Celtic Connections forced to scale back international flavour as 2020 programme is unveiled
Problems securing visas for overseas artists, the dwindling strength of the pound against the dollar and uncertainty over the impact of Brexit on the event have all been blamed for a strategic decision to reduce the “scope and ambition” of the 25-year-old event.
In an exclusive interview ahead of the 2020 programme launch, creative producer Donald Shaw admitted a “more careful and apprehensive” approach had been taken to ensure future stability.
He said the event had decided to transfer responsibility for securing visas and work permits to artists and performers to reduce its own levels of financial risk.
Mr Shaw spoke out two years ago to express fears that Celtic Connections may have to become less international in nature due to the impact of Brexit and growing evidence of a clampdown on visa requirements to enter the UK.
Last year it emerged that some African acts were pulling out due to the “hassle and stress” of trying to get permission to play at the event.
Mr Shaw insisted there had only been a slight reduction in the overall size of the festival next year and pointed out the addition of new venues like Kelvingrove art gallery and the Tramway arts centre.
The festival has scaled back American acts in particular, although Iris DeMent, Sturgill Simpson, Anais Mitchell and Tommy Emmanuel are all confirmed in the 2020 line-up.
Other overseas acts include West African outfit Les Amazones d’Afrique, Malian singer-songwriter Fatoumata Diawara, Portuguese Fado star Ana Moura and Quebecois group Le Vent Du Nord.
However Mr Shaw said: “The international element of the programmer is going to be around 20 per cent smaller.
“We’ve had to be more careful and apprehensive in our planning and in the scope and ambition of the next festival.
“We still don’t know what the hell is going to happen after 31 October. We don’t know whether we are going to be hit by any visa issues affecting European or Irish musicians.
"So it’s going to be a slightly smaller international programme next year, by around a fifth. The drop in the value of the pound against the dollar has been a killer for us in terms of bringing acts in from the US.
“If we take an international act on we are now putting the onus on them to deal with their own visas, work permits and travel budgets. That is really safeguarding us against the unknown.
“For some artists, that has made it almost impossible for them to come. It is not such much an issue about individual countries, it is more about whether an individual artist is prepared to take the risk.
“If there is a positive side to all this, we will be celebrating Scottish musicians more until the unknown is known again.”
Meanwhile gala concerts inspired by the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath, the 70th birthday of Bruce Springsteen, and the legacy of the late Glasgow-born poet and song-writer Ivor Cutler will take centre stage at next year’s festival.
The Scottish Government has awarded the festival £100,000 for a “Freedom” themed curtainraiser, featuring former Scots Makar Liz Lochhead, to commemorate the signing of the declaration of Scottish independence sent to the Pope in 1320, which it described as "one of the defining moments in Scottish history."
The funding will help pay for six folk, jazz and classical musicians - Fraser Fifield, Rudi de Groote, Catriona McKay, Paul Towndrow, Patsy Reid and Chris Stout - to create new work for the 80-strong Grit Orchestra, which debuted at the festival four years ago.
Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “In the year of the 700th anniversary, it is also particularly fitting that the centrepiece will be a symphony celebrating the Declaration of Arbroath. With funding from the Scottish Government’s EXPO fund, this performance will help to raise the profile of one of the defining moments in Scottish history.”
Composer and conductor Greg Lawson, leader of the Grit Orchestra, said: "To be really free we need to be equal, we need to be diverse, we need to be open, we need to care. You could say we are taking the declaration and turning it into an appeal: for tolerance, diversity, openness, respect. That's what freedom actually means."
Originally formed to revive the work of the late musician and composer Martyn Bennett, it will also perform some of his best-known material at the Barrowland Ballroom.
The Royal Concert Hall, the festival’s headquarters, will be taken over for a day-long celebration of the culture of islands and coastal communities across Scotland. The festival has secured £30,000 in funding from government agency EventScotland to host a showcase expected to provide the launchpad for the first official "Year of Coasts and Waters" tourism campaign.
A showcase of Scandinavian culture, an all-star celebration of “women in piping,” and an orchestral Burns Night concert featuring guest singers Eddi Reader and Karen Matheson will be part of the 18-day festival, tickets for which are on sale from 10am on Thursday.
Cherish the Ladies, Salsa Celtica, Rura and Manran will also be hosting their own anniversary celebrations at the festival, which will also be staging 80th and 90th birthday celebrations respectively for the singer and broadcasters Archie Fisher and Jimmie MacGregor.