Celtic Connections 2021: Dreamers Circus with Kathleen Maclinnes, Imar, Rajasthan

Various venues
23rd Jan

This evening’s Celtic Connections kicked off with a film from Copenhagen with Dreamer Circus, a Band from Denmark & Sweden. This three-man ensemble (accordion, fiddle and lute) set the stage for something really interesting with a soft expression of music of century’s old style classical blended with traditional folk.

In the aesthetics alone the wood of the instruments set a rich tone, especially in their phenomenally capable hands. They went straight into their second set which was called ‘Pentamime’, when they swapped guitar for piano. Capturing the sounds again and again as they took to a little experimentation with the themes of traditional music. Striking with the violin to delve deeper into its creative sounds. The bass piano tumbled on into a riff to catch our attention.

They went on to play five or so songs, all worthy of our attention and leaving us with a song called ‘A Room in Paris’; the City of Romance, it took all of the evening’s entertainment and put it all together in a short song that resembled mixed genres of music, this act was loveable.

Then the wonderful tones of Kathleen Macinnes paved the way for another outreaching moment of Gaelic splendour in the City Halls. Her song ‘Mo Renl Geal Chioin’ needed only 3 performers of vocals, piano and violin. In a flowery black dress set off in front of the large Celtic Connections banner the performance began softly and slowly with a sprinkling of sadness in her voice, her 3-song set of all Gaelic language lyrics had a poise to it even in its simplicity of numbers. In her 2nd number called ‘Mary weep no more/Till an Crodh’ we knew a little of what she was singing about.

Glasgow University Chapel came to life for the performance of Imar’s ‘Deep Blue’. We were entertained with a purely instrumental set performed by this 5-man band on the bodhran, pipes and guitar… Steeped in the Celtic traditional music of the hour, it felt beyond any kind of restrictive emotions rather transcending such living things while in-depth interactions were key. Making stories run thick and fast.

We were then transported to a great Eastern city (not sure which one) where a group of eight performers sat cross legged in a semi-circle, dressed in magnificent Indian attire of white or bright colours and plenty of jewellery. The sky behind them was the dark before dawn.

A lone female vocal immediately took hold of us and began singing as dawn appeared on the horizon. Then Asin Khan performed on a sindi sarangi, a bow stringed instrument sounding a little like a violin, as the sunrise revealed the city behind their rugs and fineries. The music played on regardless in a 25-minute meditation, exploring amazing and compelling interactions between the artist, writer and audience.

All so rich and powerful and inclusive, in the true spirit in which Celtic Connections thrives – the writing and sharing of glorious music that remains a universal worldwide language.

Daniel Donnolly



Celtic Connections 2021: Blue Rose Code

Glasgow City Chambers
20th Jan

The Celtic connections virtual experience 2021 continued with a film from the Glasgow City Chambers. It was an evening called ‘Blue Rose Code’ perhaps ironic as there is no such thing. It was set up with the support acts of Karen Matheson, Lyre, and Rory Butler. It was Lyre who first graced the room with their song called ‘Ondenual’.

This fresh three-person act entertained with lute, violin and cello. The lute led us in with beauteous melodic finger picking. As the rhythm took up pace a little the ancient feel of the piece was brought to life accompanying smiles and a flowery attire. Their second song ‘Stuart Ballantyne’s’ was a touching song about Stuart who after devoting his all to helping the public as a police officer he sadly passed from Covid 19. This tribute would have made him proud and reflective.

When Rory sang into what I think was the Glasgow Uni Chapel, he was alone which seemed fitting as so was his gorgeous act. He told us it was his first live performance for too long a time and so was very happy to be there performing for us. His down to earth (…very much) lyrics entwined with his immense and more than genuine performance as a sought after (and very young) traditional folk singer. Telling stories from his titles of ‘Linda’s Café’ and ‘That Side of the World’ about the gigantic injustice that gets bigger the further we leave our homes. He asked us all to love these strangers, as has been pleaded for in this year’s event and in the country it is from.

Karen Matheson’s accomplished music doesn’t ever let us down. Her song ‘A Bhirlinn Bharrach’, sung in Gaelic, a language that is a treat for syllables and pronunciation, introduced her to this year’s festival and her familiar singing voice. With a soft saxophone (that most universal of all instruments) the soft voice with soft brush drumming she approached the mic in a black dress fit for the great occasion. Her graceful presence was backed at times with a singer who sounded at once familiar and strange, with a cradle-like softness.

Karen picked things up with a jig song called ‘The Diamond Ring’ enigmatically stating a fickle hand of Lilly white, and ‘not for your noble name’ nor for your land’ did I wish to make it with you. After her dulcet tones had passed the said ‘Blue Rose Code’ took to the helm of the evening striding into their music as a band of fortune. Their gig (I’m not sure where it was) had the band back in the familiar setting of a concert of pure live music that Ross’s song ‘Starlit’ set the pace for us to look at things in life with a positive metal attitude, especially out of something chaotic like alcoholism.

The music of the band held up its own style and played with an accomplished entertaining as I’m sure there attended live concerts are. But they held up a light to issues with Ross always turning it on its head to urge positive thinking. His honesty of lyric had its own charm, as he described his enlightening and potent experience in ‘this side of the world’.

The Blue Rose Code were the main act, taking around eight song; songs that expressed a great blend of having a good time and of reflecting, of slow beats and fast. Offering a wide range angle of a concert, with an ever-enjoyable list of themes all of which he found resulted in love and a power of peace. Never more noticeable than in their cover of the beautiful ‘Amazing Grace’ he sang like a soul singer from the 70’s and like a rock performer enjoying his band behind him.

Their final song of the evening was called ‘’Grateful’. It was another chance for them to shine as all the instruments joined in to a finale song to set the heart on fire and the vocals a’roasting. His words go from nearly being dead to being grateful (themes spanning the world through Celtic connections). All out electric guitar solo, piano solo, sax solo, singing with the power of soft and loud and low and high. Like getting to the top of a mountain and celebrating the peace at the top. I feel very much involved in this year’s virtual event and can only think of what’s next.

Daniel Donnolly


Celtic Connections 2021: Blazin’ Fiddles – Xabier Diaz, Gnoss and Deirdre Graham

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
22nd Jan

The now familiar 3 min countdown is like taking your seats and settling into the promised revels of the evening. Graham Rory of the 5-piece band; Gnoss (a very old word loosely meaning word of the day) had a huge smile for us as he introduced the first song of their set from the City Halls. Equipped with flute, violin, bodhran, fiddle they began with a song called ‘Laurel Cottage’, an enigmatic song with no vocals that told a story anyway. They produced a soft dancing rhythm, followed in ‘Sea Widow’ with a slower but no less beautiful melody. They had good energy and are known for lively music choosing their own version of Jimi Hendrix song ‘Voodoo Child’ with an amazing focus on making it a very traditional folk number.

The coming together of music was now in its full flow, half way down the river. With artists performing far and wide expertly enhanced by the performance of Xabier / Diaz with Anfeiras de Saltire. Xabiers music came to life in the song ‘Primeiro’ (‘First’), appropriately their first song. This was music that reached right into life with 5 or 6 backing vocals who also all had the adufe percussion instrument in their arms – the adufe is a traditional instrument of Moorish origin.

Gaelic songstress Deirdre Graham talked us in with her Gaelic tones to her song ‘Air Fair an la’ her’ and her band played to the empty Royal Concert Hall in a very relaxed way. I felt a sense of simplicity, richness, with a strident feel for the old language that sang in the fresh songs. The musicians supported her, as she owned centre stage. She gave us four songs all in Gaelic, within a great variant and suggestion of the wide world of traditional Celtic music.

The title act called ’Blazing Fiddles’, also filmed at the Royal Concert hall, began with a set of three music pieces together named ‘The Shepherd and the Goat Herd’/’Anton McKinney’/’Double Rise’. With a violin directing a jig to come, exciting the room. The six musicians playing 4 violins, keyboard, guitar gradually joined into some great traditional dancing rhythms. Music that we cannot help but be held raised up with joy.

In their 5-tune set of non-lyrical music about just being back at the Connections, using stories from Scotland in the shape of landscapes looking like noses and heralding the famous Loch Ness monster. Set 2 called ’Strone Point/Anne Lacey’s’ was a chopped-up series of pieces, faster and slower. It was the universal side of music, that helps us engage ourselves in the grandeur of the occasion, changing mid tune to stride the pace further quickening to suit its feeling.

Their song ‘Call her Mum’ was a slower piece of light fiddle and accordion then piano then guitar. Bringing a full melody, in smart dress of black and dark red. It was like a lullaby to be superseded by a great sailing piece called dramatically ‘Vladimir’s Steamboat/Young Alumnus/Tunder Jukebox’, a lively experience involving all six performers.

Their last set was called ‘Annie’s Waltz/John McDonald of Coll view/Annie Grace Henderson/Picnic in the Sky’ had them set to take flight with smiles and a little jigging. It’s slight and measured sadnesswas one of peace and warmth as again each instrument joined the tunes in the layered traditional build-up of the music. Using faster and slower paces to express themselves and play well together.

We were left with a picnic in the sky, where we have the greatest food. Not to be missed, this year’s Connections travels on.

Daniel Donnolly


Celtic Connections 2021: Come Away In

Glasgow City Chambers
18th Jan

To a backdrop of more images of Glasgow, this evening’s Celtic Connections performance began. Entitled ‘Come Away In’, the inspiration came from a Burns poem called ‘The Wren’s Nest’ in which themes of welcome and hospitality are explored, themes which are very strong in Glaswegian, indeed in Scottish, culture, including the idea of refugees being offered warmth and shelter and an open door.

The evening was filmed in Glasgow’s City Chambers with a handful of musicians, the first to perform being Karine Polwart who kicked off the proceedings with her gorgeous vocals straight from the generosity of her heart. Her song ‘Come Away In’ offered up lyrics dedicated to the Burns poem. There was even a sense of humility as she led the song being joined by the reserved folk music that the other artists joined seemingly at will.

Her second song ‘Travel These Ways’ she told us was a commission written during 2020 as part of her work for the ‘Luminate’ festival. She works all around the country and beyond with dementia and other problems writing songs at will. Her compelling lyrics and persona were enhanced with piano, guitar and some backing vocals, usually for chorus harmonies, bringing forth big issues.

That was the reason behind what Eddi Reader called her project, using the most powerful medium of music and lyrics particularly to give a voice to proceedings. Findlay Napier’s first song ‘There’s More to Building Ships’ was no less straight and powerful, not to mention wonderfully skillful vocal ups and downs. The firm issue for this man’s song was on the world-famous heightened world of ship-building in Glasgow, and its problems of pay being pennies for the men who worked there.

All of the 13 or so songs had these powerful messages and meanings. These were clearly held by all participants in the evening’s music, as they plunged into their individually written pieces of music.

The evening was so well produced to clearly be everything that it was intended to be through really great music and storytelling complementing an often sad tale of injustice towards Scottish society with artists ready to tell facts about a heinous Glaswegian history.

Siobhan Millers tale in her song ‘The King’s Shilling’ was about what had happened to men in Glasgow and beyond, she coloured it with tragedy and pain in her heart. She told us that the story goes that Scottish men were tricked into joining the army to go and fight and die in a war. The serious levels were mirrored in her second song ‘Pound a Week Rise’ about unfairness and heartbreak for coal miners who after breathing soot weren’t even paid well or fairly.

Eddi returned, Karine returned, they all returned to perform and while they shifted between, they sat around with each other if not involved then simply listening. Rab Noakes, an experiences folksong writer, also based his provocative music on his extensive travel particularly in America. His songs added a traveller’s point of view.

And Eddi Reader’s sultry and powerful voice, style and honesty as a well-known performer blew the roof off with her powerful messages in a song called ‘My Hometown’ about coming home to her own heart as a Glaswegian saying that after a need to escape from it to the moment where she finds it her hometown that she has now come to love.

This was after a performance of an inspired song she wrote called ‘Prayer to Saint Valentine’. Of unbelievable beauty that she almost shone to create.

Findlay had the last word with his deep voice and capable song writing leaving us with ideas such as daylight ghosts that walk around and all for the love of god. The artists were relaxed in putting forward these issues and problems in the world and society of Glasgow and Scotland.

Beautiful voices, leaping into the cosmos of real and traditional yet modern song writing. So well produced as to be something of great value from personal pain and societal outrage.

Daniel Donnelly

Celtic Connections 2021: The New Scots

BEMIS presents ‘The New Scots’ in concert
16th Jan, various venues

After more footage of Glasgow, the performances from 16 January were brought to us by BEMIS, a Glasgow based organisation who promote and empower ethnic minority communities on a national level. They give voice to these communities using a mixture of music, song and storytelling.

The first act, from ‘The New Scots’ was Subrina ‘Brina’ Ward, an artist of African origin from the hills of Jamaica. Brina is renowned for her ability to uplift every audience who have had the chance to see her. Accompanied by her band (guitar, vocals, accordion), her song ‘Be Ready’ offered nothing less than strong vocals and powerful lyrics as it told of the resolution of life in readiness. Her second song, Nina Simone’s ‘Ain’t got no, I got life’ was a chance for her to offer her interpretation in her velvety tones.

Brina and all the acts were ecstatic to be involved in this year’s festival of joyous international collaborations. The third act hailed from Eastern Europe played the old and modern ‘Polka’ in a three-man band who swapped instruments including, violin, accordion keyboard so alive and celebratory. But our current circumstances were driven home. They announced that to their great distress the virus had claimed the life of their great friend and top accordion player. Their final song, ‘Doina’ was dedicated to his memory.

The joy of being involved in this year’s festival was well seen as Danny Cliff played his self-written song ‘Sunset’. With just his voice and a piano, already an endearing combination, his song reminded us of life’s more precarious moments when there is nothing to do but accept.

When Katie McGuire gratefully thanked the festival for her chance to be involved, she introduced Ceilidh music from her band, St Roch’s, who were a trio. The traditional Scottish dancing music was skilfully enacted in its swirling movements and close knit interactions.

And so, as the screen fell to Cosmic Shruti Box, the four musicians sat as a group on the floor. The performance began soulfully with the sound of Tibetan singing bowls of various sizes, enhanced by sitars and hand drums. The spiritual rhythms felt like light rainfall, warm and enthralling. There was an amazing amalgamation of cultures, Indian, African, Celtic with a portrayal of the musical ups and downs of the various societies, In the song Emma Stout’s voice blended Celtic Scots with Indian and rose to greater and greater depths as the music warmed and developed.

When you hear music like this it seems like all you are is there in the power of here and now. I sat here on my own, in my living room, with my laptop in front of me, and throughout the hour I was no less drawn to these wonderful performances and happy encounters.

CELTIC CONNECTIONS 2021: Opening Concert

There were poignant scenes of famous Glaswegian architecture, leisure facilities and craft hubs on offer in the digital introduction to the first evening of Celtic Connections 2021. We watched as a single piper strode up Buchannan Street, being joined one by one by other pipers whose number grew to about 8. They climbed the street to the Royal Concert Hall, into the entrance and into a performance. It was a moment of pure Scottish style for all involved both in front of and behind the camera.

After this splendid introduction, the Celtic Connections 21 Big Band immediately struck up a rendition of ‘Mackerel & Tatties’, an upbeat instrumental version of Michael McGoldrick’s traditional Irish song, before the festival’s Creative Director, Donald Shaw welcomed us with a message of sombre hope and of lifting of spirits for the beginning of 2021. The accompanying footage took us to venues both in the home base of Celtic Connections of Glasgow and further afield where the fires of music have not been dimmed. Indeed there was a great sense of happiness and anticipation from the musicians of just being able to get back to what they love.

The third performance by Karine Polwart was of a song by Robert Burns from a poem of his called ‘Come Away In’. In earnest Karine sang about the bard’s desires to shelter everyone and anyone from stranger to friend. The song opened up the show and the Scottish hearts to the warmth of connections.

There were performances in the main hall of the Royal Concert Hall, at the Glasgow Art Gallery, as well as other venues big and small. I noticed Eddi Reader providing backing vocals. In each performance, musicians had all kinds of instrument from violin, flute, pipes and there were often ones that though I could tell they were string for example the actual name and date of them was beyond me, very much like the music and vocals in Frenchand Gaelic.

From the Big Band of 21 members, down to ensembles of three or four, we were surrounded by unmissable variation from plucking music from the Far East joined with the traditional Celtic stream. Performers would take turns leading in vocals and solo’s on instruments as we were taken through styles and genres. Music of differing speed, topic, intention. All a celebration that covered sad tales or lively good ones to dance sing and revel to.

All in all it came to 17 performances. 17 acts that were familiar or strangely unusual. Performance 5 had the French group La Vent Du Nord who sang their own folk song in an upbeat tempo, ‘Aieu du Village. And then there was the beautiful flute-inspired ‘Farewell to Nova Scotia’ singing about Canada from far away. The Art Galley with its huge premises had Duncan Chisolm on violin playing solo but then backed by The Scottish ensemble playing a tune called ‘A Precious Place’ a fitting title that went with a beautiful spiritual song.

Then the act called Sona Jobarteh came with her wonderful multi instrumentalist music of love and hope, an African style that included the Kora instrument. The 17 acts endlessly streamed from one walk of life to another, selecting clothing to represent each ones cultures, Sona with the most colour and gold. Racy costumes with racy enlivening music. A good time for having a good time, some nice places that this time we had to use our imagination to be in. I am grateful for the wonderful imagination of all in this first session and I am very much looking forward to the next.

Daniel Donnolly