One of the highlights of the 20th Celtic Colours International Festival, which featured more than 45 concerts and hundreds of events in communities all over Cape Breton Island last October, was the return of the Unusual Suspects of Celtic Colours. They were such a hit, in fact, that they were invited to perform at Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, Scotland. They hit the stage Wednesday night at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.
The international big band folk orchestra was based on a concept developed by Scottish musicians David Milligan and Corrina Hewat, who premiered the Unusual Suspects during the 2003 Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, Scotland. Featuring 32 Scottish artists, the Unusual Suspects presented a repertoire of, and based on, traditional music arranged for a folk orchestra or big band, complete with strings, percussion, voices, pipes, flutes, whistles, accordions, and a horn section.
Celtic Colours founders Joella Foulds and Max MacDonald were there to witness this extravaganza and it wasn’t long before they were discussing the idea of an international version of the Unusual Suspects with David and Corrina.
“The Unusual Suspects of Celtic Colours dates back to 2004,” explains Foulds, Celtic Colours co-founder and former Executive and Artistic Director. “Based on the original concept, the Celtic Colours version was made up of musicians from Scotland and Canada—primarily Cape Breton.”
Since then, the Suspects have performed with a variety of lineups, both in Cape Breton at Celtic Colours and in Scotland at Celtic Connections.
“The 2016 Unusual Suspects of Celtic Colours was part of the 20th anniversary celebration for Celtic Colours,” continues Foulds. “Just as they had been 12 years earlier, the performances at Celtic Colours 2016 were stunning and received rave audience reviews. Conversations started immediately between the Suspects directors, Celtic Colours, and the artistic team at Celtic Connections. The result was an invitation to return to Celtic Connections with the 2016 version and present it during Showcase Scotland.”
That transatlantic line-up—including Cape Breton natives Allie Bennett (guitar, voice, co-musical director), Mattie Foulds (drums), Wendy MacIsaac (fiddle, stepdancing), Mairi Rankin (fiddle, stepdancing), Andrea Beaton (fiddle), Kenneth MacKenzie (pipes, whistles), and Matt MacIsaac (pipes, whistles)—now returns to the project’s birthplace, celebrating both the two festivals’ close relationship and Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. With the Suspects’ founding musical directors Hewat and Milligan at the helm, a grand total of 25 leading musicians and singers are sure to take Glasgow once more by storm.
The Unusual Suspects of Celtic Colours perform at Celtic Connections in Glasgow, Scotland on Wednesday, January 25 at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.
The 21st Celtic Colours International Festival is scheduled for October 6-14, 2017. The lineup will be announced June 26 with tickets going on sale July 11.