Category Archives: 2021

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


www.celticconnections.com