THE man in charge of Glasgow’s biggest music festival hailed this year’s event as “the most successful yet” as it drew to a close last night.
Donald Shaw, artistic director of Celtic Connections, revealed more sell-out events than ever before were notched up at the box office as the last of 300 concerts wound up.
The festival has taken in £1.1 million at the box office for the eighth year, with well over 100,000 attending concerts, ceilidhs, workshops and late-night sessions.
More than 30 sell-out shows were recorded across the festival’s biggest ever programme, which was staged across 20 venues over the past 18 days.
Mr Shaw said final audience figures were even higher than for last year’s 20th anniversary programme and were testament to the willingness of audiences to gamble on relatively-unknown acts and special commissions for one-off shows.
This year’s festival opened with an 80-strong orchestra recreating the final ground-breaking album of musician Martyn Bennett, who died during the festival ten years ago after losing a battle with cancer.
Other highlights included Glasgow-born composer Craig Armstrong, performing highlights from his film soundtracks with the orchestra of Scottish Opera, singer-songwriter King Creosote staging a live version of his soundtrack to the acclaimed documentary film From Scotland With Love, African singer Angelique Kidjo performing with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and a star-studded tribute to the late singer Ewan MacColl, featuring the Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan and Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker.
Mr Shaw, who combines running the festival with composing and performing with the band Capercaillie, has been credited with hugely expanding the festival’s audience by embracing Americana, Asian and indie music acts, many of whom have made their UK debuts at the event.
He told The Scotsman: “I know we’ve met our targets and were up on last year, which is amazing. It has been the most successful festival yet. It really shows the passion and the interest from the people of Glasgow. Up to 75 per cent of our audience comes from people living within the city.
“The majority of tickets are sold to people who are going to maybe only two shows over the course of 18 days. We have a huge number of different people coming to events across the festival. In terms of the challenge of filling seats, it’s gone very well.
“There has definitely been more sell-out shows than ever. I actually give myself a bit of a hard time about some of the smaller shows selling out, but there are only so many spaces available in the city.
“What I’m particularly happy about it is this year had a higher proportion of what might be considered challenging shows of new international artists and there were very strong audiences for them.
“We’ve got a much bigger reach now in the sense that people understand we are about much more than Celtic and roots music, the festival has a whole other dimension to it these days.
“It’s a bit like being brought into a secret when you go to a show even though you’ve never heard of the band before.
“If you feel a sense of elation within the audience your mind becomes more open to what is happening on stage even if the music has challenged you in the past.”
Mr Shaw, who has committed to remaining with the festival for the foreseeable future, will be in charge of his tenth event in 2016.
He said the record-breaking success of this year’s line-up had given him the confidence to programme bolder and more experimental events.
Mr Shaw added: “It’s important that there’s a sense of glamour and occasion within the festival, but for the right reasons, for musical reasons.
“From a balance point of view we always need to have headline names and a sense of familiarity, but we’ve reached the stage where we can be confident about producing new shows and persuading musicians to go in certain directions and to explore where traditional music and our culture can go.
“I feel this year has cemented the idea that the festival can be that vehicle for musicians to do that in the confidence that audiences will be there for them. There are no parameters. As long as it is great, exciting music, then who cares how they got to that point?”
Archie Graham, chair of Glasgow Life, which is responsible for the festival, said: “Over the past 18 days, Celtic Connections has brought an array of the world’s finest musicians and people from across the globe to Glasgow to attend this internationally-renowned event.
“Celtic Connections continues to have a hugely positive cultural and economic impact on Glasgow and the rest of the country. Long may it continue.”