Celtic Connections Festival

The Friel Sisters

Having just over 2,000 musicians together guarantees a jumping Glasgow in January.

The Celtic Connections Festival has become an annual must with 18 days of different sounds and cultures from across the world.

Running until 4th February, there is a fabulous programme of concerts, ceilidhs, talks, art exhibitions, workshops and free events.

With 300 to choose from, it’s a wonderful way to bring people together and boost tourism for the city.

In its 31st year and hopes of breaking last year’s 100,000 attendance at 25 venues, 2024 started with a real fizz in the air.

The beautiful Mackintosh Church was the setting for The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc, with a preamble from trio Niall Vallely on concertina, fiddle player Liz Knowles and guitarist Niwel Tsumbu.

The ensemble formed in 2023 for a special tour of Ireland and are still to give themselves a name but have already formed a powerful onstage presence and their different cultures of Irish, USA and Congolese resulted in beautiful harmonies, melodies and some deep rhythmic grooves.

A great warm up in the wee church which is the only one in the world designed by Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Commissioned in 1896 by the Free Church, the simple design adds to the ambience, with gothic windows and floral motifs.

Bathed in purple light, the setting was spot on and ensured the set by The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc was even more impressive.

Made up of Shetland’s Kevin Henderson, Olav Luksengård Mjelva from Norway and Sweden’s Anders Hall, these talented fiddle players performed an hour of fantastic music embracing their different cultures.

The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc
The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc. Photo by Paul Jennings

Formed in 2009, the trio have an easy-going fun attitude to their music and play this difficult instrument with aplomb.

Their set included reels from Shetland and pieces from their latest album Bonfrost, played with passion and real energy and showing off their own distinctive fiddle styles.

The equally beautiful setting of The City Halls in the city’s Fruitmarket district welcomed the brilliance of The Friel Sisters, with Liz Doherty and The Fiddlesticks entertaining before the main set.

Formed in the 1990s in the music department at Cork’s University College by Doherty, it was conceived as a new way for teaching and learning traditional music through performance and was the first big Irish fiddle ensemble.

As students came and went, the musicians changed and in 2001 the group was disbanded, only to return 20 years later through an appearance at the Baltimore Fiddle Fair. Since then, the fiddlers have vowed to play live once a year and they clearly loved their appearance at the Celtic Connections, playing with real fire and fun.

Their beautiful music was followed on by Anna, Shelia and Clare Friel, traditional musicians from Glasgow, with their family roots entrenched in the Donegal Gaeltacht in the North West of Ireland.

Playing a mixture of music in English and Irish and with a blend of fiddle, flute and uilleann pipes, they gave a rousing performance, with many of the pieces taken from their yet to be named new album.

Joined by guitar player and singer, Marty Barry from Banbridge, County Down and Cathal Ó Curráin, bouzouki player and singer from Gaoth Dobhair, plus extra spice from a bodhrán (Irish drum) and some excellent Irish dancing, the night proved to be a huge success and a reason to head out in wintertime.

Celtic Connections runs at venues across Glasgow until 4th February 2024. For more information, please visit: www.celticconnections.com.

Author Bio:

Rebecca Hay is an experienced travel writer and member of The British Guild of Travel Writers. Follow her adventures with her family on Twitter and Instagram @emojiadventurer and on Facebook via EmojiAdventurers2.

Top photo of the fabulous Friel Sisters courtesy of The Friel Sisters

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