Director may break links with Celtic Connections

Capercaillie, with Donald Shaw, left, and his wife Karen Matheson, front, are still going strong. Picture: Complimentary
Capercaillie, with Donald Shaw, left, and his wife Karen Matheson, front, are still going strong. Picture: Complimentary
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The figurehead of Glasgow’s biggest music festival may be in charge of the event for just one more year, The Scotsman can reveal.

Musician Donald Shaw, who has been at the helm of Celtic Connections since 2006, could leave his artistic director’s post after the 21st anniversary event at the beginning of next year.

The creative guru has admitted he is not committed or contracted to the event after 2014 and said he had been banned from discussing his position publicly – but told The Scotsman it was “complicated”.

However, it has emerged he is programming events for a Celtic Connections spin-off in the city next summer to coincide with the Commonwealth Games.

Shaw refused to say whether he had made up his mind about whether to leave the festival, which he works on year-round for Glasgow Life, the body in charge of major venues such as the Royal Concert Hall, the Old Fruitmarket and the City Halls.

Glasgow Life officials said the decision was being left entirely up to Shaw and insisted that it wanted him to stay in the post despite his involvement with Celtic group Capercaillie and other musical projects.

Shaw has been widely credited with transforming the event’s global reputation since he took charge of programming, thanks to a host of Americana and world music acts visiting the festival.

Ticket sales have soared over the 100,000 mark and more than 50 shows in the 2013 event were sold out.

However, he had to grapple with a £100,000 budget cut earlier this year as well as problems caused by work on a major extension to the concert hall, the festival’s flagship venue.

Next year’s Celtic Connections will see a major expansion of the event to the city’s new £125 million Hydro arena, with an international Robert Burns concert that will be the most ambitious in the event’s history. Classical star Nicola Benedetti has been booked to open the event.

Shaw has agreed to mastermind a summer version of Celtic Connections, which will be part of the official Glasgow 2014 cultural programme next July and August. Although the event is described as being in the early planning stages, it is understood it will involve shows at indoor and outdoor sites around the city centre.

When asked if he would be involved in the 2015 festival, Shaw said: “I’m making no comment at all on that at the moment. I’m not allowed to talk about it.

“I am involved in the programming of the events in the city for the Commonwealth Games, but I’m not committed [to the festival] after next year.

“It’s a complicated question. I’m not under contract. There are a number of issues. At the moment I’m just concentrating on the Commonwealth Games programme.”

A spokesman for Glasgow Life said: “Donald is an incredible talent who contributes hugely to the success of Celtic Connections. The festival is evolving, with performances at different times of the year and across the world, and it will play a part in the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games cultural celebrations.

“Donald will be at the heart of that and we very much hope he will play a central role in Celtic Connections for years to come.”

Profile: Accordion was gateway to musical life

Born in Taynuilt, Argyll, Donald Shaw was immersed in traditional music and Gaelic song from an early age.

He was taught the accordion by his father and at 16 he became the All-Britain accordion champion.

The following year, while still at Oban High School, he formed the band Capercaillie with singer Karen Matheson, his future wife.

The band – the first Gaelic-language act to reach the UK Top 40, in 1992 – are still going strong and are currently celebrating their 30th anniversary. Shaw writes, produces and plays keyboards and accordion with the band.

He has also produced and recorded on more than 150 albums in his career, working with artists as diverse as Nanci Griffith, Peter Gabriel, Bonnie Raitt and Soul II Soul.