Celtic Connections programme promises a feast of new album launches

Although it has long provided artists with an opportunity to introduce new work, this year's Celtic Connections programme is particularly packed with album launch events, writes Jim Gilchrist

Among its 300-odd events across Glasgow, this year’s 30th anniversary of Celtic Connections includes an inordinate number of album launches – a post-pandemic spate, perhaps, some of which we feature here, with fiddle music figuring prominently.

Highland fiddler Duncan Chisholm is renowned for his sensitive way with a slow air and his response to landscape. His latest album, Black Cuillin (Copperfish Records), he describes as “the most ambitious and rewarding project of my creative life”, evoking the fabled ridge of Skye’s Black Cuillin, as well as paying homage to Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean’s epic An Cuilithionn. Chisholm launches it at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (GRCH) on 2 February with his band, including Jarlath Henderson on uilleann pipes and Hamish Napier on keyboards, with award-winning Gaelic singer Kim Carnie in support.

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Also inspired by the lie of the land, as well as by Scots, Irish and Cape Breton fiddle styles, Inverness player Graham Mackenzie introduces his second studio album, The Dawning (Blue Door Music), at GRCH New Auditorium on the 29th, accompanists including flautist Michael McGoldrick, guitarist Innes Watson, trumpeter Neil Yates and saxophonist Matt Carmichael. Also appearing are the fine Highland band Staran.

Savourna Stevenson and Steve Kettley

Mackenzie also plays in the trio Assynt, with piper David Shedden and guitarist Innes White, who launch their album Where From Here? (Garthland Records) in the GRCH Strathclyde Suite on 25 January, sharing the bill with acclaimed Glasgow-Donegal trio the Friel Sisters and yet another album-releasing threesome, the Firelight Trio of fiddler Gavin Marwick, pianist-accordionist Phil Alexander and Ruth Morris on nyckelharpa. Firelight’s eponymously titled debut (Proper label) echoes their beguiling pan-European repertoire that was integral to poet Tom Pow’s acclaimed Fringe show The Village and the Road.

Also on the 25th, but at the City Halls Recital Room, there’s lithe Shetland bowing from Jenna Reid as she introduces her sixth album, One Day (Lofoten Records), in sparky collaboration with pianist Harris Playfair. From Shetland to Orkney, as another island fiddler, Catriona Price, presents her vivid aural collage of Orcadian words and music, Hert (Orange Feather Records), at the Strathclyde Suite on the 27th, joined by harpist Esther Swift, pianist Tom Gibbs and a string section.

Fiddler John McCusker has been a familiar figure throughout the festival’s history, and is currently marking three decades since he first hopped out of school and into the Battlefield Band tour bus. His career has seen him work with a multitude of names such as Kate Rusby, Roddy Woomble and former Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler. He marks the anniversary with a tune-packed double album, John McCusker – The Best Of (Under One Sky Records), a tune book and a concert at the City Halls on 22 January, in the company of such long-standing collaborators as Phil Cunningham, Eddi Reader and Karine Polwart.

Expanding those fiddle proportions a little, cellist Juliette Lemoine has been impacting on the Scottish trad scene and launches her debut album, Soaring (own label), at the Recital room on 21 January, in a mellifluous cross-genre convergence with fiddler Charlie Stewart, pianist Fergus McCreadie and saxophonist Matt Carmichael.

Duncan Chisholm

For richly contrasting timbres and dazzling playing, look to Wine of Life (Cooking Vinyl), the long awaited album from the harp and saxophone duo of Savourna Stevenson and Steve Kettley. Stevenson has long been known as a cutting edge harpist, embracing contemporary folk, classical and beyond; Kettley also boasts eclectic pedigree, as a founder member of Salsa Celtica and the legendary Cauld Blast Orchestra as well as his band Orange Clawhammer’s re-workings of Captain Beefheart.

To end with a song, singer-songwriter and pianist Kim Edgar cusps the intimate humanity of her songs in expansive settings, including brass, and releases her fifth studio album, Consequences (Quietly Fantastic Music), at St Luke’s & the Winged Ox on 2 February. Each song is a collaboration with another singer songwriter, including Horse Macdonald, Boo Hewerdine, Louis Abbott and Rachel Sermanni, in a persuasive exploration of human interconnectedness amid an uncertain world.

John McCusker