Celtic Connections fears Brexit will cut global ties

Donald Shaw in a promotional photograph for a Fringe performance last August
Donald Shaw in a promotional photograph for a Fringe performance last August
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Organisers of the annual Celtic Connections music festival have warned that the event may have to become less international in future due to the impact of Brexit.

Artistic director Donald Shaw said the UK’s withdrawal from the EU was likely to put artists off appearing at the event, which will be staged for the 25th time in Glasgow next month.

He expressed concerns that new entry visa requirements would create a financial and logistical “nightmare” for the event.

Shaw, who has been at the helm of Celtic Connections for more than a decade, said around a dozen shows in the festival’s recent line-ups would not have happened without European funding.

The musician and composer, who has travelled the world with his band Capercaillie, said he was worried about a perception from overseas musicians that they would face extra barriers if they try to enter the UK.

Celtic Connections has already had to scale back the number of overseas acts in its line-up by around 20 per cent in the wake of the Brexit vote due to the impact of the weak pound on the festival’s buying power.

The cost of bringing in a high-profile act, with their own band, has leapt by almost a third in the space of 12 months, according to Shaw.

However, he said his biggest concern was that the prospect of Brexit would send out a message to international artists that “we’re not really interested in what you’ve got to say for yourself”.

“It’s the exact opposite message of the one we’re been trying to give out musically from the festival,” Shaw said.

“Artists are less likely to engage with a country that is less internationalist in its outlook.

“People are already concerned that the UK is not doing itself any favours at the moment. The general feeling is that the UK has not put itself in a good place. Brexit is not a particularly welcoming kind of message.

“It’s also one thing getting permission to come to the UK from the immigration service here, but a lot of the artists we work with have to get visas to be allowed to leave their own countries.

“Brexit is just a negative message whichever way you look at it.

“Without even thinking about it, artists would have added the UK to their touring schedule in the past. I think they will be more reluctant to do that because they envisage border issues.”

Among the European acts performing at the forthcoming Celtic Connections are Swedish trio Väsen, Finnish outfit Frigg, Galician stars Luar na Lubre and Basque maestro Xabi Aburruzaga.

“Some of our more ambitious projects have started in Europe,” Shaw added. “But in the same way that Dundee has just been told it won’t be a European Capital of Culture, the UK will just not be eligible for those projects anymore.

“Maybe a dozen shows a year in our programme would be affected. It’s a fair old chunk. That will have an effect.

“For an international festival to suddenly have to deal with another 30 per cent worth of work permits and working visas would be a big logistical nightmare and financial headache.

“Musicians like to get on with what they are doing. They don’t like to feel like there are any barriers. It’s our job to ensure that musicians know that we’re doing everything we can to work around Brexit and what it’s going to bring.

“It’s very hard to lobby for something if you don’t really know where Brexit is going to end up. But what Celtic Connections needs now, more than anything, is politicians who are aware of the value of the arts on a wider scale.”