HAS it really been three decades already? Celtic Connections is celebrating 30 years this month. From its humble beginnings back in 1994, it has grown to become one of the linchpins of cultural life in Scotland and one of the lights in the darkness of the Scottish winter.

This year’s festival kicks off on January 19 and runs until February 5 in venues across Glasgow and boasts a programme as broad-ranging and surprising as ever, taking in everything from folk to Americana, and traditional Scottish reels to electronic reimaginings of Indian classical music (that will be Glasgow-based Indian musician Nakul Krishnamurthy who plays the Glad Cafe on January 21).

At a time when Scotland’s cultural health has never been more at threat as budgets are cut and cinemas and galleries are having to close, the importance of a festival such as Celtic Connections should be all the clearer. Which means it deserves our support.

So here are 10 shows at this year’s festival that are well worth your time. But there are dozens of others equally worthy of your attention. We haven’t mentioned Kris Drever or Kate Rusby or Karen Matheson or Kinnaris Quarter (and that’s just the Ks). In other words, view this as a mere starter pack.

Celtic Connections 30th Anniversary Concert Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, January 19 Kicking off this year’s festival with a suitably sizeable blockbuster event, this opening gala event offers a star-studded line-up drawn featuring artists from Scotland, Europe and America.

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Home girl Karine Polwart, American singer-songwriter Sierra Hull, Danish folk band Basco, Stornoway’s Peat & Diesel, the wonderful Rachel Sermanni, straight out of Carrbridge, and Edinburgh-born, Brooklyn-based harpist Maeve Gilchrist are among those appearing, alongside a superband originally brought together for 2021’s digital opening show.

All this and a few surprises thrown in. It’s like a belated Christmas selection box with all your favourite treats inside.

Fergus McCreadie The Mackintosh Church, January 20

The Mercury-nominated jazz pianist (and winner of last year’s Scottish Album of the Year award) is also appearing at the 30th anniversary concert, but if you want to get a concentrated dose of one of Scotland’s most promising talents this might be the better bet.

McCreadie is joined by the aforementioned Maeve Gilchrist and Mr McFall’s String Quartet in the splendid surroundings of a church designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh no less.

HeraldScotland: Rachel Sermanni,Rachel Sermanni, (Image: free)

Lucinda Williams Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, January 23

The American alt-country singer-songwriter is a true American voice; a bruised, beaten-up but unbroken thing. Or is that Williams herself? She’s lived a life, come through depression, an abusive relationship and a stroke, and she has written and recorded songs that have the weight of all that experience. Plus, she plays hard. Support comes from Nashville sibling quartet L.A. Edwards. Oh and Williams turns 70 a few days after the gig so make sure to wish her a happy birthday.

Afro Celtic Connections with Rise Kagona, Samba Sene & Diwan and Chief Chebe St Luke’s, January 27

A reminder that musically Celtic Connections has always been a broad church.

This African line-up includes Rise Kagona, founder and lead guitarist of the Bhundu Boys, much loved by John Peel back in the day (they even supported Madonna at Wembley Stadium in 1987). He is joined by Senegalese singer Samba Sene (now based in Edinburgh) and his fusion band Diwan who mix up funk, ska, rock and Afrobeats. Storyteller Chief Chebe rounds out the line-up. Cue that Jit Jive.

HeraldScotland: Callum EasterCallum Easter (Image: free)

Callum Easter CCA, January 27

Marc Bolan is alive and he’s Barry. Here at The Herald Magazine headquarters we love Callum Easter. His 2021 album System is a glorious Caledonian DIY take on glam rock and early rock ’n’ roll, barked out in his gravelly croon. As he told us at the time, “I wanted to make a party album, but then, lyrically, it’s maybe a party at the end of the world.” Here’s a chance to catch him live. In a better world he’d already be huge.

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Eliza Carthy & The Restitution Strathclyde Suite, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, January 30

Also celebrating 30 years in music, the grande dame of English folk, Eliza Carthy returns to Glasgow. The daughter of the late, great Norma Waterson, she’s a huge talent in her own right and has done much to help drag folk music into the 21st century (on her 1998 album she even dropped drum’n’bass beats into the mix).

Her latest album Queen of the Whirl saw her rerecord a selection of her songs as chosen by fans with her band The Restitution. “Folk music isn’t clean,” she told The Guardian last year. “It’s sexy and filthy and at the end of the night you fall over.” Sounds like the perfect night-out. Cornish songwriter and musician Angeline Morrison provides support.

HeraldScotland: Manu DelagoManu Delago (Image: free)

Manu Delago Strathclyde Suite, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, February 2

In recent years you are more likely to have seen Austrian handpan player and composer Manu Delago on stage playing with the likes of Bjork, Olafur Arnalds, The Cinematic Orchestra or Anoushka Shankar. But his latest Celtic Connections appearance is in support of his new solo project Environ Me, an immersive audio-visual project that sees Delago play live surrounded by screens. If you like your contemporary classical and ambient soundtrack to come with visuals this is the show for you. Throw in support from the innovative Scottish-Portuguese musician and artist SHHE (aka Su Shaw) and you have a must-see event.

James Yorkston, Nina Persson and The Second-Hand Orchestra Drygate Brewery, February 4

Collaborations you didn’t see coming, part ummm, 456. Take one Scottish singer-songwriter from the East Neuk of Fife, add a group of Swedish musicians always up for a spot of improv and then throw in a proper pop star in the shape of Nina Persson, erstwhile frontwoman of Baz Luhrmann-approved Scandipop band The Cardigans. Yorkston has followed up The Wide, Wide River, his excellent 2021 collaboration with The Second-Hand Orchestra, with a new album The Great White Sea Eagle, and asked Persson to share the vocal duties. Here’s the chance to hear (and see) how that mix works in the wild.

Fantastic Negrito Old Fruitmarket, February 5

That’s quite the name to live up to. But the three -imes Grammy winner Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz (which is itself a moniker to be reckoned with) is up to the task, as anyone who heard his last album White Jesus Black Problems. Inspired by his discovery that he had a Scottish ancestor back in 18th-century Virginia, the result is noisy, at times angry but always soulful. Live, by all accounts, he kicks it up another notch. Sounds like a great night out. Oh, and there’s the added bonus of the support act, Nashville’s Tommy Prine, son of John and no mean songwriter himself.

FRETS presents Hungry Beat CCA, February 4

Scotland’s indie past revisited. Recent book Hungry Beat, the story of revered Scottish indie labels Fast Product and Postcard Records, has now morphed into a live event with a band made up of indie stalwarts playing classics by the likes of Orange Juice, The Mekons and more. Tonight they are joined by a number of special guests, including Robert Hodgkens (aka Bobby Bluebell) and Ken McCluskey, Tam Dean Burn and James King. A chance to revel in all our yesterdays.

Visit celticconnections.com for more information and to book tickets