TAKE THE HIGH ROAD
Is there no end to our current obsession with all things Celtic? No sooner is Hogmanay out of the way, than the fourth annual Celtic Connections Festival kicks off. On the menu is a feast of ceilidhs, carousing, and cracking good music from around the British Isles and further afield, beginning with the world premiere of Phil Cunningham's Highlands and Islands Suite (15 Jan, 7.30pm).
The variety of music on offer ranges from vocal-based folk to Celtic- tinged techno. The musical schedule is complemented by a selection of workshops, exhibitions, talks and late-night revels.
Between Scotland's Capercaillie (Thur, 7.30pm) and Ireland's influential veteran folksters The Chieftains (right, 2 Feb, 7.30pm), the list of traditional players includes Gaelic singers, pipers and harpists. Global hybrids include Salsa Celtica; a Brit-Swede fiddle group, and North Sea Music, a sax, bagpipes, bass and fiddle combo from Scotland, Sweden and Norway.
Ireland's increasingly popular singers and musicians are well represented, with Paul Brady, Mary Coughlan, Brian Kennedy, Davy Spillane, Sinead Lohan, Sharon Shannon and Anuna (the Riverdance singers) all appearing in the course of the festival.
POP CELEBS, TOO
Among the folk-influenced, friends of fame are the rockin' Steve Earle (22 Jan); the sweet-voiced Eddi Reader (28 Jan); the rotten-toothed Shane MacGowan and the Popes (29 Jan); the legendary Emmylou Harris (3 Feb); and top bloke Billy Bragg, who appears with fellow socialist singer Dick Gaughan this Friday (17 Jan) at 7.30pm.
Auld Rabbie isn't forgotten during the course of the festival. His songwriting is the subject of a lecture by Dr Fred Freeman (21 Jan), and the Celtic Connections Burns Supper, with music, traditional menu and other entertainment, takes place at the Royal Concert Hall on 25 January.
If all of this jigging, reeling and lilting is beyond your comprehension, there's a myriad of workshops on offer. Most useful for your enhanced festival enjoyment might be Sheena Wellington's talk on how to "diddle" convincingly when you don't know the words to songs (25 Jan); the various ceilidh and step-dancing classes (who is this Flatley fella anyway?); and Robin Williamson's demonstration of the art of the seannachie (storyteller) - a useful skill in bars across the land.
But if you want to really impress your friends, you can learn how to decorate, and then play, a didgeridoo (19 Jan), or, if you have pounds 115 to spare, you can even build your own (little) harp (18 Jan).
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