“It was a bang and it was big,” as the cosmic chronicler recounts in the late Edwin Morgan’s collaboration with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (of whom more later). The line comes to mind when considering Glasgow’s Celtic Connections extravaganza which has ushered in every year for almost three decades with a sizeable rumpus.
Covid’s looming Omicron variant permitting, the festival’s 29th iteration should be no exception, particularly with the hoped for return of live audiences, last year’s event having been an online-only affair. Filling venues across the city, its programme, from 20 January to 6 February, ranges from traditional singers (the younger generation of whom are celebrated in the opening concert, ‘Neath the Gloamin’ Star), to weighty collaborations such as sitar player Anoushka Shankar with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
The festival also kicks off the latest Scottish Government themed year, Scotland’s Year of Stories, with Whisper the Song, a series of five events combining traditional song, story and film, not least A Peerie Foy, celebrating another 2022 anniversary – the five and half centuries since Shetland was annexed from Norway to Scotland.
Further story-themed events at the festival include Tales of the Gaels and Stories to Save Our World. Later during 2022, numerous Year of Stories events will include the Skye-based touring Gaelic organisation SEALL with singer Anne Martin in An Tinne – “The Chain” – at various venues on the island in August, while July’s Edinburgh International Jazz and Blues festival presents Carnival Stories, celebrating the city’s immigrant communities.
Yet another themed celebration, from 21-27 March, is Seachdain na Gàidhlig, Scotland’s first official week of Gaelic language and culture, combining official events and community initiatives. With Gaelic singer and broadcaster Joy Dunlop as director and facilitated by the ever-industrious Hands Up for Trad organisation, the official programme will be announced shortly.
Also sporting a Gaelic element this March is Glasgow’s Sonica 2022, the biennial international sonic arts festival. An opening event is Kistvaen, a collaboration between the music-audio-visual team of Roly Port and MFO with the aforementioned singer Anne Martin in an AV spectacular that intertwines ancient lore with the hi-tech present.
Back to Edinburgh International Jazz and Blues Festival, expected to return from 15-24 July, and opening with Jools Holland (15th) and Curtis Stigers (16th) at the Festival Theatre. Glasgow Jazz Festival, meanwhile, having last month hosted the Scottish Jazz Awards, is currently awaiting the outcome of its funding application to run its main event from 16-19 June.
On the folk side, Edinburgh’s Tradfest returns, from 29 April to 9 May, followed by Galloway’s Knockengorroch “World Ceilidh” from 19-22 May. The famously sleep-depriving Shetland Folk Festival celebrates its 40th birthday from 28 April to 1 May and will also doubtless flag up that Shetland 550 anniversary.
Stornoway’s HebCelt bonanza, too, plans to “bounce back” on 13-16 July, with a knocked on celebration of what would have been last year’s 25th anniversary. Recently announced guests include Julie Fowlis, Skipinnish, Tide Lines and Glasgow rockers Texas.
Running from 29 June until 3 July, Fife’s inventive East Neuk Festival, while classically based, features a jazz and world strand including Syrian oud player Rihab Azar, singer Nishla Smith, harpist Ruth Wall and returning clarinettist Julian Bliss.
Edinburgh International Harp Festival, meanwhile, runs from 8-11 April as a hybrid event, live and online, while uprooting from its Merchiston Castle School home of the past 20 years to a new base at George Watson’s College.
Smaller venues are also emerging from pandemic hibernation. Edinburgh Folk Club, for instance, opens its year on 12 January with the pipes-accordion-fiddle trio BrÒg, the following couple of months including such notables as guitarist-accordionist Tim Edey and the indefatigable Tannahill Weavers. Soundhouse’s regular jazz and folk gigs at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre will also resume, with guests and dates to be confirmed.
Events at the capital’s award-winning Jazz Bar are underway once more, with artists over the next couple of months including drummer David Lyttle, pianist Paul Kirby and violinist Dominic Ingham, while singer Louise Dodds will launch her forthcoming album there in April.
Also happily re-opened in Edinburgh is Whighams Jazz Club, hosting the likes of saxophonists Konrad Wiszniewski and Matt Carmichael with their quartets, a new collaboration between pianist Fraser Urquhart and guitarist Ali Remally, trad from the Tenement Jazz Band and singers including Georgia Cécile, Louise Dodds and Stephen Duffy.
Jazz at St James in Leith also opens its doors, with Tommy Smith playing a solo saxophone concert on 12 February while subsequent names include Paul Harrison's Team Talk with Laura Macdonald and Alyn Cosker. Further developments in the spring include new albums from pianist Fergus McCreadie and saxophonist Macdonald.
Pianist Euan Stevenson is keeping busy: apart from several spring gigs with Wiszniewski in their New Focus duo, he will perform his composition Sound Tracks, written for his Earthtones Trio, at Trinity Church, Falkirk, in April, its premier having been pandemically postponed. June will see him premiere another commission, this one with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra – details to be announced in February.
Further ambitious collaborations are pending from the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, with whom we opened. February sees them finally tour their Pop! Rock! Soul! show with American guests singer Kenny Washington and vibraphonist Joe Locke, while May sees their director, Tommy Smith, further pursue his interest in poetry in an intriguing project which combines the big band with folk artists Julie Fowlis, Phil Cunningham and Michael McGoldrick and poets Meg Bateman, Christine de Luca, Peter McKay and Tom Pow.
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