Kris Kirstofferen and Paddy Moloney and the Chieftains performing at Celtic Connections in the Royal Concert Hall. Picture by Bill Heaney

By Hannah Innes

Internationally renowned as Europe’s largest winter music festival, annually welcoming over 2000 artists to take part in over 300 events, Celtic Connections was set to celebrate its 28th incarnation in 2021. However, as with the rest of the world, plans have been turned on their head as the global pandemic continues to take hold.

The Celtic Connections team, along with their funding supporters Glasgow Life, Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government, have put together a digital-first festival in response to the current situation and the effect this has on the way music fans must now consume live music and entertainment. Their planning has also taken into account the impact the pandemic has had on the livelihoods of musicians, technical crews, venue staff and indeed the whole creative supply chain and they plan to work with as wide a pool of industry specialists as possible to support the sector in any way they can.

Celtic Connections 2021, in its digital format, will present concerts using an online platform every night between Friday 15th January – Tuesday 2nd February 2021. Top quality performances will be available to view online across the 19 days with some of the biggest names on the Scottish music scene and beyond appearing on screens across the world as part of the festival.

With the full programme set to be announced in early December, Celtic Connections fans can expect to see an array of the most well-known and best-loved acts that have traditionally graced the festival stages.

The very best of Scotland’s roots music has always sat at the heart of this international festival that unites and collaborates with cultures and musical talent from all over the world. This long-established connection and cultivation of the Scottish traditional music scene, alongside the recognition that Celtic Connections is a key driver in the development of Scotland’s cultural sector, has informed the decision that this digital-first festival will have a particular focus on talent from at home here in Scotland. The festival will focus on creating unique digital content from specially commissioned projects and performances filmed across many of Glasgow’s much-loved venues. In doing so the festival will support and encourage the creative industries here to help protect Scotland’s rich musical legacy.

Aoife Scott, daughter of of famous Irish singer Frances Black and niece of singer Mary Black. Picture by Martin Shields

As a festival, Celtic Connections prides itself on its international relationships and year on year it extends a hand of musical friendship to artists and audiences across the world. Organisers have ensured that, although the majority of the line-up predominantly showcases homegrown talent, a number of international acts remotely filmed are also included in the line-up so that the essence of what the festival has grown to be truly about – connections, collaborations and relationships – is still prevalent in this new-era Celtic Connections.

Annually welcoming over 100,000 attendees to Glasgow, a UNESCO City of Music, organisers hope the festival’s digital-first programme will appeal to the wide international audience they traditionally see attending the festival. With the festival’s global audiences in mind, they have allowed for all shows to be available for a week after they are first streamed to alleviate any issues with different time zones enjoying the range of content.

Donald Shaw, Creative Producer for Celtic Connections, said: “Of course one of the hardest consequences of the Covid virus for musicians this year has been the loss of live audiences in venues, so like many festivals we have had to look to an alternative way of presenting the Celtic Connections experience. In a world where so much is unknown it is vitally important that as a sector, we do all we can to ensure the longevity of Scotland’s culture. Sharing our music and our arts is a vital part of our human existence, it connects us as a nation both at home and abroad. We owe so much gratitude to our funding partners who have supported our plan to put together a festival that embraces and showcases Scotland’s culture whilst supporting both the artists and the supply chain that keep this sector running.”

Councillor David McDonald, Chair of Glasgow Life and Depute Leader of Glasgow City Council said: “Now more than ever it’s important we do what we can to support live performers and artists who have lost their income entirely because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Celtic Connections has always been about coming together to share the experience of unique performances and fantastic music and I’m looking forward to being able to do the same again in January through the digital events they have planned. It is important for all the musicians taking part that as many people get involved in Celtic Connections 2021 and support them to keep performing so we can see them again live in the future.”

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop, left, said: “I take heart in these difficult times that Celtic Connections will return in 2021, and I would like to thank the team behind the festival for their vision and innovation. Celtic Connections has established itself as the beacon for Scotland’s traditional music, and I know its adaptation to a digital platform will still captivate audiences from across the world by bringing online performances and events into our homes.

“The Scottish Government has contributed £128,284 of EXPO funding towards creating unique digital concerts and performances, helping to support the fantastic Scottish and international artists who will showcase their work through this festival.”

Alan Morrison, Head of Music at Creative Scotland, said: “For almost three decades, Celtic Connections has brought the world to Scotland; in 2021 it will take Scotland to the world. All across the planet, Scotland’s traditional music is recognised for its distinctive character, the richness of its heritage and the sheer genius of our artists. Despite the challenges of Covid, next year’s festival will extend its reach by providing a platform for musicians itching to perform for audiences at home and abroad. With Glasgow’s venues and Scotland’s tech crews ensuring top-quality production values for every show, Celtic Connections 2021 is sure to be a celebration of everyone who makes live music possible – even in these troubled times.”

Ticketing information and the full programme will be released in the coming weeks. All concerts will be recorded while fully adhering to social distancing guidelines and all current government guidance will be observed and followed.

Celtic Connections ask that even in watching and enjoying this digital-first festival, all audiences adhere to the government guidance relevant to them at their time of watching.

Celtic Connections began in 1994, when its 66 events centred around one venue, the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, and welcomed 27,000 attendees. Since those early days Celtic Connections has become more adventurous, more experimental and more diverse and now annually welcomes over 100,000 attendees and over 300 artists to Glasgow for over 2000 events.  The diverse programme has traditionally included world-class concerts and one-off musical collaborations alongside talks, workshops, film screenings, theatre productions, ceilidhs, exhibitions, free events and late-night sessions.A huge range of musical genres are showcased across the festival, as well as genre-busting performances that defy any attempt at categorisation. This, alongside a host of special commissions and creative collaborations, have made the festival both distinctive and internationally acclaimed.




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