Today saw the launch of one of the great festival success stories in Scotland, Glasgow’s Celtic Connections.
Running from January 17 to February 3 next year, it will celebrate its 20 years of success with another packed programme featuring Salif Keita, some high quality Transatlantic Sessions, Aimee Mann, Old Crow Medicine Show, concerts at the Barrowlands and Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, amid numerous other highlights.
I'm looking forward to hearing and seeing the brilliant Nic Jones, whose recorded version of Rufford Park Poachers, a favourite folk song, is probably the best (alongside James Yorkston’s stellar version)
Here are some words from Donald Shaw, musician, member of Capercailie, and artistic director of the festival, who shared his thoughts with me on this year’s line-up.
On this year’s programme:
“I have tried to move away from the idea that the festival has a natural headliner, because it can take away from people looking for what is going on elsewhere. That doesn’t mean I am turning anyone down, but that the festival needs to be an expression of the breadth of what is going on out there. This year I have tried to look a little bit more at what the festival was in the very first place, in terms of its 20th anniversary. It is still enjoyable to programme, this is my sixth.”
On the chance of a memorial concert for Michael Marra, singer and songwriter, who has just died aged 60:
“I wouldn’t like to get in the way of anything done by his family, so it might take another year or so. It may be too soon for the family. It would also be nice to do it really well, because I think there are people who would travel far and wide to be there for him. I’d like to be able to mark it somehow, but we shall see.”
On English folk music at the 2013 festival:
“It’s such a strong scene. I think what’s nice as well is that 10 years ago, there was very much a ‘them and us’ thing, but I think that was more to do with the fact that Celtic music was seen as a different scene. But there is much more of an integration of artists now, you'll find projects where English and Scottish artists are working together all the time, and they’ve realised essentially they have a lot of these old songs in common. I went to see The Unthanks concert, their songs from the shipyards, and two or three of those songs were Clyde songs as well, so there’s really not that makes the difference. I think, stylistically, some artists like Seth Lakeman, for instance, have crossed into the mainstream and it doesn’t seem like such an unusual culture. It’s a natural thing for us.”
On new and unusual venues, the Barrowlands and Kelvingrove:
“It’s not the first time for us at the Barrowlands but it is the first for a very long time, it must be ten years. We're doing two nights there: the Old Crow Medicine Show and The Beatstalkers, who were bigger than the Beatles in their day, which is kind of insane. They were a big deal and had great records. Our ambition, really, is for 2014 to programme something in the new Commonwealth Arena and [new Glasgow venue] The Hydro. The Hydro looks great, and I know some people who have been in there and they have got their act together sonically, it’s not just a big box.”
The news this week that Creative Scotland are to reform, or at least look at reforming, their current vaguely-worded funding streams and portfolios, and re-emphasise the respected specialist knowledge of some of its key staff, reminds me of a similarly doomed attempt by the British Council to abandon art form-specific departments in 2008.
I am, of course, told we will not see a complete reversal to the organisation of the old Scottish Arts Council. That’s not possible. We are looking at rerform, not revolution. Creative Scotland is a different, hybrid, beast, and also encompasses things like film which the (suddenly now very popular) SAC did not deal with. But that’s the direction these changes are heading. They are not quite ready to pack up and move back to 12 Manor Place, but some of the popular things about the SAC may be creatively re-visited.
As far as changes at Creative Scotland are concerned, the statement (written clearly and with not a single mention of ‘investment’, only ‘support’ and ‘funding’) is only the start. There will be considerable movement by the New Year, and could be catalysed even further by the two artist meetings, the first in Edinburgh this Friday, the second in Glasgow next week.
(Speaking of next week, I am off on annual leave, so there will be no blog update and, hopefully, less tweeting. I am off down to London, and hope to see Glasgow artist Luke Fowler’s Turner Prize show and the other short listed work, some Pre-Raphaelites and the Victorian Avant-Garde, and the photography show at the Saatchi Gallery, among other things - any recommendations welcome. I'll report back soon.)
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