ROCK legend Robert Plant is to be one of the star attractions at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections music festival - in a line-up also featuring a night in honour of Joni Mitchell’s songs, a tribute to the life of Edith Piaf and a celebration of Paul Simon’s groundbreaking Graceland album.
Plant will be making a one-off appearance in a tribute night to late Scottish guitar legend Bert Jansch, who passed away four years ago this month.
The Led Zeppelin frontman’s performance at the 1000-capacity Old Fruitmarket - along with indie-rock guitarist Bernard Butler and Glasgow-born Jansch’s former Pentlangle bandmate Jacqui McShee - is expected to be one of the hottest tickets at the 18-day event, which will be held across 26 stages in January.
Artistic director Donald Shaw has unveiled a string of shows marking landmark anniversaries, as well as an expansion into two new venues, for the festival, which attracts sells more than 100,000 and is worth around £10 million to the city’s economy.
A clutch of South African township musicians who played on Paul Simon’s groundbreaking Graceland album will appear in a special concert marking 30 years since its release. The show at the Royal Concert Hall, the festival’s base, will be fronted by Edinburgh band Bwani Junction after Mr Shaw spotted the band performing its songs at a tiny nightspot in the capital this summer.
Scottish author James Robertson will be joining forces with folk singers Karine Polwart, Dick Gaughan and Annie Grace to “reimagine” Joni Mitchell’s classic album Hejira to mark its 40th anniversary, while some of of her other best-known songs will also be performed.
Shetland fiddler Aly Bain will be honoured with a 70th birthday party, which will also mark the 30th anniversary of his partnership with accordionist Phil Cunningham. Irish folk superstars The Chieftains will be behind a special concert marking the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in Dublin.
Fifty years on from the formation of the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland, one of the nation’s leading young singers, Siobhan Miller, will be masterminding a showcase of leading vocal talents for the festival’s opening night gala.
A new experimental music night is being launched at the Drygate Brewery, which will become a festival venue for the first time, plugging a gap left by the recent demise of The Arches. The city’s recently-revamped opera house, the Theatre Royal, will host a show devoted to the life and music of Edith Piaf , who was born 100 years ago in December, as part of a major showcase of French music.
American and Canadian music is being strongly championed, with They Might Be Giants, Rickie Lee Jones, John Grant, Frazey Ford, Lucinda Williams, John Grant, and Martha Wainwright in the line-up.
World music stars appearing include Senegalese singer Baaba Maal, Mongolian outfit Anda Union, Soumik Datta, a virtuoso on the Indian sarod instrument, who will perform with Austrian percussionist Bernhard Schimpelsberger, and the Afro Celts.
Scottish Album of the Year winner Kathryn Joseph will also be making her debut at the event alogng with home-grown favourites Admiral Fallow, Skerryvore, Eddi Reader, Lau, Rachel Sermanni, Blazin’ Fiddles and James Yorkston.
Mr Shaw said that securing 67-year-old Plant for the festival - which will see him follow the likes of Sir Tom Jones and the late Bobby Womack by performing at Celtic Connections - had been on his wish-list for some time.
He added: “We talked about doing a Bert Jansch night the year after he died (in 2011), but the timing was not quite right and the idea got shelved.
“We spoke with his family and said we would try to do something another time. I knew that Robert Plant was a fan and was hugely influenced by him. He was always in my mind for the show.
“I’ve met him a couple of times and he has been very complimentary about the Transatlantic Sessions shows that we do. I wanted him to hang about for them, but we couldn’t quite make the dates work for him to do that as well.
Celtic Connections will be honouring Joni Mitchell, another long-time target for Mr Shaw, less than a year after she was treated in hospital after suffering a brain aneurysm. It emerged last that the folk icon is “making good progress” as she recovers at home.
He added: “Joni Mitchell has always been in my thinking for the festival ever since I got this job 10 years ago.
“I realised two or three years ago that it was highly unlikely we would ever get her to come, due to the fact she was pretty much hiding away and not really performing.
“When she got ill I just thought that I didn’t want be doing a tribute to Joni in two or three years time. I had the idea of doing some kind of homage to her music.
“I had met James Robertson a couple of times and he had expressed an interest in the lyrics of Joni Mitchell.
“He has recreated the songs from her Hejira album into Scots folk song. The text is amazing - the songs have all be rewritten from a Scottish perspective.
“What’s going to quite authentic is that we’re bringing in the great guitarist Larry Carlton, who played on Hejira, along with Felix Pastorius, the son of the Weather Report bass player Jaco Pistorius, who was also on the album.”
The festival will be reflecting on the refugee crisis and the clampdown on migrants with a theme of pilgrimage, including the annual indie night Roaming Roots Revue, which will celebrate the great musical troubadours and a live performance of an album looking at Britain’s history of child migration. A special multi-media show will tell the story of Shetland crofter Betty Mouat, who was accidentally cast adrift in the North Sea in the 1880s and ended up being washed ashore in Norway, but survived her ordeal.
Mr Shaw said: I was thinking about the whole refugee issue and you suddenly wonder: ‘At what point did the world close the gates?’
“As a musician you think of that idea of free movement of people around the world as being something that is a huge catalyst to how music evolves.
“People come together and they hear the music of other nations. World music could never have evolved to the level that it has.
“When you think of what Paul Simon did at the time, people were telling him that he couldn’t come to South Africa because of apartheid.
“But his argument at the time was that music goes beyond all boundaries and all politics.
“It is a really sobering thought that it is actually not possible to travel freely around the world.”
• Celtic Connections runs from 14-31 January. Tickets are on sale now.