Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival starts this Thursday with more than 2500 musicians – including Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant – expected to take part in 18 days of concerts up until the end of the month
The event is worth around £10 million to the Glasgow’s economy and this year will take a special look at migration and child migration as festival director Donald Shaw and various artists ask ‘At what point did the world close the gates?’.
On Friday a century of Irish culture since the Easter Rising will be celebrated by The Chieftains and guests, including former Dubliners fiddler John Sheahan and singer Declan O’Rourke.
But the line-up also includes rock legend Robert Plant – who has more recently moved to country music –and tributes to Joni Mitchell, Edith Piaf and Paul Simon’s Graceland album.
Plant’s one-off appearance is a tribute night to late Scottish guitar legend Bert Jansch, who died four years ago.
His performance at the 1000-capacity Old Fruit Market – with indie-rock guitarist Bernard Butler and Glasgow-born Jansch’s former Pentlangle bandmate Jacqui McShee is one of the hottest tickets of the 18-day event, held across 26 stages.
South African township musicians who played on Paul Simon’s Graceland album will appear in a special concert marking 30 years since its release at the Royal Concert Hall, and will be fronted by Edinburgh band Bwani Junction.
Scottish author James Robertson will join folk singers Karine Polwart, Dick Gaughan and Annie Grace to “reimagine” Joni Mitchell’s classic album Hejira to mark its 40th anniversary, while some of of her other best-known songs will also be performed.
Shetland fiddler Aly Bain will be honoured with a 70th birthday party, which will also mark the 30th anniversary of his partnership with accordionist Phil Cunningham.
One of the Scotland’s leading young singers, Siobhan Miller, will lead a showcase of leading vocal talents for the festival’s opening night gala, noting fifty years of Scotland’s Traditional Music and Song Association.
The city’s opera house, the Theatre Royal, will host a show devoted to the life and music of Edith Piaf , born 100 years ago in December, as part of a major showcase of French music.
North America music will be represented by They Might Be Giants, Rickie Lee Jones, John Grant, Frazey Ford, Lucinda Williams, John Grant, and Martha Wainwright.
Flying the flag for so-called World Music will be stars like the Senegalese singer Baaba Maal, Mongolian group Anda Union, Soumik Datta, a virtuoso on the Indian sarod instrument, who will perform with Austrian percussionist Bernhard Schimpelsberger, and the Afro Celts.
Scottish Album of the Year winner Kathryn Joseph makes her debut at the event with established Scottish favourites Admiral Fallow, Skerryvore, Eddi Reader, Lau, Rachel Sermanni, Blazin’ Fiddles and James Yorkston.
Long-time Artistic Director of the festival Donald Shaw, a musician himself, said at the October launch of this week’s lineups that he was thrilled to secure the 67-year old Robert Plant as he had wished to achieve it for some time.
“We talked about doing a Bert Jansch night the year after he died (in 2011), but the timing was not quite right and the idea got shelved.
“We spoke with his family and said we would try to do something another time. I knew that Robert Plant was a fan and was hugely influenced by him. He was always in my mind for the show.
“I’ve met him a couple of times and he has been very complimentary about the Transatlantic Sessions shows that we do. I wanted him to hang about for them, but we couldn’t quite make the dates work for him to do that as well,” he said.
He said Celtic Connections would also be honouring Joni Mitchell, who was treated in hospital last year for a brain aneurysm.
“Joni Mitchell has always been in my thinking for the festival ever since I got this job 10 years ago. I realised two or three years ago that it was highly unlikely we would ever get her to come, due to the fact she was pretty much hiding away and not really performing.
“When she got ill I just thought that I didn’t want be doing a tribute to Joni in two or three years time. I had the idea of doing some kind of homage to her music.
“I had met James Robertson a couple of times and he had expressed an interest in the lyrics of Joni Mitchell.
“He has recreated the songs from her Hejira album into Scots folk song. The text is amazing – the songs have all be rewritten from a Scottish perspective.
“What’s going to quite authentic is that we’re bringing in the great guitarist Larry Carlton, who played on Hejira, along with Felix Pastorius, the son of the Weather Report bass player Jaco Pistorius, who was also on the album.”
The festival will be reflecting on the refugee crisis and the clampdown on migrants with a theme of pilgrimage, including the annual indie night Roaming Roots Revue, which will celebrate the great musical troubadours and a live performance of an album looking at Britain’s history of child migration.
A special multi-media show will tell the story of Shetland crofter Betty Mouat, who was accidentally cast adrift in the North Sea in the 1880s and ended up being washed ashore in Norway, but survived her ordeal.
Mr Shaw said: “I was thinking about the whole refugee issue and you suddenly wonder: ‘At what point did the world close the gates?’
“As a musician you think of that idea of free movement of people around the world as being something that is a huge catalyst to how music evolves.
“People come together and they hear the music of other nations. World music could never have evolved to the level that it has.
“When you think of what Paul Simon did at the time, people were telling him that he couldn’t come to South Africa because of apartheid but his argument at the time was that music goes beyond all boundaries and all politics.
“It is a really sobering thought that it is actually not possible to travel freely around the world.”
• Celtic Connections runs from 14-31 January.
Tickets are available here: www.celticconnections.com
Other highlights of the festival:
14 January The Carrying Stream: Siobhan Miller, one of Scotland’s leading singers, assembles a one-off tribute to mark 50 years of the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland.
16 January Pilgimer: The 40th anniversary of Joni Mitchell’s classic Herija album reimagined for Celtic Connections, with original guitarist Larry Carlton part of the line-up.
19 January The Ballads of Child Migration: John McCusker, Jez Lowe, Boo Hewerdine, Chris While and Julie Matthews perform premiere of an album of specially-commissioned songs about a little-known aspect of British history.
20 January Le Grand Anniversaire: A huge party to mark the 70th birthday of Shetland fiddler Aly Bain and 30 years of performing with regular sparring partner Phil Cunnigham.
23 January Graceland: Several South African township musicians who featured on Paul Simon’s original groundbreaking album perform it with the Edinburgh band Bwani Junction.
23 January Roaming Roots Revue: Roddy Hart’s fourth annual indie music night at the festival turns the spotlight on the musical troubadour, with guests including Del Amitri’s Justin Currie and Edinburgh singer Blue Rose Code.
23 January Concerto for Banjo: Grammy winner Bela Fleck and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra join Irish uilleann piper Liam O’Flynn for the European premiere of a concerto originally commissioned by the Nashville Symphony.
25 January Scottish National Jazz Orchestra with Eddi Reader: The Burns Night favourite performs songs by the Bard.
31 January They Might Be Giants,: Quirky American rock band stages two, including a child-friendly matiness, at the O2 ABC .
31 January Bert Inspired – A Concert for Bert Jansch: Robert Plant, Bernard Butler, Archie Fisher and Jacqui McShee pay tribute to the late Glasgow-born guitarist.