Celtic Connections 2015: Director Donald Shaw picks 10 highlights

Celtic Connections musical director Donald Shaw highlights 10 of the most interesting events from the 18-day festival, which begins on Thursday night.

Opening Concert 'Nae Regrets' - Martyn Bennett's Grit - Thursday 15 January

Image copyright Martyn Bennett Trust
Image caption Martyn Bennett's final album, Grit, was hailed as a groundbreaking piece of work

Martyn Bennett's final album Grit was created while he fought against the cancer that eventually led to his death at the age of 33. He died a decade ago but the ground-breaking blend of traditional Scottish songs and electronic beats he created has grown in influence in the years since.

The opening concert is a reconstruction in a live performance at Glasgow's Royal Concert Hall of an album created by one innovative and driven young man using samples and electronic production equipment in a recording studio.

Violinist and composer Greg Lawson has assembled a hand-picked orchestra of folk, jazz and classical players and will take about 80 musicians to realise Bennett's vision live.

Celtic Connections musical director Donald Shaw says: "The idea, when Greg and I talked about it, was to bring out the strong human nature to the performance. It is really exciting for the players to get their teeth into something so unusual."

An Evening with Mairi Smith and Friends - Friday 16 January

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Donald Shaw says: "About 25 to 30 years ago, when I was just starting to tour with Capercaillie and I was listening to tapes of various singers, I stumbled across a tape that had been recorded in New Zealand of Mairi Smith.

"She was living out there at the time and I just loved the earthy quality of her voice and the ornamentation and the style of her singing."

Mr Shaw adds: "Lewis has had some great Gaelic singers, the late Ishbel MacAskill would be one and Christine Primrose, and I think Mairi has something very special about what she does.

"She is very reclusive in terms of performance so this was a coup to get her to come and sing at the festival.

"She will be joined by a host of singers who are fans more than anything - people like Julie Fowlis and Triona and Maighread Ni Dhomhnaill from Donegal.

"It should be a great night of Gaelic song."

Angelique Kidjo - Saturday 17 January

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Donald Shaw says: "Angelique is one of the great ambassadors for music in Africa, particularly from a woman's perspective. She's had an incredible career.

"Stylistically she is one of those people who have taken traditional song and brought it into the contemporary idiom musically.

"She probably found real fame about 10 years ago with an album that she created that was almost like James Brown arriving in Africa.

"The grooves, along with songs, were so hypnotic.

Mr Shaw adds: "She's got an amazing voice. It is very powerful, earthy and worldly.

"This is a very special occasion, her coming to perform with the orchestra.

"It is quite an unusual collaboration between a classical orchestra and African song."

'Crossing the Minch' - The Music of Pipe Major Donald MacLeod MBE - Saturday 17 January

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Pipe Major Donald MacLeod MBE, who died in 1982, was perhaps the 20th century's greatest bagpipe composer.

He was born in Stornoway in 1916 and served throughout World War Two - once reportedly escaping capture by speaking Gaelic.

After the war he published seven collections of tunes and influenced a new generation of pipers.

To celebrate his legacy, pipers such as Calum MacCrimmon, John Wilson, John Mulhearn, James Duncan Mackenzie and Rona Lightfoot will perform his tunes.

According to Donald Shaw there is not a traditional musician playing today who does not have one of the tunes Donald MacLeod in their repertoire.

Ganesh & Kumaresh with Trio AAB and Patsy Reid - Saturday 17 January

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Donald Shaw says Ganesh and Kumaresh are two of the finest violinists working in India today.

They are of the classical Indian violin tradition which, he says, is similar in musical style to the pibroch in piping.

Mr Shaw says: "They both have a theme and then variations over a long time, so one piece of music might last 15 or 20 minutes."

He adds: "It is a very beautiful hypnotic style of playing, absolutely world-class.

"If you have a love of instrumental music in any form you will love Ganesh.

"In this concert they are joined by Trio AAB which is Phil and Tom Bancroft, two great jazzers from Edinburgh on sax and drums, and Kevin Mackenzie on guitar.

"Indian classic folk music with Scottish jazz, what could be more eclectic?"

Le Vent du Nord - Saturday 17 January

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"Le Vent du Nord are now a festival favourite having played at Celtic Connections a number of times," says Donald Shaw.

"The music of Quebec has strong Scottish and Irish connections. It is great vocal chants and vibrant instrumental music."

Mr Shaw adds: "They are just a four-piece but one of the biggest sounds you will ever hear from a four-piece.

"The concert is going to have special guests including British singer Emily Smith, accordionist from Ireland Sharon Shannon and a string quartet.

"I'm sure by the time the concert starts they will have picked up a few other musicians so it should be a great night."

Criolo with Withered Hand - Wednesday 21 January

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According to Donald Shaw, Criolo started off as a poet/storyteller in north east Brazil.

He says: "He came out of the favelas, from nothing, and started to turn up at guest nights around Rio and Sao Paolo. He has become very successful."

Donald Shaw describes Criolo's style as "quite soulful, folky hip-hop".

He says: "We have teamed him up with one of Scotland's great song-writers, Dan Willson, better known by his stage name Withered Hand.

"They are going to do something together and also do their own sets."

Wired to the World - Saturday 24 January

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Donald Shaw says: "We are always trying to accentuate the connection between our own Celtic music and the rest of the world and this is a classic night in that sense."

The concert features two African artists - Cameroonian singer Coco Mbassi and Songhoy Blues from Mali - along with Irish flautist Michael McGoldrick and Treacherous Orchestra, one of the great success stories of the past decade for young musicians who have come up through the folk scene.

Donald Shaw says it is "unusual" for Celtic Connections to put an event of this sort in the main concert hall rather than a club venue but "it shows the stature that these artists have now achieved".

The McCrary Sisters with The Campbell Brothers - Wednesday 28 January

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The McCrary sisters are true siblings and classic gospel singers from the American South.

Donald Shaw says: "They have a fantastic lineage back to the great African gospel singers and, as well as their own material, they will cover a lot of the classic old-time gospel songs."

The Campbell brothers, meanwhile, are "one of the greatest slide-guitar acts in the world".

Shaw says: "They play lap-steel guitars and for that night they are going to do a special performance for the 50th anniversary of John Coltrane's classic album Love Supreme. Again, a pretty eclectic night of music."

Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino - Friday 23 January

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Canzoniere are a vocal group from Northern Italy.

Donald Shaw says: "It is interesting because the Celts as tribe did spend quite a bit of time in Northern Italy and you can hear that in their music. It has Celtic flavour. They are very strong harmonic vocal songs and rhythms."

Appearing on the same bill is South African vocal group Complete. They will do a performance of their own and a collaboration will a couple of Gaelic singers.

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