If it’s January, it must be Celtic Connections, and it’s the perfect way to blow away the new year blues, often with the blues. Arguably the world’s greatest roots music festival, it continues to offer up a programme which is quite extraordinary in terms of its scope, and we should not take that for granted.
This year is no different, and you can peruse the full line-up at your leisure, but before you do here are some suggestions as to what to spend your hard-earned on.
The first ticket I bought this year was for The Bathers, who are playing two nights at The Mackintosh Church. The Bathers have made some of my favourite records, music that’s on my ‘save from a fire’ list. If you’re not aware of their work you should change that situation, and once you’ve fallen for the songs be assured that they are even better live. It’s rare for them to play these days, so this promises to be something special. Here they are playing at the peak of their powers with ‘The Belle Sisters’:
Next up are two musical heroes from America who arrive in town in January, and who are making full use of the Royal Concert Hall. First up is the queen of Americana, Lucinda Williams. A friend, on seeing her for the first time, described her as “Debbie Harry meets Dolly Parton”, and that’s a pretty good description as she brings the attitude of punk to her country background. A singer who knows that of which she sings, this will be a memorable night of heartbreak and catharsis. Here she is with ‘Car Wheels On A Gravel Road’ from the album of the same name:
One of the great artists to emerge in the last 10 years is John Grant. Originally in The Czars, his 2010 album Queen of Denmark was my favourite album of that year and it still regularly gets an outing. Since then he has continued to make some of the most moving music imaginable. Like Lucinda Williams, Grant has had his own demons to deal with, and is not afraid to document these battles in song. And what songs they are. Playing the Concert Hall on the 26th (supported by Rachel Sermanni, so get there early) this promises to be another emotional evening with not a dry eye in the house. This, in case you are confused, is a very good thing indeed. Displaying his heaven-sent voice, here’s Mr Grant with ‘Sigourney Weaver’:
What a 2015 Kathryn Joseph had, not only winning the Scottish Album of The Year, but the hearts and minds of everyone who heard her music. You can hear three men wax lyrical about her on our recent Best of 2015 Podcast, but I highly recommend you see her live. And you can, at The Mackintosh Church on 24th Jan, alongside Gareth Dickinson. Between them they will conjure up a night of melancholic magic. This is from that SAY winning album, Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled, which, if you haven’t heard then you really are missing out on one of the finer things in life:
Celtic Connections often have headline grabbing events, but some of the best nights are to be found in the smaller venues and what goes on therein. The next two choices are great examples of this. James Yorkston will be well-known to regular readers of SWH!, and he is currently working as one-third of Yorkston Thorne Khan, who, together, could be described as the archetypal Celtic Connections band, with Yorkston’s folk background, Jon Thorne’s jazz credentials, and Suhail Yusef Khan a leading Indian sarangi player and singer. The three are at the Tron Theatre on 19th Jan, and it’s a great venue to see them in. Here’s a taste of what to expect:
Monogram is one of the most exciting musicians to emerge in recent years. A one-man electro-post-pop whirlwind, he uses his gifts to take the music in unexpected directions making him stand out in an increasingly busy, and noisy, electronic crowd. He layers instruments, vocals and other sounds and samples to create textured and complex songs which will have you trying to work out what’s going on, at the same time as you’re moving your feet with a big smile on your face. You can live that experience for yourself at The Hug & Pint on the 30th Jan, but in the meantime, here he is, with band, on a BBC Radio Scotland Session:
This week I have mostly been listening to the new EP from Jo Mango & Friends, Wrack Lines, and, as you would expect, it is utterly beguiling. Jo is always great on her own, as the solo track ‘The Sky Exploded’ proves, but few collaborate as well as she does. I’ll review Wrack Lines in a future music roundup (“it’s great!”, is the short version), but you can see her perform it live alongside Louis Abbott, RM Hubbert, The Pictish Trail and Rachel Sermanni at an evening called Fields Of Green: Songwriters Circle at Platform on the 21st, which I guarantee you will be one of the highlights of this year’s festival. Here’s an example of what awaits you:
While we’re talking about Louis Abbott, as we were, Admiral Fallow are appearing twice at this year’s Celtic Connections. First, as part of Common Grounds, at The Mackintosh Church on the 15th with new arrangements of old songs and accompanied by The Auricle Ensemble. At the Fruitmarket, on the 30th, they’ll be dipping into their now sizeable back-catalogue as well as playing tracks from last year’s Tiny Rewards, an album that should be on most discerning music lover’s ‘best of 2015’ lists. They’re supported by the excellent Hannah Lou Clark, so this is another gig to get there early for. From Tiny Rewards, here is ‘Holding The Strings’:
And while we’re talking about Admiral Fallow, as we were, I would make an appointment for the Mitchell Theatre on the 22nd where The Jenny Ritter Band will be more than ably supported by the ‘Fallow’s Sarah Hayes, whose 2015 album Woven remains a regular listen as the days of 2016 go by. Hayes was commissioned by Celtic Connections to make Woven, and the results are uplifting, moving and completely unforgettable. When folk music, or any music, is as vital and invigorating as that which Hayes makes, you can do nothing else but admire and enjoy. Stay for Jenny Ritter, of course, but I suggest you buy your ticket with Sarah Hayes in mind. Here’s just a taste of Woven:
It appears you either get They Might Be Giants, or you really don’t. Many people regard their smart, quirky pop as too clever by half, but they are wrong, and TMBG remain one of the most interesting groups of the last 30 years, constantly trying new things and surprising audiences. As if to prove that point, they are playing two gigs at the year’s Celtic Connections. One is their famous Family Show, which is designed for music lovers of all ages, at the Concert Hall at 2pm on 31st.
Later that night they’re back to do their normal show, if such a thing exists. With such a substantial and varied back-catalogue to choose from, it’s impossible to tell what will be played, and how. I’m really excited about seeing them live, (for the first time in many years), and, if you’re a fan, I imagine you are too. It’s just one of those special events that Celtic Connections continue to stage, and long may they do so. Here are the boys with ‘Ana Ng’:
I could go on and on, but the likelihood is that we would both end up skint. Suffice to say there are lots of other exciting events which you could attend, but if you do plump for any of the above, I may just see you there…