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Celtic Connections festival launches 25th programme

Published: 24 Oct 2017

Celtic Connections

The Celtic Connections festival will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2018. In true Celtic Connections style, the festival will feature an ambitious and eclectic line-up of musicians from all corners of the world who have been invited to take to the Glasgow stage early next year.

The festival will run from Thursday 18 January to Sunday 4 February 2018. The 18 days of entertainment will brighten up the dark, wet January nights with a mixture of concerts that will include a host of one-off musical collaborations alongside talks, workshops, film screenings, ceilidhs, art exhibitions, free events and late night sessions.

When the festival began in 1994 doubters couldn’t believe the “sheer audacity” of festival organisers to plan an event of such length and scale during the month of January, when purse strings were pulled tighter and people were more inclined to batten down the hatches on the dark dismal nights than head out into the night to attend a gig, especially a folk gig!

Not only were the timings described as wrong but so also was the venue, the festival was centred round the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall which was described as “too formal, too plush, too posh for the essentially scruffy, laid-back creature that is folk music.” From these initial scepticisms and the various doubters the Celtic Connections festival grew at an unprecedented rate, increasing from 66 events in one venue with 27,000 attendees in 1994 to 172 events across 11 stages with 50,000 attendees in 1997 to now putting on over 300 events across 26 stages and an attendance figure of over 100,000.

Celtic Connections celebrates our shared musical traditions and shines a light on the brightest new stars- Emma Campbell, Creative Scotlandemma

Not only has the Celtic Connections festival grown in terms of events, stages and visitors’ attending but it has also grown significantly in terms of the music that it showcases, the genres it embraces and the international artists it welcomes. Celtic Connections 2018 will embrace music from the past to music of the present and will look ahead to the future of an increasingly experimental and exciting music scene.

With this year’s line-up and one-off collaborations the festival will show how much Scotland’s music scene has changed over the last 25 festivals, with ever increasing musical styles and cross genre fusions of jazz, classical, folk, world and electronica.

Celtic Connections

Donald Shaw, Artistic Director of Celtic Connections, said: Since the inception of Celtic Connections in 1994 the Scottish music scene has developed and diversified hugely. When the festival began there was still significant compartmentalisation of genres, which although has its place at times, has become less prevalent over the years. The influence and inspiration that the traditional music scene has had across the whole musical landscape in Scotland and worldwide has helped to make the journey of Celtic Connections all the more adventurous and exciting.

“As an internationally renowned festival we continually strive for better and the 25th edition is no exception. Audiences will be treated to performances from some of the best artists from across the world and an array of unique collaborations and an eclectic mix of world music.”

Councillor David McDonald, Chair of Glasgow Life, said: “Celtic Connections has been a leading light in Scotland’s cultural calendar for 25 years and I would like to wish them a very happy 25th anniversary! Since its modest beginning Celtic Connections has firmly established itself as a destination of choice not only for lovers of folk and traditional music but also for anyone who wants to embrace outstanding music from across the world.

“Every year audiences from around the world also flock to Celtic Connections, some who have attended every year since the festival’s inception. We look forward to welcoming these audiences back to our city in 2018 and the outstanding musical talent we’ve come to expect from this globally renowned festival.”

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “Scotland has a rich heritage of traditional music and storytelling. For 25 years, Celtic Connections has built a stunning Trad folk and world music festival that promotes Scotland’s reputation as a nation of creativity and musical excellence, attracting music lovers from far and wide.

“As we enter our Year of Young People in 2018, Celtic Connections continues to support young people through their educational programme and provide opportunities for young musicians to perform and learn from other, more experienced artists. This is a festival of celebration that welcomes the world to Glasgow, confirming Scotland’s status as an open, outward looking country.”

Emma Campbell, Music Officer, Creative Scotland, said: It’s a wonderful thing to congratulate Celtic Connections on its twenty-five years as an integral part of Scotland’s music scene.  The festival celebrates our shared musical traditions and shines a light on the brightest new stars. Celtic Connections offers a world-class stage and wildly enthusiastic audiences to top performers from home and friends from across the globe.

"It’s particularly exciting to welcome Ireland as the festival’s international partner in 2018. This partnership with Culture Ireland builds on a strong affinity between our countries, with joint ambitions to share our music with the world.”

Festival highlights

Following its debut at the opening concert of Celtic Connections 2015, the GRIT Orchestra will perform another world première at The SSE Hydro during next year’s festival - a grand-scale live version of Bothy Culture, the late Martyn Bennett’s second album that is celebrating its 20th release date. The show will feature a special appearance by Scottish stunt cyclist Danny MacAskill whose performance will be inspired by his 2014 film The Ridge (which has been viewed 55 million times on YouTube) and sound tracked by Bennett’s track ‘Blackbird’.

Bennett’s music has again been arranged for orchestra by violinist Greg Lawson, who also conducts the performance. Comprising of around 80 leading folk, jazz and classical musicians, the GRIT Orchestra will be a unique ensemble and an embodiment of Scotland’s diverse contemporary music scene, a scene that Bennett himself helped pave the way for. Skye’s Niteworks will open tonight’s show; the young quartet is well known for inciting festival and dancefloor euphoria, splicing traditional tunes and instrumentation with symphonic synths and colossal beats.

American singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin will celebrate 20 years since the release of platinum-selling A Few Small Repairs and its recent re-release in a newly expanded edition at Celtic Connections 2018. She will be joined by her full band as well as acclaimed husband and wife duo Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams, who will also open this show.

Shetland’s Fiddler’s Bid will headline a Main Auditorium concert at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Having formed playing lunchtime sessions at high school, Fiddlers’ Bid share a bond going back more than 25 years and since day one their island’s unique musical heritage has been at the core of what they do. The band will be joined at Celtic Connections by Finnish seven-piece Frigg who are similarly led by four contemporary champions of proud native fiddle traditions. Audiences can expect a mix of Nordic-hued Shetland tunes, both old and brand new, laced with Québécois and east European flavours. Reprising their monumental encounter at last summer’s Kaustinen Folk Festival, on Frigg’s likewise fiddle-rich home turf, both bands will play individually before a roof-raising joint finale.

Celtic Connections

Described as being one of the world’s greatest female singers, Mali’s Oumou Sangaré returned from an eight-year recording break in 2017 when she released her album Mogoya - marking a bold step away from previously recorded material. Featuring French production trio A.l.b.e.r.t. and iconic Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen, the album couples her phenomenal voice and traditional Wassoulou roots with dynamic dashes of rock, funk and soul, together with edgy dance grooves, while retaining the powerful social commentary for which she’s also renowned.

Just over 25 years ago, an 18 year old Kate Rusby gave her first solo public performance at Holmfirth Folk Festival – fifteen solo albums and four BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards later and Kate’s shining star continues to rise. She will be joined at next year’s festival by some special friends.

In 1998, Bruce MacGregor assembled a selection of Highland and Island fiddlers, spotlighting distinctive regional styles, for a one-off two-week tour that showcased an array of young talent. It is from here that Blazin’ Fiddles was born. The line-up still includes Bruce, alongside Jenna Reid, Rua MacMillan, Kristan Harvey, Anna Massie and Angus Lyon – retaining the founding format of multiple frontline fiddles, plus powerhouse piano and guitar. This 20th anniversary show will feature ex-Blazers Duncan Chisholm, Aidan O’Rourke, Catriona Macdonald, Iain MacFarlane, Allan Henderson, Marc Clement and Andy Thorburn.

In 1988, Levellers co-founders Mark Chadwick and Jeremy Cunningham met in Brighton pub The Eagle and discovered their mutual musical tastes and political views. Fast forward thirty years and they remain one of the UK’s most passionate live acts, and also the most fiercely independent – booking their own gigs, recording on their own label and running their own Beautiful Days festival. Their heartfelt punk-folk sound and anti—authoritarian stance earned them a string of gold albums during the 1990s, and amid today’s political climate they’re still as relevant as ever. Fans old and new can watch them at Old Fruitmarket as part of Celtic Connections 2018.

In a unique world premiere Celtic Connections will present a night of symphonic arrangements of Gaelic repertoire under the title of Òrain nan Gàidheal: Songs of the Gael - featuring The BBC SSO & special guests. This show, taking place in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, will feature much loved and renowned Gaelic vocalists including Kathleen MacInnes, Julie Fowlis, Karen Matheson, Robert Robertson, Isobel Ann Martin, Kim Carnie and Mischa Macpherson.

England’s Frank Turner turned his focus to a primarily acoustic based solo career in 2005 after the demise of his former punk-hardcore band Million Dead. With a devoted fanbase via six studio albums and a touring schedule not for the faint hearted, Turner is working towards his seventh album which he will showcase at next year’s festival. Describing his new material as “a radical departure” from his previous solo work, Turner has centred his new album on classic soul and EDM influences.

In the words of The Mavericks’ frontman Raul Malo, alluding to current US and world events, “No matter what’s going on, you can still shake your ass”. While their new album Brand New Day features some pointedly topical lyrics (“building walls between us doesn’t fix a thing”), these new songs will have Celtic Connections audiences dancing the night away in the Old Fruitmarket this January.  

In the breath-taking surroundings of City Halls Gaelic songstress Julie Fowlis will perform her spine-tingling new album alterum. With supernatural themes subtly intertwined with the new material, Julie performs the songs in her native Gaelic as well as in English and Galician, with harmony vocals from Mary Chapin Carpenter, Muirean Nic Amhlaoibh and Gillebride MacMillan, all accompanied by Julie’s customary brilliant live band.

Alabama-born sisters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer have each enjoyed separate, equally successful careers that have grown out of their shared Southern musical roots. Their first ever joint recording came in 2017 when they collaborated on the album Not Dark Yet. Celtic Connections audiences can enjoy the material from this new album in the iconic City Halls.

The Celtic Connections 25th Anniversary Concert will take place on the opening night of the festival and will embody all of these elements. This show will be a celebration of artists who have performed at the festival over the years. There will be a few familiar names joining in the celebrations, including Tryst, Saltfishforty, Cherish the Ladies, Eddi Reader, Sharon Shannon, String Sisters, Kris Drever, Ross Ainslie & Ali Hutton and many more!

Celtic Connections once again gets the chance to test the Barrowlands dance floor with the return of West coast folk-rockers Skerryvore who will play the historic venue on the first Saturday of the festival. This multi award-winning band will be supported by We Banjo 3, two sets of brothers from Galway who have shot to international fame with their multi-instrumentalist performances of traditional Irish, old time, and bluegrass music that they call Celtgrass.

The quintet Lord Huron’s unique spin on US indie-folk sets tales of romance and tragedy amid harmonised, reverb-heavy soundscapes. With all of their work based on imagined characters dreamed up by Michigan-born frontman Ben Schneider, who seeks inspiration from Western adventure novels and Kurt Vonnegut’s writings, this is sure to be a memorable night in Glasgow’s O2 ABC.

Fusion of genres and unique collaborations

Chris Stout & Catriona McKay will perform with King Creosote, Scottish Ensemble and a selection of special guests.  Following their new duo album Bare Knuckle, Shetland fiddler Chris Stout and harp trailblazer Catriona McKay will host an unprecedented meeting of disparate musical worlds, highlighting their myriad of musical adventures over the past 7 years. As a duo Chris and Catriona consistently challenge what traditional music is and their performances and collaborations take the music to a whole new creative level. This concert will feature Fife indie-folk troubadour King Creosote, as well as top contemporary string orchestra Scottish Ensemble. Another of the night’s guests, the astounding São Paulo vocalist and body-percussionist Marcelo Preto, reflects Chris Stout’s continuing exploration of Brazilian music, since his Brazilian Theory project in 2010-11. Centred on the new Bare Knuckle material – almost entirely self-penned – the show will feature a variety of groupings within the line-up, together with full-ensemble arrangements.

The hugely popular Roaming Roots Revue will return once again for Celtic Connections 2018. In its 6 year history this cross-collaborative concert has never paid tribute to one single artist, until now. The untimely passing of one of America’s greatest song-writing icons will see this show make an exception with a gala concert in honour of the music and magic of Tom Petty. Roddy Hart curates an all-star transatlantic cast of emerging talent, with expert backing from house band The Lonesome Fire. The line-up includes Natalie Prass, Nerina Pallot, Susanne Sundfør, Joel Plaskett, Lera Lynn, Leeroy Stagger, Sierra Hull, Cory Chisel and Adriel Denae, Pictish Trail and Alela Diane.

At the turn of the century one of Scotland’s most popular progressive folk acts was born, Croft No.5. The band was made up of eight young talents who introduced a highly influential fusion of trad, funk, world and EDM elements to their music. All having gone on to play with other bands or develop other careers, John and Misha Somerville, Barry Reid, Somhairle Macdonald, Paul Jennings, Adam Sutherland, Duncan Lyall and Innes Watson will revisit their headily precocious youth two decades after they formed for this one-off Celtic Connections show.

Bringing together six leading contemporary folk talents, sharing fruitfully diverse backgrounds, The Secret North began with five days’ intensive workshopping in a remote Highland studio last summer. Scotland’s Ailie Robertson (harp) and Donald Grant (fiddle), together with Jarlath Henderson (uillean pipes/whistles), Karen Tweed (accordion), Norway’s Sondre Meisfjord (bass) and Swedish/Norwegian mandola ace Marit Fält all contributed new original compositions, charting fresh common ground between Celtic and Scandinavian tradition, jazz and classical music. They will showcase this cross-collaboration at the Old Fruitmarket as part of next year’s festival.

Accordionesse is a new international quintet of leading contemporary accordionists and composers who are creating new music exploring the contrasts and common ground between Celtic, Nordic and Baltic traditions, as well as each player’s wide-ranging artistic travels. The band comprises of Tuulikki Bartosik (Estonia), Hannah James (England), Teija Niku (Finland), Mairearad Green (Scotland) and Karen Tweed (England/Ireland) with Accordionesse fusing a range of influences together that encompass tango, musette, Balkan, electronic and Americana sounds.

Hailed as ‘a perfect concert’, Hannah Peel - Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia & Tubular Brass - Tubular Bells is a unique performance of the seven-movement suite written by Hannah that charts an imagined octogenarian’s odyssey from Barnsley to out space. The music sets Hannah’s hauntingly delicate voice amid analogue synths, vintage instruments, found sound and for this performance a massive horns support section in the shape of Tubular Brass, an innovative ensemble formed by Scotsman Sandy Smith to develop brass-band music for contemporary audiences.

The Isle of Eigg 20th Anniversary Ceilidh will take place as part of next year’s festival. Starting with the Scotland-wide fundraising campaign to support its community buyout, the Hebridean island of Eigg has attained totemic status in Scotland and beyond, both among advocates of land reform and local self-determination, and for staging one of the country’s most (in)famous annual revels, the Anniversary Ceilidh which marks ‘Independence Day’ each June. The 2017 event celebrated 20 years since Eigg’s inhabitants became its owners, as well as subsequent achievements including the island’s own renewable energy supply, here the festivities continue with a reprise of last summer’s line-up –  who all have close Eigg connections - featuring Pictish TrailDàimhJa’Ma’Tha Ceilidh BandMassacre Cave and DJ Dolphin Boy.

International and Americana

Uniting the celebrated talents of Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan, I’m With Her is set to be an unmissable shows in the Celtic Connections 2018 line-up. Their amazing voices, top-rank instrumental skills and superb songwriting spans the spectrum from beautiful ballads to crowd-pleasing footstompers. Alongside existing originals, covers and traditional songs, they’ve also begun writing together and have just released their first EP Little Lies.

For more than 40 years, the legendary singer, guitarist, bandleader and impresario Juan de Marcos has been a linchpin figure in the evolution and popularisation of his native Cuban music. Having co-founded the great Sierra Maestra in 1976, he oversaw that line-up’s eventual expansion into the Afro-Cuban All Stars. Today’s multi-generational, 17-piece All Stars draw on at least a century’s worth of Cuban sounds and styles, from vintage son via Latin jazz to hip-hop, matching master musicianship with red-hot passion. A moving night of music is guaranteed with Juan and the Afro-Cuban All Stars in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on the first Monday night of the festival.  

Tennesse native Sierra Hull, aged just 19, is a star on the rise on the Americana scene. When Béla Fleck, Alison Krauss, Rhiannon Giddens and Abigail Washburn all guest on a young artist’s album, it’s time to sit up and take notice. A former child prodigy on mandolin, Sierra spread her wings with her third album in 2016, the Grammy-nominated Weighted Mind, which showcased her as a vocalist and songwriter of equally exceptional talent.

Approaching their 30th year, Swedish trio Väsen continue to win rapturous acclaim throughout the folk world and beyond.  Väsen have worked with acts as diverse as the Danish String Quartet and Snarky Puppy, and have most recently excelled themselves once again with their recent 17th album Brewed. Audiences can enjoy Väsen in the breathtaking surroundings of the Mackintosh Church.

Born into one Africa’s richest musical cultures – home to some 450 different ethnic groups - the music of Congolese artist Jupiter Bokondji, together with his high-octane band Okwess, reaches beyond its popular conga and soukous sounds, mixing myriad lesser-known styles and rhythms with funk, soul and rock, while urgently addressing his homeland’s post-colonial travails.

US trio The Lone Bellow, featuring three vocals, two guitars, mandolin and keyboard, have rapidly climbed the Americana rankings since their self-titled debut album in 2013. Their heartfelt, soulful, gospel-tinged sound is acutely heard in their most recent album Walk Into A Storm and their passionate live shows are sure to impress the Celtic Connections crowd.

New venue announced

Celtic Connections is delighted to announce that for their 25th anniversary they will be using the Pavilion Theatre for the very first time. From Thursday 1 February to Saturday 3 February there will be three special shows taking place in this iconic venue. The first night will be a very special night remembering the life of the late great Michael Marra in words and music. Straight off the back of their sold out Barrowlands show earlier this year west coast favourites Skipinnish who will perform with special guests. The final night at the Pavilion will welcome the Ceilidh King himself, Fergie MacDonald who will be interviewed by Take the Floor’s Gary Innes about his life on the stage. Fergie will perform in the second half of the show with a host of special guests.

Stramash 25

To celebrate their 25th Anniversary Celtic Connections will partner with more than 20 organisations worldwide to create a live and online interactive session involving folk musicians of all ages and all instruments.

There will be a synchronized musical session lasting at least an hour featuring pre-arranged Scottish tunes and songs hosted in various halls and spaces with live audience interaction across the world - including The UK and Ireland, France, Spain, Scandinavia, Italy, Germany, Canada, USA, India, Brazil and Malawi.


More than 11,000 children across Scotland will take part in Celtic Connections Education Programme through five free morning concerts and school workshops led by leading musicians.

The Education Programme has reached more than 200,000 children across the country since it began in 1999. This programme is supported directly by membership fees from the festival’s Celtic Rovers patron’s scheme, the membership option during the festival that offers discounted rates on bookings and exclusive experiences during the festival.

There will once again be the ever popular programme of public workshops that will give people of all ages and opportunities the chance during the festival to learn new musical skills and have fun along the way.

International Conference in Partnership with RCS

A conference exploring the teaching and learning of traditional music in higher education on an international scale will be staged as part of Celtic Connections 2018. The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Celtic Connections and Glasgow UNESCO City of Music have joined forces to host the three-day conference during January’s festival. The international conference will explore the future of traditional music education.

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Celtic Connections are world-renowned organisations that share a passion for excellence and distinctiveness as national and international ambassadors for traditional music in Scotland. The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is one of the world’s top three institutions for performing arts education. Scotland’s national conservatoire is also celebrating the 20th anniversary of its ground-breaking BA Scottish Music degree, recently transformed as the BMus Traditional Music – the only Bachelor of Music programme dedicated to traditional and folk music in the UK.

Showcase Scotland

Showcase Scotland will return for the last weekend of Celtic Connections when musical directors and programmers of leading festivals and venues from around the world will attend performances by Scottish songwriters, bands, and musicians as part of the Showcase Scotland weekend. The concerts, along with a trade fair, provide invaluable opportunities for Scottish musicians to gain new worldwide opportunities thanks to this leading industry delegate event.

Ireland as Showcase partners

Each year, Celtic Connections partners with a country to help create new international links and advance opportunities for their musicians. For 2018, Ireland is the selected country and Celtic Connections is working in partnership with Culture Ireland to present both leading and emerging Irish artists at the festival. The Irish acts who will perform at the leading music industry event that is Showcase Scotland are: Aoife Scott, Daoiri Farrell, Wallis Bird, Notify, Young Folk and Lorcán Mac Mathúna.

Funders and sponsors

Glasgow City Council and Creative Scotland continue to provide invaluable support to Celtic Connections. The festival is delighted to announce La Bonne Auberge as a new sponsor for the 25th Celtic Connections.

Maurice Taylor, owner and founder, La Bonne Auberge said: “For the past 25 years, Celtic Connections has promoted a stunning array of musical talent and styles, helping to put Glasgow on the map as a destination of choice for music lovers across the world to visit our great city. With La Bonne Auberge located directly across from the festival’s original launch venue, we have always enjoyed a great partnership and now we are very happy to become a key sponsor during this year of celebration.”

Culture Ireland, the agency responsible for the promotion of Irish arts worldwide, is supporting the participation of some of the best emerging and established Irish artists at this year's festival.  

Media Partners the Sunday Herald, Evening Times, The Herald and Heraldscotland.com continue to provide in-depth preview and review coverage of the festival. The titles provide valuable support to up-and-coming talent performing at Celtic Connections, with the Sunday Herald supporting the festival’s New Voices commissioning strand, and the Evening Times supporting the Danny Kyle Open Stage.

ScotRail has supported Celtic Connections from the beginning, bringing artists and audiences from all over Scotland to Glasgow for the festival. 2018 continues Celtic Connection’s travel sponsor partnership with Caledonian MacBrayne, Hebrides and Clyde Ferries.

The BBC has supported Celtic Connections since its very first year and the festival is pleased to collaborate once again with BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 3 who will all be broadcasting live throughout the festival.

Glenturret Whisky will sponsor the Drever McCusker Woomble concert at the Old Fruitmarket on Friday 19 January.

Belhaven will sponsor Elephant Sessions at the Old Fruitmarket on Friday 2 February.

Tickets will be on sale from 10am on Wednesday 25 October 2017. The festival will run from Thursday 18 January to Sunday 4 February 2018.