2020: The year Ahead in Folk & Jazz, by Jim Gilchrist

Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters is the jumping off point for a flood of elemental live performances
The GRIT Orchestra will make a welcome return to Celtic Connections in 2020The GRIT Orchestra will make a welcome return to Celtic Connections in 2020
The GRIT Orchestra will make a welcome return to Celtic Connections in 2020

Time and tide wait for no man, but with 2020 designated as Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters, be assured of a favourable tide of associated musical creativity. The coming year’s 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath is also inspiring its fair share of commissions.

Both factors inform Glasgow’s mammoth Celtic Connections festival (16 January until 2 February), the opening concert of which sees the return of the formidable GRIT Orchestra which, under conductor Greg Lawson, will perform pieces inspired by the Declaration and commissioned from orchestra members such as Catriona McKay and Fraser Fifield.

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A Coastal Connections mini-fest (18 January) at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall will feature musicians from more than 20 maritime communities, such as Skerryvore, Daimh and Julie Fowlis, as well as witnessing the first appearance of Storm, a ten-metre tall “sea goddess,” courtesy of outdoor performance specialists Vision Mechanics.

Celtic Connections also hosts the 20th Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year competition (2 February), with a special show on 23 January presenting the 2020 winner alongside l9 of his or her predecessors, from the first, fiddler Gillian Frame.

That Declaration septcentennial also manifests itself at Arbroath’s Hospitalfield House, marking its 30th anniversary as a venue, which has commissioned trumpeter Colin Steele to write a piece marking the Declaration anniversary. Hospitalfield’s programme for the year will kick off with gypsy swingers Rose Room, on 25 January, while February features the young Glasgow singer Irini Arabatzi.

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall presents another Late Night Studio Jazz season, with one of the leading lights of contemporary UK jazz, saxophonist Julian Argüelles, appearing on 21 February, the Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra on 20 March, and Scottish saxophonist Laura MacDonald on 3 April.

Anniversary fever continues as the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra celebrate their 25th year, starting with two nights at Ronnie Scott’s in London on 24-25 January, while on 21-23 February a three-night Scottish tour sees them marking the centenary of the late, great Edwin Morgan with Planet Wave, SNJO director Tommy Smith’s settings of Morgan’s poetry, first performed in 1997. In April they celebrate the contemporary American songbook with Pop! Rock! Soul!, featuring vibes master Joe Locke and acclaimed vocalist Kenny Washington.

In Edinburgh, the ever-open Jazz Bar hosts some first-rate gigs early in the year, notably the quartet of trombonist Paul Dunlea with bassist Michael Janisch, pianist Steve Hamilton and drummer Andrew Bain on 22 January, revered vocalist Norma Winstone on 21 February and saxophonist-flautist Chip Wickham on 22 April.

The acclaimed duo of pianist Euan Stevenson and saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski take to the road in their New Focus: Classical Connections incarnation, including an International Jazz Day programme at the Beacon, Greenock, on 30 April and Craiglockart Church, Edinburgh, on 2 May. Stevenson, meanwhile, is co-writing and producing the debut album by award-winning Glasgow singer Georgia Cécile, due for release next year.
In Leith, Jazz at St James recommences with emerging young saxophonist Matt Carmichael’s quartet on 1 February while poet and musician Don Paterson appears with Laura MacDonald, Graeme Stephen and Steve Hamilton on 7 March. Similarly, the Merchants House of Glasgow resumes jazz nights, with Tom Bancroft’s In Common on 2 February and Tina May and Brian Kellock on 15.

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Young pianist Fergus McCreadie embarks on an extensive spring tour with his trio, mostly south of the Border but with visits to Elgin (29 February) and Glasgow’s Tron (14 April), returning for further Scottish venues in May.

On the folk scene, yet more anniversaries see Breabach marking their 15th with a Celtic Connections concert on 17 January. Also marking 15 years are Tiree folk-rockers Skerryvore, with a one-day festival at Inveraray Castle on 6 June.

On the Edinburgh folk calendar, the Queen’s Hall stages a return of fiddler John McCusker’s Southside of the Tracks concert (11 January), while other Queen’s Hall dates include Mairi Campbell’s all-singing, all-dancing Pendulum Band (15 February).

The long-standing Edinburgh Folk Club resumes Wednesday nights with Glasgow bluegrassers Daddy Naggins on 8 January, later dates including such weel-kent figures as Maggie McInnes (4 March), Boo Hewerdine (11 March), and, in June, veteran troubadour Archie Fisher (who celebrates his 80th birthday at Celtic Connections on 17 January).

Edinburgh’s TradFest returns from 1-11 May, although its concert programme is still in preparation by the Sound House organisation which runs it in conjunction with TRACS (Traditional Arts Culture Scotland).And Sound House resumes its own Monday nights at the Traverse, starting with Nordic jazzers Waco on 13 January, pipes, fiddle and accordion trio Bròg on the 20th and the renowned fiddle-cello duo of Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas on the 27th.

Among the folk releases for 2020, expect albums from singer-songwriter Stevie Palmer and the fine ballad singer Heather Heywood, another from the trio of John McCusker, John Doyle and Michael McGoldrick, while the surprise phenomenon from the Isle of Lewis, Peat & Diesel, will record their debut album, titled – and why not? – Light My Byre.