Celtic Connections festival to raise the roof at new £125m Hydro arena

Opening concert: Julie Fowlis. Picture: Donald MacLeod
Opening concert: Julie Fowlis. Picture: Donald MacLeod
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Glasgow’s Celtic Connections music festival is set to ­expand into the new £125 million Hydro arena on the banks of the Clyde in 2014.

A centrepiece event at the 12,000-seat venue, which is due to open in September, is being lined up and will have a Commonwealth Games theme, in anticipation of next summer’s event. It would dwarf the scale of any shows previously held at the festival, which is celebrating its 20th birthday.

The 7,000-capacity Emirates Arena, which is already up and running near Celtic Park, is also being looked at for a ­flagship event. The biggest ­concerts at the festival are ­currently held at the 2,000-­capacity Royal Concert Hall and the 1,900-capacity Barrowland Ballroom.

The opening of the Hydro – next to the SECC complex and the Clyde Auditorium – is ­being billed as Scotland’s ­national indoor arena and the nation’s answer to the O2 ­arena in London. It is projected to inject an extra £131 million into the city’s economy and a number of big-name shows have already been confirmed, including Peter Gabriel, JLS and Jessie J.

This year’s opening concert at Celtic Connections was sold out well in advance, with Julie Fowlis, Eddi Reader and ­Capercaillie among the performers. Next year’s festival could well be a swansong for artistic director Donald Shaw, who has hinted that he may leave the festival after eight years.

However, he said the team behind the festival – which is already spread across more than a dozen venues and sells more than 100,000 tickets – were also looking at “how on earth could Celtic Connections grow?”

He added: “I really like the idea, right in the middle of the festival, of having a centrepiece gig that would be held somewhere like the Hydro. It needs to be the right thing, where it feels special enough.

“We also have the new arena in the east end which is looking great.”

Shaw, a founder member of Celtic supergroup Capercaillie, was asked by the concert hall to act as a consultant to the festival in 2006 after the resignation of previous artistic ­director Colin Hynd. Asked if he would leave next year, he said: “It is not a definite, ­although in my mind I would like it to be like that. This is my seventh festival, and eighth year working on it. I feel comfortable within the job but there will come a point where somebody else would programme this festival in a different and probably fresher way. The festival has become so important and I feel I don’t want to be short-changing in any way.”

Celtic Connections is worth almost £10m to the economy, with £1.1m of ticket sales ­notched up last year.