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The events putting traditional Scottish music on an international stage

January may have a bit of a reputation as a quieter month, but for lovers of Trad music, it's anything but. There's one big reason for that, and that's Celtic Connections.

The first festival took place in January 1994, as 35,000 people gathered to celebrate Celtic culture in The Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Now, the festival has grown into an annual celebration of folk, roots and world music festival.

2019's edition (which took place from 17 January – 3 February​), saw over 2000 musicians from around the world descend on Glasgow, bringing the city to life for 18 days of concerts, ceilidhs, talks, art exhibitions, workshops, and free events.

Showcase Scotland: Scottish artists on a global scale

Part of the 2019 output was Showcase Scotland: an event which introduces international and worldwide audiences to new music. Its aim is to 'secure performances for Scottish based artists on a global scale – creating new audiences for existing artists and introducing new artists to existing audiences'.

As Showcase Scotland's Lisa Whytock says, "it brings together the international music industry from around 23 countries each year.

"All of them are here to look at the Scottish artists programmed by Celtic Connections, with a view to booking them for their own festivals or venues."

We know that many delegates are blown away by the quality, professionalism and diversity of the acts they see coming out of Scotland.- Brian Ó hEadhra

Whytock explains that each year, they focus on one international partner. Six artists then join around 60 musicians from Scotland, who are featured as part of the showcase.

"These partnerships tend to be strategic, and designed not only to secure results for the six featured artists, but to build lasting working relationships benefitting the artists and music industry in both nations," she adds.

Facilitating and building international relationships

While event booking is a very important part of the Showcase Scotland process, it's not the only outcome.

As Whytock explains, its "allows conversations to happen amongst the music industry of all attending nations. This ensures that relationships are established and that business is achieved over several years."

The number of delegates attending Showcase Scotland is restricted to 180, which Whytock says is to facilitate relationship building.

"Taking place over five days, the event is small enough to allow real connections, conversations and business.

"It's important to say here that whilst all ‘delegates’ pay their expenses to attend as well as a registration fee, we also operate an application process," she says.

"Each organisation explains to us in advance of attending why they feel its relevant to attend and what business they are looking to achieve. This allows us to match attendance with likely outcomes."

As Brian Ó hEadhra, Gaelic Arts & Culture Adviser/Neach-comhairle Ealain ‘s Cultair at Bòrd na Gàidhlig, says, the human element within showcases is essential.

"You can email video and album links to festivals and promoters," he explains, "but nothing works better than seeing bands performing live and having meaningful conversations with managers and agents.

"The folk/world music market is not driven by fashions or fads, but by people who are genuinely interested in indigenous languages and folk culture.

"They know quality when they see it and the best way to grow business links and friendships are through these events."

What about WOMEX?

Showcase Scotland is far from the only networking event for the Trad community.

Over 2,700 professionals (including 300 performing artists) come together for WOMEX every October from more than 90 countries.

Whytock says that "WOMEX is the largest world/folk music gathering on the planet," and it "allows us all to connect with international peers.

"Conversations that take place at WOMEX feed into all of our international strategies regarding the export of Scottish artists."

In 2017, Multi award-winning Glasgow-based trio Talisk were selected to perform in the official programme at WOMEX 17 World Music Expo in the UNESCO City of Music Katowice, Poland. 

We spoke to the band about the opportunity, who said: "We have all heard great things about WOMEX and always wanted to be part of it, but didn’t realise the sheer scale of it until we were chosen."

When asked what message they would want WOMEX audiences to take away about Scottish music, they said, "we first and foremost want to bring our music to them, and let them see what we, as Talisk, can do.

"From this, we hope that WOMEX gets how progressive the music in Scotland is - and that there’s a really wide folk genre. Traditional music by nature is progressive, but we believe something very special is happening in Scotland at the moment - reaching out in new directions and exploring new areas far faster than we have seen it before."

The next edition is taking place from 23-27 OCT 2019, in Tampere, Finland.

Events like WOMEX give bands a chance to boost their profile.

"Most professional fulltime musicians are unable to make a livelihood from performing in Scotland alone," Ó hEadhra says.

"They need and want to reach out to worldwide audiences and the easiest way to engage with agents, festivals, record companies, publishers, etc is through attending and showcasing at showcase events.

"Many countries support artists to showcase at international events and we are fortunate that here in Scotland the public and private sectors work very well together in supporting our best and up-and-coming artists in reaching worldwide audiences."

Coming along on The Visit

The Visit is an event which invites individuals from the target territories identified by a Steering Group to visit Scotland.

As Whytock says, "the artists achieve bookings, signings and recording/publishing deals. Its purpose is to introduce to one overseas nation or touring ‘territory’ Scottish artists.

"It’s massively successful, and our visitors join us in Scotland for four days seeing 21 artists and sampling some Scottish produce such as Belhaven Beer and Glenturret Whisky in their distilleries.

"They also sees some of our most famous sites such as Edinburgh castle and Scone Palace."

Whytock says that each visitor is invited for a reason. "So, for example, in 2014 we focussed on France and invited agents, publishers, festivals and venues.

"In 2017 a focus on Scotland at mainland Europes largest music festival - Festival Interceltique de Lorient - presented 220 Scottish artists.

Scotland at Festival Interceltique de Lorient from Creative Scotland on Vimeo.

"TV shows in France about Scotland and our musicians were broadcast to over six million people, and both BBC Alba and BBC Radio Scotland broadcast the focus to audiences at home.

"Several artists secured publishing and record deals and several agency deals. All those artists are still touring France to this day and Scotland also now has an annual presence at the Lorient festival. Return on Investment is 349% for our musicians."

While they differ in delivery, the output and message across all of these events is the same.

Ó hEadhra says, "we know that many delegates are blown away by the quality, professionalism and diversity of the acts they see coming out of Scotland.

"We want them to enjoy our rich traditions and languages of Gaelic and Scots as we do throughout the year.

"Ultimately we seek to build lasting friendships with these delegates.

"We want not only to export our artists to international markets but also to encourage collaborations and learn from artists of other cultures around the world."

This article was published on 19 Mar 2019