THE 26th edition of Celtic Connections drew to a close last weekend after once again bringing some much needed light into the dark depths of a Scottish winter.

More than 2000 musicians from across the globe performed at venues across Glasgow entertaining 130,000 attendees at more than 300 events. It is always a festival that has a special place in the calendar but it has grown in recent years to become so much more than simply a music event.

Celtic Connections is a celebration of culture from all over the world. It is a bringing together of people and ideas that goes beyond what might ordinarily be classed as folk music. Never too heavily burdened by the Celtic tag, it is a festival that readily embraces many musical genres, including jazz, blues, American and even techno. It is this willingness to explore that makes Celtic Connections so unique.

“As 18 days of sharing brilliant performances with our fantastic festival audiences draws to a close, the sense I have is of just how special Celtic Connections 2019 has been, with a host of inspiring performances across our stages,” says Donald Shaw, creative producer for Celtic Connections: “We sought to make this year’s festival our most innovative yet and thanks to the musicians who joined us we achieved this. It’s hard to believe it is over, and time now to start thinking of how we can better this next year when our incredible festival will return.”

This year’s partnership with fellow Celtic nation Galicia kicked off at the opening concert Syne of The Times, which played on 2019’s festival theme of the passing of the baton to the next generation. It was a remarkable night that began with an exploration of family by young Uist composer Padruig Morrison, accompanied by footage of his grandfather and father as well as recordings of them speaking about their lives, their hopes for the future and their connection to their land and language. It was a soulful, moving piece of work which marks Morrison out as a composer of rare subtlety and nuance.

From the Uists we were then taken on a trip to Galicia, as traditional folk orchestra SonDeSeu took to the stage with their exuberant take on Galicia’s musical heritage, complete with a jaw-dropping solo fiddle performance.

The second half saw a meeting of the generations as well as a celebration of the Feis movement as many well-kent faces who took their first steps to folk stardom at Celtic Connections – Lauren MacColl, Douglas Montgomery, Duncan Chisholm, Julie Fowlis and more – joined youngsters from first Orkney and then Feis Ros on to the stage for a night that will live long in the memory.

The National: Composer Padruig Morrison Composer Padruig Morrison

Lochaber powerhouses Daimh finished off the evening before the entire ensemble returned to the now-packed stage for a rousing finale.

DAIMH were back the next night at the Queen Margaret Union as they joined Orcadians The Chair on a mighty bill for the first weekend proper of the festival. It proved a raucous evening as The Chair reminded everyone of why they are one of the finest folk bands around while Daimh displayed an unerring ability to built up a set from a cold start and had everybody dancing by the second tune.

The exuberance continued at the same venue the following night when Elephant Sessions, one of the most talented and hardest working of the next generation of folk stars, took to the stage. Ably supported by the excellent Dallahan, the Elephants delivered their usual mix of high-energy musical wizardry all built on the solid foundations provided by their mandolin player and composer Alasdair Taylor.

Meanwhile, at the Old Fruitmarket, Skerryvore and Trail West were headlining a packed show celebrating 10 years of the terrific Tiree Music Festival.

However, the first week was not all about the dancefloor as music from Disney-Pixar’s Brave was brought to life for younger and older festival-goers alike at Brave In Concert at the Royal Concert Hall.

This was a stunning live show which brought composer Patrick Doyle’s film score to life as the movie played on screens and featured appearances from Iona Fyfe, Lorne MacDougall and Jarlath Henderson.

The festival’s middle weekend saw two huge shows at the iconic Barrowland Ballroom. First up were scene stalwarts, and the inspiration for so many of the younger bands playing today, Shooglenfity.

DJ Dolphin Boy got the evening going early on with a set comprising tunes from his new album Highland Swing, before one of the most talked-about bands of the year took to the stage.

The all-female, all-sequins Kinnaris Quintet delivered a rousing set dripping with fun and attitude as they set the scene for Shooglenifty.

Despite the loss of their iconic fiddler Angus R Grant to cancer in 2016, the band have found a worthy successor in Eilidh Shaw, herself, like Angus, a student of Grant’s father Aonghas Grant senior.

The Shoogles played a wonderful set mixing tunes from their latest album Written In Water, recorded with Rajasthani collaborators Dayam and Latif Khan Manganiyar, with older tunes that went down a storm in the atmospheric Barras.

They were joined on stage by Galician trio Tanxugueiras as they played the very first single of their long career East West. The evening ended with Kinnaris returning to the stage, along with former Shoogles mandolin player Luke Plumb, all the way from Tasmania, for a thrilling finale that threatened to blow the roof off the old ballroom.

The National: Niteworks at their sold-out Barrowlands showNiteworks at their sold-out Barrowlands show

The following night it was the turn of Skye electro-trad quartet Niteworks to play to a sold-out Barrowland and they did not disappoint.

THE lighting and set gives pointers to just how far Niteworks have come since their first EP Obair Oidhche back in 2011, but it is the development of their distinctive take on traditional music that makes them the most exciting act around.

They are slickly professional now without ever sounding overproduced and this Barrowlands outing was perhaps their finest yet. Accompanied by all the guests from their recent album Air Fair An La – Iain Morrison, Sian, Allan MacDonald of Glenuig, Julie Fowlis, Aileen Reid Gobbi, Laura Wilkie and Fiona MacAskill from Kinnaris, as well as regular Niteworks live vocalist Ellen MacDonald – this was a triumphant way to kick off 2019 and now sets the bar for what the band can achieve in the future.

Throughout the festival the Festival Club at the Art School kept the party going into the wee small hours with collaborations and appearances from many of the luminaries in attendance. A particular highlight was the musical jousting of Peatbog Faeries fiddler Ross Couper and Talisk’s concertina star Mohsen Amini who took to the stage together and provided a night many in attendance will never forget.

The work behind the scenes of Jennifer McGlone and her team at the Festival Club deserves to be recognised as without this after-hours bolthole the entire festival would be a lot less colourful and exciting.

So that’s it then, another year done, another step closer to summer and the return of the light. However, it is difficult not to look a wee bit further ahead and wonder just when tickets for Celtic Connections 2020 will go on sale ...

As Alan Morrison, head of music at Creative Scotland, says: “It’s no exaggeration to say that we’ve just experienced one of the best Celtic Connections ever. Music seemed to be filling every corner of Glasgow, in venues right across the city, showcasing the very best of Scottish talent while introducing the sounds of the world to audiences here. The festival proved yet again that Scotland is as eager to welcome international acts with open arms as it is to share our own musical heritage with all our visitors, building friendships across borders. Celtic Connections 2020 can’t come soon enough.”