10 essential shows to see at Celtic Connections 2016

Toumani Diabate
Toumani Diabate
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Intriguing collaborations and old friends remembered are key parts of this year’s rich Celtic Connections programme

With some 2,000 artists performing at more than 20 venues across Glasgow city centre, from concert halls to intimate venues such as the Mackintosh Church and Glasgow Arts Club, Celtic Connections presents a bewilderingly diverse showcase for folk and roots music. Here are ten highlights.

Siobhan Miller

Siobhan Miller

The Carrying Stream

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 14 January

Celtic Connections opening nights often highlight the more eclectic, contemporary face of folk music. This year, however, the festival gets back to basics, celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Traditional Music and Song Association which has laboured to promote traditional music through festivals, competitions and other events. A Who’s Who of traditional singers will include Sheena Wellington, Arthur Johnstone, Barbara Dickson, Adam McNaughton, Shepheard, Spiers and Watson and the band Malinky. The evening is directed by the acclaimed singer Siobhan Miller, herself shaped by TMSA events from an early age.

Ireland 2016

Aidan O'Rourke

Aidan O'Rourke

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 15 January

Consummate traditional musicians, the Chieftains have been cultural ambassadors for Ireland for more than 50 years. Here they mark the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, with guests including former Dubliner’s fiddler John Sheehan and singer-songwriter Declan O’Rourke. The evening also sees the launch of a book of essays, Scotland and the Easter Rising, providing a unique compendium of views on the links between Scotland and the momentous events in Ireland of 1916, not least James Connolly’s formative years in Edinburgh.

Pilgrimer

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 16 January

Novelist James Robertson’s extraordinary re-imagining of Joni Mitchell’s 1976 album Hejira into Scots language and context is a timely flagging up of the original’s preoccupations with migration (hejira is Arabic for both the prophet Mohammed’s flight from Mecca and any escape from danger). The line-up combines such established Scots names as Dick Gaughan, Karine Polwart and Julie Fowlis with Grammy-winning American guitarist Larry Carlton, who played on the original, and electric bassist Felix Pastorius, whose father, the renowned Jaco, was a vital element of Mitchell’s recording.

Toumani Diabaté with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 17 January

It may sound like an unlikely combination, but expect some breathtaking moments as Toumani Diabaté, internationally acclaimed virtuoso of the Malian kora or harp lute, joins the RSNO in an ambitious fusion of the seven-century legacy of his instrument with more contemporary elements. The concert also features Diabaté’s protégés Trio Da Kali – themselves no strangers to cross-cultural collaboration, who accompany their singing with the balafon, a wooden xylophone, and the ngoni, often regarded as the ancestor of the banjo.

Lucinda Williams

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 20 January

The triple-Grammy-winning singer-songwriter has long established herself as a major figure in contemporary American roots music. She delivers her world-weary fusion of country, rock and blues with authority and passion, ranging from the grungy Atonement or Car Wheels on a Gravel Road to the plaintive cry of Are You Alright? Last year saw her re-release her eponymously-titled debut album of 1988 to much acclaim; then she trumped it with her double album Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone a few months later.

Strathspey and Surreal Society

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 23 January

A very contemporary tribute to the role of strathspey and reel societies in bringing on young fiddle talent, this show has been devised by one such – Aidan O’Rourke, one-time tyro with Oban Strathspey and Reel Society, now one third of the power folk trio Lau, in collaboration with concertina virtuoso and traditional music activist Simon Thoumire. They’ve recruited a 21-strong fiddle band, comprising students alongside such established names as Shona Mooney, Adam Sutherland and Jenna Reid, to perform four specially written pieces.

Scotia Nova: Songs for the Early Days of a Better Nation

Strathclyde Suite, 20 January

Its title paraphrasing Alasdair Gray’s famous enjoinder, “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation”, this concert of newly commissioned, aspirational songs for Scotland launches Greentrax Records’ compilation album of the same name. Produced by Ian McCalman and presented by piper, broadcaster and academic Gary West, the show features such weel-kent Scottish folk names as Fiona J MacKenzie, Iain MacDonald, Brian McNeill, Findlay Napier, Duncan McCrone, Scott Murray, Mairi Campbell and Dave Francis.

Moving Hearts

Old Fruitmarket, 22 January

Anyone who witnessed this explosively groundbreaking Irish fusion band’s short but dazzling flight path during the 1980s can never forget the impact of its slick blending of uilleann pipes, saxophone, electric guitar and a powerful rhythm section, not least on their landmark all-instrumental album, The Storm. Expect the same excitement at the Old Fruitmarket as most of Moving Hearts’ original members re-assemble, the line-up including Donald Lunny on bouzouki, piper Davy Spillane, saxophonist Keith Donald, bassist Eoghan O’Neill and percussionist Noel Eccles, plus special guests.

Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham: “Le Grand Anniversaire”

City Halls, 20 January

This year is a resonant one for the peerless instrumental pairing of fiddler Bain and accordionist Cunningham. As well as celebrating three decades of playing together, Bain marks his 70th birthday, while Cunningham chalks up 40 years since he played his first gig with Silly Wizard.

Expect an impressive cast of friends from across the Atlantic and the North Sea, such as Cajun stars Ann and Marc Savoy and Michael Doucet, Parisian accordionist Marcel Azzola, Shetland’s Violet Tulloch and Swedes Bengan Janson and Per Gudmundson.

Bert Inspired: A Concert for Bert Jansch

Old Fruitmarket, 31 January

The Glasgow-born guitarist Bert Jansch, who died in 2011, had an immeasurable impact on the folk and wider music scene throughout Britain and beyond, both as a soloist and with the band Pentangle. A star-studded bill pays tribute to his continuing legacy, with guests including Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, Pentangle singer Jacqui McShee, Scottish folk veteran Archie Fisher (whom Jansch credited with giving him early blues guitar lessons) and former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, now championing Jansch’s work.

• Celtic Connections runs from 14-31 January. For the full programme, see www.celticconnections.com