Jim Gilchrist: The year ahead in folk and jazz

Aly Bain  and Phil Cunningham
Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham
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FIFTY years ago this coming year, at a time when “official” recognition of Scottish traditional music and culture was virtually non-existent, a group of singers, musicians and enthusiasts, having just pulled off the first Blairgowrie festival, formed the Traditional Music & Song Association of Scotland which, despite fluctuating fortunes, has been a vital force in promoting traditional music, running festivals, tours and other events.

That half century will be marked later this month when the opening concert (14 January) of Glasgow’s mammoth Celtic Connections festival – an event which would have been inconceivable back in 1966 – will host a major assembling of Scottish traditional singers on the stage of Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, including Arthur Johnstone, Jimmy Hutchison, Sheena Wellington, the ballad trio Shepheard, Spiers & Watson and the band Malinky, to name but a few. Titled appropriately “The Carrying Stream”, the programme will be directed by Siobhan Miller, a widely acclaimed young singer who grew up attending TMSA festivals.

The anniversary will be further celebrated at TMSA events such as the Falkland, Keith and Kirriemuir festivals over the summer. Celtic Connections, meanwhile, dominates the musical calendar for January, with its myriad events ranging from a tribute to the late Bert Jansch featuring Robert Plant, among others, and collaboration between Malian kora player Toumani Diabete and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, to innumerable smaller-stage events.

Scarcely will the dust have settled when Glasgow’s National Piping Centre hosts the third International Bagpipe Conference from 26-28 February, with concerts and talks featuring indigenous piping from around the world.

Consolidating itself as an significant cross-disciplinary traditional arts event is Edinburgh’s TradFest, running from 27 April to 8 May, with programming so far including step dancer Sophie Stevenson’s TradBeats project, singer-fiddler Mairi Campbell’s Pulse show, and MacMath: The Silent Page, featuring singers, musicians and little-known songs unearthed in Kirkcudbright. On a smaller but essentially ongoing scale, the first few months of Edinburgh Folk Club’s programme include the Borders bluesman Mike Whellans (6 January), rising young group Dallahan, Fiona Hunter, Mike Vass & Innes Watson and Dick Gaughan. Meanwhile the regular Soundhouse roots and jazz gigs at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre bar continue apace, with guests over the next month or two including the Nuala Kennedy Band, Karine Polwart and transatlantic visitors Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellies and Woody Pines.

Guitar buffs will savour Guitar Journey Duet – an inspired pairing of London-based Sardinian guitarist Giorgio Serci and Jonny Phillips of the fusion band Oriole, who will tour Scotland in March, tracing the development of the acoustic guitar from its origins in Spain and North Africa. And talking of guitar ancestry, the Palestinian oud virtuoso Nizar Rohana, along with the flamboyantly eclectic Kosmos Ensemble, is among the guests for the opening weekend of the East Neuk Festival in June.

Stornoway’s hugely popular Hebridean Celtic Festival (13-16 July) will celebrate its 21st year with Gaelic rockers Runrig headlining as part of a tour promoting their 14th and, they say, final studio album, The Story, released next month. Also on the HebCelt bill will be Gaelic song ambassador Julie Fowlis and heavy hoedowners Hayseed Dixie.

And stand by for box and fiddle shenanigans as Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham celebrate their 30th year of playing as a duo, not to mention Bain’s 70th birthday and the 40th anniversary of Cunningham’s first professional gig.

The year’s jazz festivals kick off, as always, with Fife, from 11-14 February, with guests including young Scots pianist Fergus McCreadie, Chris Barber, Trio HLK, Konrad Wiszniewski and Rose Room with the Capella String Quartet. The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, meanwhile, thunders on with what should prove to be a fairly volcanic collaboration with jazz-rock guitarist Mike Stern at the end of February in Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow, while ensuing months see them stage a tribute to Dave Brubeck and a collaboration with vibraphonist Mike Mainieri, while in September they celebrate the legacy of Charles Mingus with mighty Norwegian bassist Arild Anderson. The bassist, no stranger to Scotland, returns in May with his super-trio with Italian drummer Paolo Vinaccia and Scots saxophonist and SNJO director Tommy Smith (who will also be touring in sparkily creative duet with pianist Brian Kellock),

Having celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2015, Edinburgh’s non-stop Jazz Bar brings in 2016 with, among other things, vibraphone star Joe Locke and His New York Quartet on 29 January, with Berlin-based Los Angeles pianist Louis Durra playing on the 26th with drummer Ole Siemetz and singer Jess Abrams.