Celtic Connections 2024

Winter fun in the Northern hemisphere is usually bifurcated into the cosiness of yuletide and the chocolate-fest of Spring. Not so in Glasgow, where for the last 30-odd years the dank post-Christmas malaise has been swept up into a glittering Mardi-gras of Celtic and World music, amplified over venues up and down the pulsing banks of the Clyde. 

For many roots musicians this is their holiday – albeit a working one – where late nights with old friends sprawl into new tunes and collaborations. Stumbling from one gig to the next, as audience or star, community is key to the longevity and wholesome feel of Celtic Connections. But it is also riding a new zeitgeist: Trad is trendy. No longer the preserve of tweedy elders, one finger in their ear, for a second year running, the rollocking December Hoolie in the Hydro packed out one of the busiest venues in the world. So here are five flavours of the festival that makes Scotland the place to be in crocus season. 


It is frankly outrageous to put a folk audience down on their knees for a pop jump up, never mind in just the second set of the evening. But Project Smok are outrageously taking Scotland by storm. A couple more reels, and they demand a sing-along to a wordless tune, unaccompanied and loud. Really loud. Frankly this crowd would have given them a circle-pit in the nave if they had asked for it. As front-man Ali Levack gleefully acknowledges “you’re a beautiful audience, we’ve played to some mingers, but you’re beautiful”. 

With no fiddles in sight Project Smok are flipping the switch on trio-orthodoxy. It’s not just the electronica inflection, but the total whistle pandemonium.  In a manner very much off-brand for aerophones – which are not generally racy instruments (long-standing musical crushes on Ian Anderson and Michael McGoldrick notwithstanding) – Ali’s lightning-fast sound is first suspicious, and then weirdly sexy. No wonder Glasgow is crazy for these boys. Some of the drama modulates down mid-evening, opening up space for admiration of the shear virtuosity of playing. Nevertheless, their total precision, speed, and balance keeps musical excitement going right through to a ballsy bagpipe-led encore. Despite a relatively short set, finishing well-before curfew, this was a full money’s worth, and Project Smok are sure to be found in a bigger venue next year: Tailsk watch out.


Talking of Taslisk: as usual on a Friday night the Barrowlands is crammed with punters who definitely don’t have Fairisle knitwear collections. What makes tonight different is that they are here for a band who, more than any other contemporary outfit, are making folk music leather-jacket cool. 

Mohsen Amini, Talisk (credit to Kris Kesiak) 

With pyramids of lasers round their chairs and a fresh audience gimmick every couple of songs, Talisk are clearly beyond excited to be playing this legendary Hometown venue. There are phone-light-ups, there are shoulder hoists, there is pogo-jumping, there are… backing dancers. Concertina-wielding Mohsen Amini shines with hashtag-life-goals energy, speaking at a speed and local dialect that is pure adrenaline. His excitement is mirrored by the crowd, who are wild from the get-go, giving it such laldy that the band host an intervention at their keen but hilarious sing-along: “Glasgow I know you’re great at singing, but it helps if we all sing the same thing at the same time”. 

There is truth as well as touching affection in Talisk’s remark that “this is the best gig we’ve done in our entire lives”. Musically they are on fire, giving everything you would expect from a group who now sell out worldwide. Plus an extra blood-pumping edge for an enamoured audience that, in the most Glaswegian way possible, lovingly took up the city’s proud “here we fucking go” chant to any mid-pace tune. Closing with a band-audience serenade of Vengaboy’s 90s Eurodance classic We like to party, it is evident that for a formerly-faded genre of music, the tide has entirely turned.  

Talisk (credit to Kris Kesiak)


Sunday evening is a snug companionably time of the week, best enjoyed with people you care about and a glass of something strong. Which is on brand for Drew Holcomb, whose catchy, raspy, Americana has a touch of the bourbon (first sipped with a Scottish preacher) and a lot of life-affirming warmth. 

Opening act, Alice Faye is just as much a storyteller as the transatlantic headline, but with a more melancholic whimsical hue. A little bit Eddi Reader in voice, a little bit Martha Wainwright in topic, a whiff of 1920s Delysia LaFosse in literary glamour, and something of mid-80s Suzanne Vega in the Solitude Standing era hair. Alice is the archetypical singer-songwriter with a sleeve full of beautiful break-up ballads, and aspirations towards a more chipper pop-sound that has not quite yet arrived. 

In contrast there is a middle-earthy heartiness across Drew’s songs and anecdotes. Here is music for music’s sake, family wisdom on slaying dragons, New Year ocean swims, and dancing with everybody that comes through the door. After 20 years on the road, he recently secured a first No 1, but rather than strategic kick off or big finale, Find your people is casually thrown in mid-set. As he says, baubles are just a nice to have, they are not why he got into this. 

In the spirit of Celtic Connections, tonight Holcomb is full-circling to his songwriting roots, planted aged 20 in Edinburgh near the Cowgate. While Knoxville, Memphis, and Nashville have been home for raising a family and musical career, back in Scotland he sings to the surrogate family who took him underwing in the early days. People matter to him: like he says, I like to be with me when I’m with you. He matters to Glasgow too. Although tonight they tend to the quieter silver-haired kind, who have to be encouraged to sing choruses, and do so in a churchy polite way. Nevertheless, shout-outs for deep-cuts make it clear that this is a real fanbase, even if they are not for dancing in the aisles. 


You know where the was dancing in the aisles though? The usually prim and proper Royal Concert Hall, where Angelique Kidjo ripped up a storm for her 40th musical anniversary.  If there was ever a case for doing it like everyone is watching, it is with this warm, funny, whirling, multi-lingual, Beninese-French, titan of a world-changer. 

Kicking off the world music party, Samba Sene brought infectious Afrobeat fusion to the grand venue that acts as Celtic Connections mothership. From stories of childhood mischief to speaking to corrupt politicians, even topics of gravity are infused with playful lightness. Wry reflections on what he would do in the place of world leaders are fun but fleeting, like candyfloss that disappears into the ska-inflected grooves.  

Samba Sene (credit to Sean Purser)

Less than 30 mins in and the bespectacled ivory-tower crowd as one decide it is time for a collective dance and get to their feet in a front-led wave. Nothing is more endearing than watching Gen X ineptly try to salsa: some fluid, some awkward, it is both terrible and perfect. Perfect because, as Angelique points out, it is easy to wrongly believe dance is for other people. As masterful a storyteller as she is a musician, we learn of the schoolyard bet that underpinned her whole career, as she realised that salsa is not just for men and that she too has a place on the floor. 

Angelique Kidjo (credit to Sean Purser)

And what a place: her stage presence is as off the scale as her voice.  With moves outstripping the Mad Hatter’s futterwacken, and shoes that Dorothy would kill for, Angelique is here with a message, reminding us after the pandemic to choose life, celebrate it, see how beautiful it is, leave our TVs at home and come together to have fun in real life. What could be better ruby-anniversary wisdom to pass on than that?


18 days is a lot of time to be having fun before Spring has sprung.  As support act Erin Meyers points out, by the final weekend Celtic Connections stalwarts are exhausted. Exhausted but elated, with no plan to sleep before Brooklyn – or at least before a final bout of bouzouki-bacchanalia. 

Featuring loud Hawaiian shirts, face glitter, and glow-in-the-dark Timmy Mallet glasses, if hipsters do trad, then Mec Lir is the trad they do. With a rammed audience as excited as they were for Project Smok two weeks before, Mec Lir are having a ball. Moustaches galore festoon the crowd. An unmitigated delight crackles through the deconsecrated chapel, the raw love of this eclectic marriage of bodhans and synth keytar belying the cool of the facial hair. Using their platform for good, ecological crisis, international conflicts, and endangered languages are set themes of an overtly political band, who are here for change as well as for the party.

Mec Lir (credit to Kris Kesiak)

All the chaps in this Manx-Scottish collaboration are scene mainstays: their band mates from Imar and Elephant Sessions are in the crowd. Carving a niche in the growing neo-trad ballpark isn’t as easy as it once was. Not a problem for Mec Lir, however, who have laid claim to a full 80s pop-vibe, with matching rock guitar, lighting, and rhythm section. But trad. Basically, they are what would have happened if Flashdance had an affair with Local Hero and birthed a fiddle player. And a melodica.

And where better to leave the folkstering fortnight for another year than with an errant melodica? As musicians and their fans go home to wait for the better weather, it is, as always, with warm hearts and heads full of tunes. It’s testament to how brilliant this party was that it’s got us looking forward to the next Glaswegian winter.

Joanna Royle

Professional swot with a side interest in folk, folk-punk, folk-metal, and climbing hills. Scottish immigrant. Very clumsy. Moderately good at crochet.