WE’RE heading towards mid-January, and, in Glasgow, that is cause for tremendous excitement among music lovers. For two-and-a-half weeks – between January 19 and February 5 – the city will be taken over by Celtic Connections, the biggest international folk roots festival in the UK.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the festival is as astonishingly diverse in its programme and as friendly in its welcome as it is vast in scale. Curated by its celebrated founder and creative producer (and founder of the famous Scottish folk band Capercaillie) Donald Shaw, this extraordinary musical showcase has grown to the point where, this year, it will feature more than 2100 musicians in more than 300 events including concerts, ceilidhs, talks, art exhibitions, workshops and free offerings.

The festival takes over venues large, medium-sized and small across Glasgow, from the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall and The Old Fruitmarket, to Tramway and Drygate. The amazingly broad programme includes, of course, Celtic acts, such as Scotland’s own Blazin’ Fiddles and Karine Polwart (who will play in the Celtic Connections 30th Anniversary Concert on January 19), and Irish musicians Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh and the Irish Chamber Orchestra, who bring their country’s traditional music into the 21st century in the concert Róisín Reimagined.

However, the operative word in the festival’s name is “connections”, and, as ever, Shaw has curated a programme that expands across the globe and musical genres. Acclaimed Malian musician Vieux Farka Touré (son of the late, great king of west African blues, Ali Farka Touré) will play at Tramway on February 3.

The show by Moroccan-French group Bab L’Bluz and Irish artist Síomha (Òran Mór, January 20) typifies the rich, collaborative dimension within Celtic Connections. As Shaw rightly says: “There are situations that you’ll see where people are playing [together] that you’ll never see again, or if you do, it’s because it worked here first”.

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Scottish fiddle master and composer Duncan Chisholm is one artist who knows Celtic Connections well. The Inverness-born musician has performed at every single edition of the festival since it began in 1994, even taking part in the Covid-lockdown edition, in which he played a beautiful online concert in the glorious surroundings of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

A founding member of the folk-rock group Wolfstone, Chisholm will make two appearances at Celtic Connections this year. In his concert with singer and composer Kim Carnie (Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, February 2), he will showcase his eagerly anticipated new album Black Cuillin.

On February 4, at the Drygate venue, Chisholm will join Liz Lochhead, Mull Historical Society and many other friends in celebrating music director Gordon Maclean’s 25 years at the An Tobar arts organisation on the Isle of Mull.

Chisholm feels proud and privileged to have been involved with Celtic Connections from the very beginning.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have performed at every Celtic Connections since the festival started,” he tells me. “I was there at the first night at the Concert Hall in 1994. I feel very honoured to have been a part of it.”

A leading light in the evolution of Scottish traditional music in the 21st century, the musician has watched the development of the scene over recent decades with a sense of pride and optimism. The burgeoning confidence of Scotland’s musicians has gone hand-in-hand, he says, with the development and the brilliantly consistent programming of Celtic Connections.

“The festival’s growth over the 30 years has mirrored the incredible movement that has taken place within our culture here in Scotland,” Chisholm says. “Celtic Connections and our traditional music scene are both exciting, they’re both expansive, collaborative and wide-reaching.

“They both speak of a newfound confidence that we see growing in Scotland within all walks of life. Our traditional music is world-class, and Celtic Connections, as a festival and as a place for people to come from all over the world, is world-class also.”

The composer is not a man given to hyperbole, but so strong has the evolution of traditional music in Scotland been over the last 30 years and more, that he is of the opinion that: “We’re at a point now that is the most exciting for traditional music [in Scotland] that there has ever been”.

“Our music is spinning off in all sorts of different directions. It is definitely in a much better place than it was when Celtic Connections started 30 years ago, and I think that is to do with the festival itself.”

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Chisholm is full of praise for Shaw, as the festival’s creative producer. “He’s brought together world music acts, Americana acts and stuck with the traditional base that was, obviously, intrinsic to Celtic Connections.

“Not only does that give the festival a wonderful mix of music for people to experience, it also proves that our own music and our own musicians stand up on the world stage. It’s really important that this is the feeling that we have going forward because there are kids coming through who are world-class, there are new bands coming through that are world-class, and we need to have the confidence to say that.”

Chisholm is delighted that Celtic Connections provides these emerging Scottish artists with an excellent international stage on which to prove themselves. He is even happier that these musicians are rising to the challenge.

One important element in that process is the artistic integrity of the musicians involved. Throughout the world, it’s clear that attempts to modernise traditional folk roots music by combining it with rock and pop music are not without risk.

The efforts of Anoushka Shankar – the brilliant sitar player, and daughter of the late sitar master Ravi Shankar – to combine Indian classical music with the western pop tradition have borne some bitter fruit. Portuguese fado singer Ana Moura’s recent album Casa Guilhermina crashes synthesised vocals and American soft rock guitars into the timeless song of Lisbon in ways that are often dispiriting.

Few Scottish traditional artists have that problem, says Chisholm. “I think there’s a growing sense of a difference between being an artist and an entertainer.

“True art is about not going down the commercial route and saying, ‘well, this’ll sell’. True art is about an artist saying: ‘this is the way I want to express myself within my tradition’.

“That can vary from person to person. Some people are driven by their art, some people are driven more by commercial success.

“In the main, what drives young people within the Scottish traditional music scene is not commercial success. It’s about creating music that’s new, fresh, exciting – music that they feel excited about.

“I’ve always held true to that. I would never put out music that I wasn’t excited about myself. I think that is mirrored right across the scene. That’s why we’re in the great position that we are in.”

In addition to providing Scotland’s musicians with a superb platform, Chisholm believes that Celtic Connections has contributed to the development of traditional Scottish music by the impressive internationalism of its programme.

In that sense, he credits Shaw with being intelligent enough to pick up on an already existing trend. The internationalisation of Scottish traditional music has, Chisholm says, “been happening for well over 30 years now”.

“As soon as bands started touring in places like Spain, Norway and eastern Europe, influences were taken back.”

Celtic Connections has, he continues, elevated a growing phenomenon within the Scottish scene of making friendships and playing sessions with musicians from other countries, and bringing their music back to Scotland.

“All of this is going to influence our own tradition because it’s a river that’s flowing, and all these tributaries are coming in and going out.”

Such processes lead, inevitably, he says, to the music of Scottish artists “morphing into something that’s fresh and new”.

Celtic Connections proves, he says, that, “we have a lot to learn from other cultures, as much as they have to learn from us. And that’s the exciting part”.

It is a sign of the genuinely astounding diversity of the Celtic Connections programme that it can encompass both Chisholm’s soulful fiddle music and the work of category-defying Scottish composer and musician Anna Meredith.

Working in both electronic and acoustic music, Meredith – a one-time Composer in Residence with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra – has received widespread acclaim for her highly original compositions, such as the high-octane Nautilus.

I wonder if the inclusion of her work in what is, nominally, a folk roots festival, is the ultimate example of the diversity of the programme. “It’s really broad, isn’t it?” she replies.

Meredith admits to having, in years gone by, “had a historic idea of Celtic Connections, probably as quite folky”. However, she has been pleased to discover that the programme is far more eclectic than she might have previously assumed.

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The composer is, she says, “happy to be in any line-up that’s adventurous and interesting. The thing that matters to me in music is a sort of authenticity.

“The kind of music that I like is any type of music where I feel that someone is doing the thing that they love or something that feels very natural to them.”

It doesn’t matter, she continues, whether that’s “complicated music or simpler music, music with or without vocals”.

“I don’t mind what genre it is, I just want music that feels like it speaks through that person and makes sense to them,” she says.

Despite the huge differences in the music they create, Meredith’s views on musical creation are remarkably similar to those of Chisholm. She is worried, she says, by the idea of “fusion” in music.

“I don’t want to be trying to pick things,” she says, “I just want to be doing something that feels like it comes from myself, rather than something that’s consciously referencing different musical cultures. It’s not to say that [fusion is] inherently bad in itself.

“It’s just that, for me, if I was trying to consciously amalgamate or cherry-pick different things, I know that my own music would be weaker.”

It’s interesting to hear Meredith talk of her scepticism of deliberately constructed musical amalgams, because her own work certainly combines many different forms and styles. For her, however, it’s a case, not of calculating whether or not a given combination will be popular or commercially successful, but simply of using what comes to hand in the pursuit of her musical ideas at any given moment.

“It’s coming from what’s going to work best for the music and what’s the stuff I like writing. I like music to have variety within it, both internally, within tracks, and within a set list or an album. Fast stuff and slow stuff, intense pieces and peaceful things. I’m keeping an eye on that balance.”

Meredith says her “only barometer”, when it comes to assessing the quality of a new piece of music she is making, is herself.

“By the time it gets to other people, it’s too late,” she says, phlegmatically. “I’ve already written it.”

Meredith enjoys playing to audiences that are a mix of established followers and music lovers who don’t know her work. There can be few festivals better placed to bring her such a crowd than Celtic Connections.

Celtic Connections takes place across Glasgow between January 19 and February 5: celticconnections.com