2019: The Year Ahead in Folk & Jazz

Phil Cunningham
Phil Cunningham
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Amid ongoing funding strictures and overshadowed by the Brexit shambles that has arts organisers fearing for the future in terms of both visiting artists and losses in EU funding, “through a glass, darkly” may seem the apposite term for looking ahead. Yet, perhaps astonishingly, there is still much to be getting on with for 2019.

January, of course, brings Glasgow’s Celtic Connections, the largest winter music festival of its kind, between 17 January and 3 February. Even more eclectic than ever, this year’s genre-defying collaborations range from big-name headline events such as the Grace and Danger celebration of the late John Martyn with such unlikely sounding celebrants as “Modfather” Paul Weller, to cross-cultural ventures such as Mali’s Bassekou Kouyate with Gaelic trio SIAN.

In Edinburgh, meanwhile, 2019 sees the 40th anniversary of the former Newington and St Leonard’s church becoming the Queen’s Hall, a venue much loved by audiences and musicians alike. A packed year-long programme kicks off on 12 January when fiddler John McCusker presents Southside of the Tracks, celebrating four decades of traditional music at the hall, the bill including such luminaries as Phil Cunningham, Kathleen MacInnes and Rachel Sermanni.

The hall’s events later in the year include Martyn Bennett’s great composition, Mackay’s Memoirs, premiered there 20 years ago (4 March), and saxophonist Tommy Smith revisiting his Beasts of Scotland collaboration with the late Edwin Morgan (18 April).

It’s a busy year for Smith’s Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, which joins bassist Arild Andersen and drummer Palo Vinaccia in a new commission, Norse Myths, premiering at Aberdeen Jazz Festival on 22 March before playing the Queen’s Hall on the 23rd and the RSNO Hall, Glasgow, on the 24th, while 3-5 May sees the orchestra touring with guest singer Irini Arabatzi and pianist Brian Kellock. Look out, too, for Thrill – Jazz from Brussels, a three-day mini-festival at various Edinburgh venues, combining Belgian and Scots musicians, launching at the Queen’s Hall on 7 February with a Beyond Django gypsy jazz night.

The year’s jazz festivals kick off with Aberdeen (21-31 March) while two other big ones are Glasgow (19-23 June) and Edinburgh (12-21 July), with that single-malt-fuelled gem, the Lagavulin Islay Jazz Festival on 13-15 September. Festival organisers Jazz Scotland, meanwhile, have ambitious plans for Edinburgh’s St Bride’s Centre, including a Scottish Jazz Weekend and a Scottish Blues Weekend during the first half of the year, as well as an Edinburgh Jazz School and a Blues Academy.

Other gigs early in the year include the Brian Kellock Duo at Hill of Tarvit, Fife, on 19 January, with the same venue hosting New Focus on 16 February. Jazz nights at St James’s Episcopal Church in Leith include the Playtime Quartet on 16 February and Square One on 16 March.

Later in the spring, expect tours from saxophonist Tim Garland and his trio with pianist Jason Rebello and bassist Yuri Goloubev, while fast-rising Scots pianist Fergus McCreadie also hits the road.

Among the ongoing nightly delights of Edinburgh’s Jazz Bar, standout April dates for guitar buffs are the hard-grooving Israeli-American trio Kadawa (4th), the youthful virtuoso Andreas Varady (14th) and Alex Munk’s Flying Machines (26th).

Now in its 29th year, Arbroath’s Jazz at Hospitalfield season sees the Euan Stevenson Quartet with Georgia Cecile on 19 January, followed by the Tenement Jazz Band on 23 February.

Next November marks the centenary of the birth of Hamish Henderson, poet, folklorist and widely regarded as a father figure of the Scottish Folk Revival. Numerous events commence with a special Celtic Connections concert on 26 January, The Rebellious Truth, combining traditional performers with audio and video recordings of the “Gillie Mor” himself. And from 8-10 November, Edinburgh Folk Club’s annual Carrying Stream festival, founded to celebrate Henderson’s legacy, will mark the anniversary with concerts and lectures.

As Edinburgh’s spring TradFest, centred on the Scottish Storytelling Centre, was threatened by funding issues, the industrious Soundhouse, who run monthly jazz and roots gigs at the Traverse, have stepped in with a season including Irish stars Lankum at the Queen’s Hall on 26 April, with subsequent nights at the Queen’s Hall and Traverse including Swedish stars Väsen and Canadian fiddle quartet The Fretless.

Traditional music festivals in the first half of the year include Dunkeld and Birnam’s Niel Gow fiddle weekend (15-17 March), Edinburgh International Harp Festival (5-10 April) and Falkland’s FifeSing (10-12 May), while Perth Concert Hall’s Celtic Sessions present Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton’s Symbiosis on 30 March, Breabach and Siobhan Miller on 4 May and the Elephant Sessions on 31 May.

Finally, the Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland and the University of Edinburgh have just launched their First Footing dance residency, a seven-month incumbency featuring the renowned American percussive dance artist Nic Gareiss. At least some, then, will be stepping their way lightly into the uncertainties of 2019. - Jim Gilchrist