Celtic Connections 2013

Initial details of next year’s Celtic Connections folk and world music festival, which runs from Thursday 17 January to Sunday 3 February, are now online.

It looks as if there are still some concerts to be announced – some days’ programmes are much fuller than others, and there’s no sign of any concerts in the Strathclyde Suite yet – but there’s plenty of interesting music on the bill.

There’s no out and out jazz, but there is some jazz-influenced music, such as French electroswing outfit Caravan Palace. There is some blues, though, with appearance by The Animals and (though it isn’t up on the web site yet) The Heritage Blues Orchestra. There’s also a strong African element at the Festival, including gigs by Salif Keita, Mulata Astatke, and a Saharan Soul night of Malian bands.

Of course, the main emphasis is on folk music from Scotland, England, Ireland and elsewhere, including Julie Fowlis, Carlos Nunez, Breabach, Dougie Maclean, Karine Polwart, Bellowhead, the Battlefield Band and separate appearances by ex-Incredible String Band legends Mike Heron and Robin Williamson.

As always, there are several jazz musicians appearing as band members: a quick trawl through the concerts shows that Alyn Cosker and Euan Burton are definitely getting some work out of the festival, and I’m sure they won’t be the only ones.

Michael Marra 1952 – 2012

Sadly, the announcement of the 2013 schedule was overshadowed by news the same day of the death of the great Dundee singer and songwriter Michael Marra. His songs were observant, witty, and had the great gift of using the very local as a microcosm of the world in general. Like Becker and Fagen of Steely Dan, he worked for a while as a commercial songwriter before getting dumped because the results were too idiosyncratic (and in Marra’s case, too Dundonian).

Possibly none of his records truly did him justice, as part of the appeal of his live act was always his blether between songs. (Though the live Michael Marra with Mr McFall’s Chamber comes close by recording the between song chat as well as the music). He came across in his lyrics and in what he said as a genuinely decent guy, as someone who genuinely liked people despite their many various shortcomings. It’s typical of the man that one of his best known songs, “Hamish the Goalie”, a tribute to Dundee United’s great eccentric goalkeeper Hamish McAlpine, was written despite Marra himself being a Dundee supporter. We’ve lost a truly irreplaceable figure. Rob Adams and Eilidh Mackenzie have fuller tributes in the Herald and the List.

There are lots of things I could have picked as an example of his work, but I’ve gone for this one because (a) it keeps in the Marra’s speech introducing the song, and (b) it’s about listening to jazz on US radio from Shetland. Schnectady Calling Peerie Willie Johnson: