Bringing it all back home

What do musicians from Brittany, Nashville and the Galicia region of Spain have in common? Kenny Mathieson traces the roots that nourished the Celtic Connections music festival in Glasgow.

When Van Morrison claims that, ‘l have a theory that soul music originally came from Scotland and lreland,‘ we really shouldn‘t scoff. Van the Man may be given to expounding some flaky notions, but in fingering the farming out of Celtic peoples across the world as a contributor to mainstream American music, he is definitely spot on.

Whether the Celtic influence is actually the great granddaddy of soul music is debatable. but there’s no doubting the influence of Ireland and Scotland on just about every significant comer of American music. The waves ofemigration in the 18th and 19th century cam'ed their indigenous musics over the iAtlantic, and began what is now a complex and ultimately inextricable web of incestuous matings.

lfthat all sounds a little sticky, it is a subject which still needs a massive amount of research and documentation. The Celtic connections are real enough. but every time we make one, it seems to breed another layer of complexity in the long. strange development of music.

Although much of Central and Eastern Europe was homeland to the Celts. and much of their music has close connections with our own, we tend to think of Celtic music as the traditional or folk musics (these are not synonymous, either) of Scotland, Ireland, and Brittany. with Wales. Cornwall. Galicia and suchlike comers of Celtic culture thrown in.

Outposts of development in places like Canada

Celts at heart: Kathy Mattea from Nashville and loreena McKennit from Ontario

(Cape Breton and Nova Scotia) and America

(bluegrass. country, folk) have been seeded by the old world. and have grown as exotic adjuncts to a central tradition. or fused with all manner ofother

influences to produce a bastard tradition of their own.

That is a handy model for anyone trying to put together a festival like Celtic Connections. since it allows pretty much anything which takes your fancy. So we get Loreena McKennitt jetting in from Ontario (check the cute little airplane diagrams in the

: programme). and Kathy Mattea from Nashville.

; which isjust line. because. as Van Morrison might

I put it. that old Celtic Ray has been there already.

Identifying what Celtic music is. however. is a musicologist's nightmare. You won‘t find an entry for it in the reference bible New (irm'r' Dir‘rimmry of Music (other than as a liturgical tradition). and arriving at wide-ranging technical definitions for a music which developed in highly individual fashion in isolated communities is almost impossible.

There are common factors in tune structures. rhythmic patterns (often derived from dance) and the use of five. six and seven-note scales. But if it is hard to pin down the broad defining characteristics of the

national traditions (although you can hear the

differences quite clearly). how much more difficult is it when styles differ from region to region. or even village to village'.’ And now with musicians from different traditions increasingly working on collaborative projects. the basic ingredients in the cultural melting pot are ever harder to identify.

Me. I‘ll pass. and cast my vote for inclusiveness. There is one potentially useful link pulling all these divergent forms together which is neatly defined by the brilliant Irish musician. composer and scholar. Micheal () Stiilleabhain, who suggests the essence of Celtic music lies not so much in what it is. but in the way it is created.

‘The most important thing is the technique of making it.‘ he says. ‘At the heart ofthe music- making is something which is in the fingers of the players, or in the throat of the singer. Traditional music has to come out of an actual meeting of bodies in space. of people communicating. and it always has

. that immediacy and roots and warmth as a result.‘

Celt/1' Conner/inns is u! l/lt’ Glasgow Ruvul ('(mr'erf

Half/mm 'l‘lim‘srlav 5~Sumltrv 22 ./(lllll(ll'_\'.

was made to launch a major celebration of Celtic music in January, the darkest month of the year.

Celtic Connections 94 was an

: of France is Celtic, there’s llova

' Scotia, the Irish in America anywhere with Scottish and Irish roots. Why are we putting on Big Vern

one last year, but we washed our face. We feel we should leave the promotion of the totally traditional in the hands of the experienced, small festival

Big and brave

For the second year, the Celtic world is to gravitate to Glasgow during Celtic Connections - more than two weeks of music, dance, conversation and art. Conceived by Cameron Mclllcol, director of the Glasgow lloyal Concert Hall, after a trip to the annual Festival lntercelthue in lorient, Brittany, it is an attempt to fill a ‘dead’ spot in the venue’s annual programming. And so, the unprecedented and brave decision

astonishing success, largely due to the unusually effective upmarket advertising and editorial coverage. What was essentially folk music had never been so prominently promoted. The Festival's director of public relations Ian Bone explains what sort of music falls under the Celtic Connections banner. ‘Anything with a Celtic influence or anything that has a similar sound or feel, but comes from a related ster of music. We’re very aware that people feel Celtic means Gaelic, but we think more in terms of the western seaboard of Europe. A lot

22 The List l6 December l994—l2 January 1995

’n’ the Shootahs? Well, it’s Friday the thirteenth and it’s for fun. Something

that the Festival barely touches on Scotland’s real traditional music, he says: ‘We have to stand on our own two feet. We are not supported by the

of that sort of music, commercially, the market is very small. it’s very much a niche market and we work to

be commercial. We make sure things add up and make a profit - not a great

light. We don’t want to be too serious.’ Asked what he makes of the criticism

Arts Council for this event. So in terms

such a tight budget that things have to

organisers and the folk clubs.’

The future of Celtic Connections now seems assured, with advertising and sponsorship money attracted to its success, the addition of a major new venue, the Hospitality Inn’s vast Grand Ballroom, and ticket sales up sevenfold from the same time last year. Already, the Rankin Family and Eleanor McEvoy are close to selling out and enquiries are flooding in from all directions. ‘We got a call the other day from a travel company in Dallas,’ says Bone. ‘They want to organise a group booking.’ (Norman Chalmers)