, the event will have to return to an Australian theme bar near the concert hall.
He added: “The art school missed their deadlines for whatever reason and couldn’t guarantee the space we were going to use would be ready. We had already sold tickets and needed to know one way or the other.
“However we’ve resurrected the Late Night Sessions, which we used to have on in the concert hall, at the Piping Centre, which has really helped, as it gives us an extra few hundred capacity. The music at the festival club will be pretty full on while the Piping Centre will be a bit more chilled.” Archie Graham, chair of Glasgow Life, which runs many of the main festival venues, said: “By the look of this year’s programme, Celtic Connections will hold firm its place as a cornerstone of the Scottish cultural calendar and kick-start what’s going to be a massive year for the people of Glasgow.”
Celtic Connections runs until 2 February.