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Celtic Connections 2021: Top Picks of the Festival

Celtic Connections 2021 kicks off this week with a digital-first programme for the annual winter festival. 30 world-class performances will take place over 19 days, including some of the biggest names on the Scottish music scene and beyond. Creative Producer, Donald Shaw shares his top picks for this year's festival.


Donald Shaw

14 Jan 2021
5 minute read

Cahalen Morrison performs solo whilst being filmed in the centre of the Old Fruitmarket. The old signage and blue fairy lights of the Old Fruitmarket surround the scene.Cahalen Morrison at the Old Fruitmarket. Image Credit: Gaelle Beri

This is the first time that Celtic Connections has gone online in its 27 year history and I hope that you will join us for our digital-first festival, whether for one, many or all of our shows through our 'All Access' ticket. Our line-up includes performances filmed in Glasgow’s much-loved venues, as well as international artists who have recorded performances remotely. 

This year's festival has provided optimism amongst fellow musicians, as they were given a safe space to play again and embrace their creativity. The shows will offer much entertainment to the loyal Celtic Connections audiences during the dark nights of January - so check out just some of my recommendations and join us for the best folk, roots and world music around. 

Tickets can be purchased for individual shows or all 30 concerts via an 'All Access' ticket (£40) - visit for more information.


1. Celtic Connections 2021 Opening Celebration Concert

A variety of musicians play their instruments whilst distancing on the stage at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. The Celtic Connections logo is lit up on the backing stage curtain.Celtic Connection 2021 Big Band at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Image Credit: Gaelle Beri

Opening in unparalleled style, the first online concert from the festival will include sets from some of the very best musicians on both the Scottish and international music scenes. With over 12 performances packed into the 90-minute show, the footage has been recorded across many of Glasgow’s venues as well as captured remotely across the world, bringing a true feeling of optimism and connection as it welcomes back so many musicians who have graced the festival stages across the years. The opening night (Friday, January 15) will feature the Celtic Connections 2021 Big Band (pictured above), Duncan Chisholm with the Scottish Ensemble, Ímar, Fiona Hunter, Kinnaris Quintet, Le Vent Du Nord and many more surprise guests.

2. Come Away In with Karine Polwart, Eddi Reader, Rab Noakes, Siobhan Miller & Findlay Napier

This special show, entitled Come Away In, will air on Monday, January 18. Inspired by Karine Polwart’s song of the same name that celebrates Scottish hospitality and is partly inspired by The Wren’s Nest by Robert Burns, this song circle show will include performances from some of the best vocalists on the Scottish music scene - Karine Polwart, Eddi Reader, Rab Noakes, Siobhan Miller & Finlay Napier

3. Breabach | Aidan O’Rourke 365 | Rachel Newton | Bassekou Kouyate | Katherine Priddy

Four musicians are seated by their instruments - grand piano, violin, harp and singer - on the stage at City Halls.Aidan O'Rourke and band at the City Halls. Image Credit: Gaelle Beri

Scottish folk group Breabach will perform as part of the show being aired on Tuesday, January 19. Part of Aidan O’Rourke’s 365 show will also be aired where he will once again be joined by Kit Downes. Singer and harpist Rachel Newton (winner of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Musician of the Year in 2017) will also perform songs from her new album To the Awe. One of the true masters of the ngoni, an ancient traditional lute found throughout West Africa, Bassekou Kouyate will perform with his quartet of fellow instrumentalists Ngoni Ba, recorded remotely in his home village of Garana in Mali. Brummie folk musician Katherine Priddy will also perform as part of tonight’s entertainment.

4. José González

The late-night show on Sunday, January 24 will come from the legendary Argentine-Swedish singer-songwriter José González. After an unusually long break from live shows and recording of a new album for release later this year, José González will join in with an exclusive solo performance from a special venue in Gothenburg, Sweden.

5. The Conundrum with TRYST and Project Smok

Three members of PROJECT SMOK play their instruments - drum, fiddle and guitar - on stage at St Luke's with the dramatic backdrop of a grand organ and stained glass windows.Project Smok at St Luke's. Image Credit: Gaelle Beri

Thursday, January 28 will welcome a night of piping with The Conundrum 2021 - a line-up of pipers that includes Finlay MacDonald, Ross Ainslie, Malin Lewis, Ailis Sutherland, Conal McDonagh, Bradley Parker and a band of Steven Blake, Steve Byrnes and David Foley. Also joining this bill are Tryst, the 10-member band of pipers. The neo-trad trio Project Smok (pictured above) will open the night of entertainment with many tunes built around the distinctive piping of BBC Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2020 Ali Levack.

6. Roaming Roots Revue with Special Guests

Three musicians from The Staves stand perform in the main hall of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in front of the museum's stunning organ which is lit up blue and purple.The Staves at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Image Credit: Gaelle Beri

Starting at 9pm on Saturday, January 30 will be Roaming Roots Revue with this year’s theme aptly being Songs for Survival. The renowned festival favourite will welcome an all-star line-up of Simon Neil of Biffy Clyro fame, indie/art rockers Field Music, Ricky Ross and Lorraine McIntosh (Deacon Blue), folk trio The Staves (pictured above), experimental triad LAU, singer-songwriters Heir of the Cursed and Rachel Sermanni, all beautifully accompanied by the inimitable house band of Roddy Hart & The Lonesome Fire.

7. Dean Owens with Joey Burns (Calexico) | Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi | Kris Drever | Cahalen Morrison

The later show on Sunday, January 31 comes from Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi. They will be supported by Orkney singer-songwriter Kris Drever (Lau), Americana singer Dean Owens who will perform alongside Calexico’s Joey Burns, Cahalen Morrison will complete tonight’s bill.

Celtic Connections 2021 takes place from Friday, January 15 to Tuesday, February 2. The ‘All Access’ ticket to view all the concerts is priced at £40, with tickets for individual shows also available - visit for more information.