On a cold January night, one of the world’s music legends stood on the Fruitmarket stage and gave the audience a twirl in his kilt.

Former Talking Heads frontman, Dumbarton born, raised in Canada and by that time regarded as all-American hip nerd, David Byrne was an unlikely act to grace the programme of a traditional Scottish music festival.

Yet his kilted Fruitmarket appearance in 1998 would just be one of many unusual acts snared by Celtic Connections in 30 years of brushing away the post-festive hangover with nights filled with toe-tapping folk, roots and traditional music.

Preparations are now underway for the 2023 festival, the 30th edition of a gathering of trad, Celtic, roots and world music that, way back at the start, many never thought would last.

Instead, what started a smart idea to fill Glasgow’s shiny new Royal Concert Hall in the quiet post-festive period would go on to help change the way Scottish traditional music was viewed, propelling its artists from smoky rooms at the back of pubs and Highland village halls to a brand-new audience.

Although Scottish and Celtic traditional music and its performers were feted internationally at the time, here the spectre of the White Heather Club and Thingummyjig loomed large for many Scots.

Folk and traditional music was clinging on by its fingertips.

News of a festival celebrating Scottish music was hard to take in, even for musician Donald Shaw, one of the founding members of Capercaillie who would become among the first to grace the Celtic Connections stage.

“There was quite a lot of people in folk scene - including myself – who were quite surprised, in a good way, that folk music was being given that platform with shows in the Royal Concert Hall,” he recalls.

“At that time, most folk music was performed in small halls and folk clubs. To have a festival of that nature was really showing the best of Scottish folk music.

“People at the time didn’t know if it was a one off,” he adds. “It was only after it had run for a few years that people realised it was a constant, and it would be an annual festival.”

The first Celtic Connections was held in January 1994: the coming 2023 festival marks its 30th edition – a pinnacle moment for the festival as it recognises the advancements and achievements.

At the time it was a shadow of the mammoth event it is now, staging just 66 events across one venue and 27,000 attendees.

Now internationally recognised as a world-class event and having inspired similar festivals around the world, it has grown to over 300 events across 30 stages, with an annual attendance figure of over 110,000.

“It has grown arms and legs, with workshops, music tours around the city, music talks and an education programme,” says Donald, now the festival’s Creative Producer.

“I think that the biggest change is internationalism of the festival, the original would have been very much about Celtic arrangements, now it explores roots music from all around the world.

“Anything that has a strong folk, root or ethnic identity belongs in the festival.”

What happens off stage when the curtain falls, at impromptu gigs and jam sessions is as much a feature of the festival as the programme itself.

That aspect of Celtic Connections was particularly welcomed in the early days by Glasgow-based musicians like Donald.

“As a musician having played North America, Canada and Europe, often after gigs end up in bar having a session and meeting lots of other musicians,” he says. “It was nice to be able to do that in Glasgow, here on our own doorstep.”

The first programme saw Capercaillie joined by the Battlefield Band, The Chieftains, Kate and Anna McGarrigle and Irish American band, Cherish the Ladies in a festival that spanned 15 nights.

By its end, it had defied scepticism that a festival in the aftermath of the post-Christmas and New Year excesses and in a relatively new concert hall regarded as a stiff environment for classical music, was doomed.

Within three years, it was hosting 102 events and attracting 61,000 visitors.

By 1998, it was raising eyebrows and prompting questions over its trad music banner by welcoming the ex-Talking Heads frontman and one of the world’s biggest names: five time Grammy award winner, American singer songwriter James Taylor.

As the decades rolled by, the festival would entertain an eclectic mix of acts, from Boomtown Rat Bob Geldoff to Janis Ian, the Average White Band, who appeared alongside Michael Marra, to Welsh crooner Tom Jones.

At the same time, it is credited with helping to revive interest in what been a struggling folk music scene.

Duncan Chisholm, who will appear at this year’s festival to premiere his new album, on stage with a seven piece band, string ensemble and guests – he has not missed a festival since its launch.

“The festival’s growth has mirrored the incredible movement that has taken place within our culture here in Scotland these past 30 years,” he says.

“Celtic Connections and our traditional music scene are both exciting, expansive, collaborative and wide reaching. They both speak of the new found confidence we see growing within Scotland.

“Our traditional music is world class, our premier winter festival is world class also.”

While Gaelic singer Christine Primrose, says the festival has provided a platform to showcase what Scotland has to offer with regard to its traditional music scene. “Tradition is a moving point and in my own area of Gaelic song the songs are as relevant today as they ever were,” she adds.

Picking out memorable moments is hard because there are so many, adds Donald.

“Every year has thrown up its own surprises,” he says. “If I had to knock out a year, it would be 2009 which was felt really extraordinary.

“It was the first time we used the Hydro, it was the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, it was the year of Homecoming Scotland and we had a huge international festival to celebrate.

“It’s the musical moments that I remember. I open the doors, walk into a room and it’s like Narnia, there’s this amazing atmosphere.

“One thing that has been constant is that the audiences are always so inquisitive and welcoming and warm.”

One stand out event involved American folk and jazz artist Bobby McFerrin.

“Bobby did a solo concert and walked among 2000 children at the Royal Concert Hall and got them all singing.

“The expressions on their faces were magical. He was like the pied piper.

“But often some of the best times can be after the concert at festival clubs, when artists who have never played with each other before join together and you see a performance you will never see or hear again.”

This year's programme includes performances from acid croft rockers Shooglenifty, Gaelic indie trio Peat and Diesel alongside Haitian voodoo blues rock singer Moonlight Benjamin.

The city brings a vital ingredient that has helped make Celtic Connections a success, he adds.

“Glasgow has a fantastic appetite for music, it is a music city going back to days of the Apollo and Kelvin Hall and huge concerts there.

“Go to any pub on the corner and someone will be launching into song given half a chance and half a pint.”

He adds: “Our 30th edition is a hugely important moment for the festival.

“The last two years have been incredibly tough for so many musicians and the live entertainment industry in general, so Celtic Connections 2023 is an opportunity to commemorate how far the festival and the Scottish music scene has come, and to also celebrate the fact that we are still here.”

Celtic Connections runs from Thursday 19 January to Sunday 5 February 2023. Full details at www.celticconnections.com