Celtic Connections: Sold out Barrowland gigs show how far festival has come
I knew it was a long time ago, but could not quite believe it is more than 20 years since Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival took the bold gamble of expanding to the Barrowland Ballroom.
My recollection of the marathon night that unfolded was that it did not quite click.
The famously raucous atmosphere seemed diluted by the number of acts that came and went throughout the night, and the sound quality was patchy, to say the least. But it was still very much a novelty to climb up the venue’s famous stairs and see some of our best traditional music acts showcase in the famous venue.
Celtic Connections has since returned to Barrowland on many memorable occasions, but never with as many as four concerts in the one programme, as it has this year.
Of those, Roddy Hart’s Roaming Roots Revenue, is one of many late additions to the festival line-up, confirmed after the initial Royal Concert Hall date sold out.
All of the other three shows – featuring Talisk, Rura and Lankum – have already sold out, along with a host of other headline shows.
This would have been a remarkable enough achievement before the pandemic, but is even more so given industry-wide trends for reduced audiences, later booking and the impact of the cost of living crisis.
Celtic Connections regulars who have left it late to book up are trawling through its listings seeking out lesser-known alternatives, which will mean bumper audiences for the many emerging acts in the programme.
But the story of Celtic Connections’ undoubted success since its launch exactly 30 years and its apparent dramatic recovery from two years of Covid disruption, cannot be seen in isolation.
Although it was the catalyst, Celtic Connections is part of a hugely-expanded landscape of traditional music events which now reaches into most corners of Scotland.
Fans can choose from an array of festivals running from late spring to early autumn, while many of acts regularly championed at Celtic Connections are in such demand they can now regularly tour around Scotland – if they are not performing overseas.
An intriguing new trend is for musicians and bands to launch their own large-scale green-field events.
To be fair to Runrig, this was something the Gaelic rockers pulled off triumphantly on the banks of Loch Lomond nearly three years before Celtic Connections arrived.
Skerryvore, Manran, Skipinnish, Tide Lines, Peat & Diesel and Elephant Sessions are among those who have been propelling the trad music scene to hitherto unscaled heights with increasingly ambitious projects.
As for the Barrowlands, it is remarkable that there are at least a dozen trad acts that could comfortably sell out a night there – outwith Celtic Connections.
I would never have predicted that an event like Hoolie at the Hydro, which returned to the Glasgow arena in December, would have sold 10,000 tickets in its second year.
Despite the enormous popularity of so many trad music acts, there will still be plenty of people in and around Glasgow who are blissfully unaware of the thriving scene. The next two-and-a-half weeks is the perfect time to embark on a journey of discovery.
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