Ten shows not to miss at Celtic Connections 2015

Ella the Bird will perform at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Picture: Contributed
Ella the Bird will perform at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Picture: Contributed
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CELTIC Connections brings a wealth of talent to Glasgow from across the world. Here are ten shows to watch out for, writes Jim Gilchrist

Nae Regrets – Martyn Bennett’s GRIT

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 15 January

On 30 January 2005, the formidably creative piper, fiddler, composer and producer Martyn Bennett finally lost his battle with cancer, just three weeks before his 34th birthday. Ten years on, to celebrate his hugely influential contribution to Scottish music, Celtic Connections’ opening concert takes the form of an ambitious live stage production of his final album, Grit, which spliced archive recordings of traditional singers and uncompromising electronica. Orchestrated by violinist Greg Lawson, the production involves some 80 people to recreate what Bennett created himself in the studio. Extra poignancy comes from the recent death of Sheila Stewart, the traveller singer who featured on the album’s opening track.

Angélique Kidjo with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 17 January

A Grammy-winning superstar of the world music scene, the Beninoia diva Angélique Kidjo has ever been an innovator, fusing her native west African traditions with Latin-American music, jazz and much else. She teams up with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra to reprise a programme she premiered with the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg. The repertoire will cover some of her best-known songs, in arrangements by Gast Waltzing. It is unlikely to daunt a singer whose repertoire has ranged from her native folk song to Gershwin, Ravel and Jimi Hendrix.

Ganesh Kumaresh with Trio AAB

The Mackintosh Church, 17 January

Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s glowing gem of a church at Queen’s Cross, now home to the CRM Society and enlisted for the first time this year as a venue, hosts a creative and cross-cultural gathering of musical siblings. Indian violinist brothers Ganesh and Kumaresh Rajagopalan, plus percussionist Anantha R Krishnan, will renew their sparky collaboration with the rumbustious Scots jazzers Trio AAB, who comprise twin brothers Phil and Tom Bancroft on sax and drums and guitarist Kevin Mackenzie. Support comes from the busy Perthshire fiddler Patsy Reid, whose debut solo album, The Brightest Path, was warmly received last year.

Carlos Núñez: “The Atlantic Corridor”

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 21 January

Did the great Highland bagpipe arrive in Scotland by way of an Atlantic sea route, and is the gaita, the bagpipe of Galicia in north-west Spain, its closest relation? That’s the theory explored by Galician piping star Carlos Núñez, in association with Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic college and cultural centre on Skye. A frequent guest at Celtic Connections, Núñez and his band are joined by guests from Scotland, Wales and South America. They’re supported by the hard-driving young Highland band Rura, who’ll be previewing material from their second album, due in April.

Punch Brothers and Siobhan Miller

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 23 January

The highly inventive alt-bluegrass band the Punch Brothers, led by mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile, return to perform material from their forthcoming album, The Phosphorescent Blues. Their music, which has featured in the Coen Brothers’ movie Inside Llewyn Davis and in The Hunger Games, can be glitteringly complex, delicately subtle or downright dust-raising. In support, the award-winning young Scots traditional singer Siobhan Miller launches her first solo album and signals a change of direction with a range of partly self-penned contemporary material. She’s joined by James Grant, Euan Burton, Megan Henderson and John Blease.

Blood and Roses: The Songs of Ewan MacColl

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 25 January

Born a hundred years ago, Ewan MacColl was a pivotal figure in the British folk revival, as a folksong collector, singer-songwriter, playwright, activist and creator, with Charles Parker, of the groundbreaking Radio Ballads during the 1950s. MacColl died in 1989, and this tribute, curated by his sons Calum and Neill, will feature some of his most enduring songs – such as First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and Dirty Old Town – alongside lesser known material. The songs will be performed by notable names from the folk scene and beyond, including Dick Gaughan, Martin and Eliza Carthy, Kate St John, and Karine Polwart.

Usher’s Island

Old Fruitmarket, 27 January

Named after one of the quays on the Liffey in Dublin, this new Irish supergroup unites some seminal names in Irish music with a younger generation. Donal Lunny, Andy Irvine and Paddy Glackin, established their reputations playing with ground-breaking outfits the Bothy Band, Moving Hearts and Planxty. Here they join up with younger but widely respected instrumentalists Michael McGoldrick and John Doyle for what promises to be a memorable evening. Also on the bill is the Yorkshire-based Scots singer-songwriter and guitarist Ewan McLennan.

Transatlantic Sessions

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 31 January and 1 February

So popular that it’s now staged on two nights, Transatlantic Sessions once again gathers singers and musicians from either side of the Pond. The star guests include Rodney Crowell, who won a Grammy with Emmylou Harris for their recent duet recording, Old Yellow Moon, and another Grammy award-winner, Patty Griffin. Also from the States come former Nickel Creek singer and fiddler Sara Watkins and roots instrumentalist Dirk Powell. From this side of the Atlantic, guests include Devon-born singer and guitarist John Smith and Gaeldom’s Kathleen MacInnes. As ever, a choice house band is directed by Shetland fiddle ambassador Aly Bain and dobro maestro Jerry Douglas.

New Voices: Ella the Bird

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 1 February

Glasgow singer-songwriter Siobhan Wilson, aka Ella the Bird, made a big impact at last year’s Celtic Connections with her riveting cover of Joni Mitchell material. Here she’s given free rein to showcase her own songs and music. Informed by her classical studies as well as by jazz and French chanson, her tremulous vocals belie considerable power and self-possession. Following the warm reception for her 2012 EP Glorified Demons, this New Voices commission will combine existing and newly composed material, spotlighting not only that extraordinary voice, but also her skills on piano, cello and guitar.

Leo Blanco’s Blue Lamp Quartet

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 1 February

The virtuosic and eclectically questing US-based Venezuelan pianist Leo Blanco returns to Glasgow, where he gave a dazzling solo performance on his last visit. This time he’s in the powerful company of his Blue Lamp Quartet, comprising three widely respected Scottish Jazz musicians, saxophonist Paul Towndrow, double-bassist Mario Caribé and drummer Alyn Cosker. Expect some irresistible grooves as well as delicate intertwinings of the Venezuelan, Cuban and Brazilian music.

• For full programme details, visit www.celticconnections.com