Folk and jazz music events in Scotland in 2014

Folk singer Julie Fowlis. Picture:  Robert Perry

Folk singer Julie Fowlis. Picture: Robert Perry

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BETWEEN the centenary of the First World War, another Homecoming Year and a major cultural programme in association with the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer – not to mention a certain matter of a Referendum on national self-determination in September – 2014 is not short of events to prompt a song and dance and much else.

As ever, Glasgow’s Celtic Connections, this year celebrating its 21st birthday, gets the year off to a hefty start with 18 crowded days of events across 17 venues (including the new SSE Hydro), from 16 January to 2 February. It kicks off on 16 January with the acclaimed Scots classical violinist Nicola Benedetti joining folk stars Julie Fowlis, Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham, as well as setting the year’s Commonwealth tone with French-Canadian accordion wizard Yves Lambert and his trio, and Peter Mawanga and the Amaravi Movement from Malawi (see see www.celticconnections.com).

And that’s just the opening concert. The festival’s Common-wealth connections also see the folk power trio Lau team up with the contemporary-classical Elysian Quartet while accordionist Luke Daniels and multi-instrumentalist Matheu Watson present their New World Drovers, both performances products of the PRS for Music Foundation’s New Music Biennial initiative that will feature later in Glasgow and London during the games.

January also sees a Scottish tour by Northern Lights, a classy-sounding cross-cultural outfit enlisting flautist Brian Finnegan, concertina player Niall Vallely, fiddler Donald Grant and harpist Ailie Robertson along with Danish folk and jazz players Nikolaj Busk and Ale Carr. They’ll be raising dust in Gairloch, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Inverness before appearing at Celtic Connections (see www.northern-lights-music.com).

Come the spring, Edinburgh’s second TradFest (29 April - 11 May: www.scottishstorytellingcentre.co.uk) takes “Revival and Renaissance” as an apt theme for this year of Referendum, looking at the role of folk traditions during significant moments in Scottish history.

On into the summer, and that Commonwealth Games cultural programme sees a bewildering array of events, not least Grit, a spectacular tribute to the late piper, composer and magic mixer Martyn Bennett, created by award-winning director Cora Bissett and playwright Kieran Hurley, involving dance, theatre and circus artists in Glasgow’s Tramway, then in Mull.

Another Glasgow 2014 project is artist and composer Hanna Tuulikki’s Air falbh leis na h-eòin – Away with the Birds, a site-specific project on the Isle of Canna, while the autumn heralds the Big, Big Sing, a nationwide celebration of singing from Glasgow UNESCO City of Music. It includes a national song relay organised by folk promoters Hands Up for Trad, creating a network of community choir performances along the route of the Queen’s Baton Relay.

Meanwhile, the Gaelic Diaspora which the 2014 year of Homecoming hopes to lure back to the old country is celebrated on a grand scale in composer Jim Sutherland’s Struileag/Shore to Shore, with work from 20 Scottish writers performed by 20 top musicians. Due to be premiered during the Games in Glasgow, the work may tour internationally. Also, following the popular success of last year’s Great Tapestry of Scotland, a similarly lengthy Scottish Diaspora Tapestry is currently being created by far-flung teams of stitchers. Correspondingly, the Greentrax folk label, which produced a compilation in association with the Great Tapestry, is due to release a similar companion double CD, The Scottish Diaspora – The Music and the Song.

Mention of Greentrax also brings us to the centenary of the all-too-optimistically titled “war to end all wars”. The label’s double CD of First World War songs, Far, Far from Ypres, inspired an acclaimed show which sold out at last year’s Celtic Connections and will be repeated there on 17 January.

Perhaps less expectedly, the centenary is marked by a concert of First World War songs played by the Commonwealth Jazz Orchestra during the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival in July. Looking closer to hand, the jazz festival calendar kicks off next month with the Fife Jazz Festival (7-9 February: www.fifejazzfestival.com), its bill including the Big Chris Barber Band, the Scottish Swing Dance Orchestra and Alison Affleck with the hot jazz sounds of Vieux Carré. Aberdeen Jazz Festival (www.aberdeenjazzfestival.com) follows in March with an eclectic line-up.

The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, meanwhile, continues as a force to be reckoned with, planning a reunion with the Grammy-winning US vocalist Kurt Elling at the end of next month (21-23 February), a collaboration with London saxophone ace Courtney Pine in March while in April it teams up with the renowned Japanese pianist Makoto Ozone. February also sees the SNJO release its latest CD, recorded during an eventful North American tour and catching them in the company of such luminaries as guitarist Mike Stern, trumpeter Randy Brecker and saxophonist Dave Leibman (see www.snjo.co.uk).

Look out, too, for a new album from Ken Mathieson’s Classic Jazz Orchestra, due in the spring, made with the renowned New Orleans clarinettist Evan Christopher.

To encourage the essential flow of fresh talent, the Scottish Jazz Federation is inviting applications for its Young Scottish Jazz Musician 2014 competition, the final of which will be held at the Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, on 25 June (see www.scottishjazzfederation.com). Similarly, the BBC Radio Scotland Young Scottish Traditional Musician of the Year scheme holds its final in Glasgow City Halls on 2 February, bringing us circuitously back to those Celtic Connections.

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