Sleepless nights at dream trad fest

Glasgow’s Celtic Connections draws performers from all over the world for 18 days of 24-hour music, says Nicki ffrench Davis

EACH year, Irish musicians travel to Glasgow for Celtic Connections. The 19th festival opens on Thursday and runs for 18 days. Specialising in once-off collaborations between performers, it is renowned for all-night sessions.

Singer Cathy Jordan has played there eight times fronting the trad supergroup, Dervish and The Unwanted. “It’s an incredible event,” says Jordan. “I often wonder what the bank manager said when someone told him they were planning a festival in the month of January that would be three weeks long and all Celtic music.

“But everything in the festival sells out and the atmosphere in the city is amazing. You don’t sleep until eight in the morning, or sometimes two in the afternoon.”

This year will be Jordan’s first visit as a solo artist, and she will launch her new album, All the Way Home, at the festival. “It’s my first solo album ever and I knew I didn’t want it to be just me without Dervish. I started out recording the songs I learned growing up from my parents and family. I got Roger Tallroth, from Sweden, to produce it and he breathed new life into the tunes.”

The album includes four new songs from Jordan’s pen. It features great traditional musicians, including Andy Irvine, Michael McGoldrick and Eddi Reader, alongside lesser-known talents such as lap steel/banjo/piano player Gustaf Ljunggren and tuba player Lars Andreas Haug, of Sweden. They will perform at the Celtic Connections gig.

Making her festival debut and representing the latest generation of one of Ireland’s big musical families will be Méabh Begley, from west Kerry, daughter of Séamus Begley. A music teacher of several instruments in Dingle, she will duet with her father in a concert titled A Song for Ireland, sharing a stage with Finbar Furey, Cara Dillon, and Eleanor McEvoy. “It’ll be a concert full of major people, I can’t believe I’m there myself,” Begley says. “My Dad and I are just in the process of working out what we’ll sing, there’ll be lots of things in Irish.”

It’s her first visit, but Begley knows what to expect. “It sounds like a big extravaganza, loads of music and madness and craic with all these wonderful musicians piled into one place,” she says.

Tim Groenland, of Dublin band The Gorgeous Colours, says Celtic Connections didn’t come on his radar until Sligo Live invited them to perform. An indie pop band who found favour with press and audiences in 2011, The Gorgeous Colours are fresh from supporting Lisa Hannigan and are knuckling down to writing a new album. “It looks like a fantastic festival,” says Groenland. “There’s some amazing people playing there, like Bonnie Prince Billy and the Average White Band.”

This year’s festival will welcome the return of young Sligo band The JPTrio, who won a coveted Danny Kyle award in 2011. Bringing jazz influences to bear on driving trad music, they were one of the highlights of Electric Picnic 2011 away from the big stage madness.

Banjo player with the trio, Ted Kelly is looking forward to returning. “We first went in 2010 to look at the acts. It’s hard to remember what was best, there’s so many all at the same time, but the festival club is probably the most fun. Last year, we went over to play in the concert hall for about 400 people, the atmosphere was brilliant even though the acts were really diverse,” he says.

The Danny Kyle Open Stage runs across 14 nights, giving a platform to 80 diverse acts chosen from several hundred applicants. It culminates in a finale showcasing six chosen by a panel of judges. “We didn’t know we’d got through until the last minute. It has been great for us, we got the Electric Picnic out of it and Stonehaven Folk Fest, as well as airtime in Scotland, RTÉ and TG4,” Kelly says. He is looking forward to seeing everything he can. He won’t miss Scottish trio Lau, who play two extraordinary gigs, one with the Northern Sinfonia and a second with legendary bassist and Cream co-founder Jack Bruce. He also recommends KAN, a quartet fronted by Brian Finnegan, of Flook, who will showcase music from their debut album, and the Punch Brothers, who have been likened to ‘a string-band version of Radiohead.’

* Celtic Connections runs until Sunday, February 5.

Picture: Scottish band Lau play two gigs

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