African acts pull out of Celtic Connections over visa 'hassle and stress'

Donald Shaw says the visa problems faced by African acts have undermined the festival's long-held 'internationalism.'
Donald Shaw says the visa problems faced by African acts have undermined the festival's long-held 'internationalism.'
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Organisers of Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival have hit out after being forced to scrap headline shows by world music stars due to problems securing visas for them.

Two leading African acts pulled out just six weeks before its programme launch in protest at the red tape they were confronted with.

Musicians Mohsen Amini, Catherine Tinney and Claire Hastings launched the 2019 Celtic Connections programme at the King's Theatre, a brand new venue for the event.

Musicians Mohsen Amini, Catherine Tinney and Claire Hastings launched the 2019 Celtic Connections programme at the King's Theatre, a brand new venue for the event.

Donald Shaw, the musician in charge of the event, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2019, said they had decided the “hassle and stress” of trying to secure permission to enter the UK was not worth it.

The withdrawal of the acts, from Mali and Senegal, has emerged months after Mr Shaw warned the festival may have to become less international in future over concerns Brexit would create a financial and logistical “nightmare.”

Shaw has previously had to scale back his programme due to the plunging value of sterling since the EU vote.

Celtic Connections has been hit months after the Edinburgh International Book Festival revealed up to a dozen authors had faced prolonged problems. Director Nick Barley warned the “humiliating” process – including demands to provide bank statements and birth certificates, and undergo biometric tests – would deter artists from visiting the UK in future.

Mr Shaw said: “We had two quite large world music acts who I had pencilled in to perform that both pulled out about six weeks ago due to the hassle and stress of the visa application process.

“It wasn’t that they’d been turned down, it was what was being asked of them to get the visas. They felt they were being asked for sensitive information and were being asked to travel to another city to try to get a visa that may not be approved. They just felt it wasn’t worth the grief. The application process was made so difficult for them they decided not to persevere.

“These are top-class musicians who have been travelling around the world for 20 years. Britain now has a very solidly-locked gate, certainly in terms of African visas.

“The whole thing undermines us as a Scottish festival with an international outlook. We always looked to embrace an internationalist programme. Anything that restricts that is disappointing. I don’t see any good reason for it.”

It undermines us as a Scottish festival with an international outlook. We always looked to embrace an internationalist programme. Anything that restricts that is disappointing. I don’t see any good reason for it.”
Among the acts appearing at next year’s festival are 1960s American rock singer Ronnie Spector, lead singer with The Ronettes, and Paul Weller, the former frontman of The Jam and The Style Council.

Weller will appear in a night honouring John Martyn a decade after his death, which will feature the Glasgow-born singer’s long-time collaborator Danny Thompson and former bandmates Alan Thomson, Foster Paterson and Arran Ahmun.

Two tribute shows will honour the victims of the Iolaire disaster off the coast of Lewis weeks after the centenary of the tragedy, including one inspired by the actions of John Finlay MacLeod, who saved dozens of lives after swimming ashore with a rope from the stricken vessel.

The festival will be expanding for the first time to the King’s Theatre and Glasgow University’s Queen Margaret Union after losing one of its most popular venues, the O2 ABC, in this year’s Glasgow School of Art fire.

The festival will stage its first videogame-themed event to recreate the soundtrack to a new version of The Bard’s Tale, a live concert version of the Disney-Pixar film Brave will get a world premiere and its Scottish composer, Patrick Doyle, will join forces with the BBC SSO for a 65th birthday show. Indie-rocker KT Tunstall will be among those performing in a 50th anniversary celebration of The Beatles’ Abbey Road album.

FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS

Karine Polwart and Kris Drever with the SCO, King’s Theatre: Two of Scotland’s leading singer-songwriters launch the new venue.

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, Piping Centre: A revival for one of the National Theatre of Scotland’s biggest hits.

Amiina, Saint Luke’s: The Icelandic band best known for their work with Sigur Rós make their Celtic Connections debut.

Niteworks, Barrowland Ballroom: Skye’s groundbreaking dance music outfit take over Glasgow’s famous dance hall.

Loudon Wainwright: Royal Concert Hall: The American folk favourite will be drawing on his 26-album back catalogue.

McGonagall’s Chronicles, Tron Theatre: The life of William Topaz McGonagall, the Dundonian known as the world’s worst poet, is brought to the stage.

Rhiannon Giddens, Royal Concert Hall: The former Carolina Chocolate Drops singer teams up with Scottish Opera’s orchestra.