2021 Arts Preview: The Year Ahead in Folk & Jazz

Next month’s Celtic Connections will have to take place online, but various live festivals are planned for later in the year, writes Jim Gilchrist

Skerryvore PIC: Kris Kesiak

It may be a month till Burns Night, but the words “best-laid schemes” and “gang aft agley” do come to mind when trying to predict a year which opens with artists still facing grim times as live performance withers in the shadow of Covid.

If nothing else, the pandemic has honed musicians’ online streaming skills: thus folk-rockers Skerryvore will put first-footing on a global basis with a Ne’erday live stream and virtual tour of the Robert Burns Cottage at Alloway. Also going digitally worldwide is Glasgow’s Celtic Connections, usually spread across multiple venues but this year presenting nightly online-only performances from 15 January to 2 February. The guest list remains copious, with Scottish acts such as Breabach, Chris Stout and Catriona McKay, Eddi Reader and Ross Ainslie joined by such international stars as Rhiannon Giddens and Le Vent du Nord.

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Showcase Scotland, which enables promoters to hear Scottish acts during Celtic Connections, will also go online, prefaced by a webinar on “monetising online content” – surely a sign of the times.

Fergus McCreadie

What form other events, such as the Shetland Folk Festival, may take remains uncertain. The same goes for Stornoway’s summer fling, HebCelt, which streams a Christmas show on 27 December, featuring Michael McGoldrick, John McCusker and John Doyle.

Jazz Scotland is planning to hold Aberdeen Jazz Festival in March, the Lagavulin Islay Jazz Festival in September and Dundee Jazz Festival in November. The Edinburgh International Jazz and Blues Festival is planned for 16-25 July and in the meantime it is streaming a New Year Jazz Gala for three days from 30 December, featuring singers Ali Affleck, Georgia Cécile and Luca Manning among others.

Glasgow Jazz Festival has been pencilled in for 18-20 June and will probably mix live-audience and online performances, while continuing to stream its “Winter Wednesday” online concerts into the spring. The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, meanwhile, plan to go live, bringing their Pop! Rock! Soul! show to Perth, Edinburgh and Glasgow at the end of April.

Also touring in the spring is the young pianist Fergus McCreadie, who scooped best instrumentalist category at this year’s Scottish Jazz Awards, and whose trio release their second album, Cairn, on the prestigious Edition label next month. Fergus also crops up on Where Will the River Flow?, the debut album due in March from his fellow Royal Conservatoire of Scotland alumnus, saxophonist Matt Carmichael.

Chris Stout & Catriona McKay

Also in the flow is another Glasgow saxophonist, Paul Towndrow, whose imminent album, Deepening the River, features his Keywork jazz-folk fusion orchestra, while another past Scottish Jazz Award winner, pianist Brian Kellock, hopes to embark on a duo album of vintage jazz with saxophonist and clarinettist John Burgess.

Arbroath’s historic Hospitalfield House plans a spring premiere for trumpeter Colin Steele’s commission, originally scheduled for this year, to mark the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath. And a concert originally proposed for this year to mark 30 years of jazz at Hospitalfield may also materialise next year.

Meanwhile, regular jazz nights run by Viva Music have started, initially online, at Edinburgh’s Balmoral and Scotsman hotels, under the auspices of the Phoenix Project, with singer Ali Affleck involved behind the scenes and recent appearances from McCreadie and the piano-sax duo of Paul Harrison and Martin Kershaw. Affleck is anxious to feature not just jazz but folk and classical performers in future shows.

On the folk scene, a clutch of birthdays includes the 70th anniversary of Edinburgh University’s School of Scottish Studies, whose archives are a treasure house of recorded music and song. Confirmed for May is a celebratory event at Edinburgh’s Tradfest, featuring Rebellious Truth, a lecture and performance by Karine Polwart, plus a new work by the School’s artist in residence, Mike Vass. Recordings made during these performances will be submitted to the 70-year-old archive – things coming full circle.

Ali Affleck and the Copper Cats PIC: Steven Scott Taylor / JPI Media

Greentrax Records will bring out their second album tribute to Hamish Henderson, the folklorist and poet who was one of the earliest members of the school and a tireless collector.

Edinburgh International Harp Festival, meanwhile, celebrates its 40th anniversary, running online from 9-12 April, as its parent body, the Clarsach Society, marks its 90th.

Among the innumerable performances scuppered by the pandemic were those under the umbrella of the themed Year of Coasts and Waters. Some of these will be rolled over into the coming year, however, including events such as the Portsoy Traditional Boat Festival, while Highland harpist Ingrid Henderson will tour with her multi-media, environmentally-themed show Message in a Bottle.

Also delivering an unequivocal environmental message is Enough Is Enough, a collaboration between Karine Polwart, street band activists Oi Musica and the Soundhouse Choir in response to November’s all-important COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow. Initially created as an online video, the project is attracting international interest with its exhortation to engage COP26 through collective music-making.

Meanwhile, the ever-industrious Soundhouse will continue their genre-spanning online Spotlight performances, filmed at Edinburgh’s Traverse theatre. Like everyone else, they’re anxious to return to live gigs as soon as is safely possible.

Yet another anniversary will be the 25th of the National Piping Centre in Glasgow, including publication of a new tunebook. Some of these events will be part of the city’s Piping Live! festival, expected to combine online and live events from 7-15 August in the countdown to the World Pipe Band Championships.

Piping Live! will also launch John Mulhearn’s book Let Piping Flourish, chronicling the Dear Green Place’s hugely influential place in the development of pipe music – a suitably robust counterblast against Covid.

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