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Live Reviews

Centenaries, Celtic Crossover and Spinning Tops at Celtic Connections in Glasgow

Some trad enthusiasts look sceptically at Celtic Connections: too big, too commercial and not Celtic enough are complaints sometimes heard. Those with a folk club nearby, regular sessions in the local pub or a steady stream of gigs on the home circuit may be prone to this perspective. But to get the picture right, there’s more to reflect upon.

DANCING ENGLAND - Nottingham Playhouse - 26 January 2019

Dancing England was an annual event from 1979 to 1987, held in Derby, and was relaunched two years ago in Sheffield. It’s taken another two years and a move to Nottingham for the next one to happen, but it was worth it.

PETE MORTON, EMILY SANDERS & CHRIS PARKINSON: THE MAGICAL CHRISTMAS TREE - North Muskham Village Hall, Notts - 11 December 2018

When does your Christmas begin? Perhaps it’s a visit to a panto or seeing the John Lewis TV advert? For some it’s singing carols in pubs or morris dancing at a Christmas market, but for the past 10 years or so it may have been the visit of The Magical Christmas Tree.

THE FESTIVAL OF VILLAGE CAROLS - Grenoside Community Centre - 1 December 2018

The Festival of Village Carols is held in Grenoside every two years, and 2018 saw the 13th consecutive “sold out” notices of an event that first began in 1994.

TOM OAKES AND ROSS COUPER’S WINTER TRAD - Edinburgh - 30 November - 2 December 2018

In this age of austerity, with few grants available for musical projects and with schoolchildren having to pay for music tuition, a new burden is placed on professional musicians and a few volunteers to organise festivals, workshops etc. Their promotions often start out small, but Alasdair Fraser’s Valley Of The Moon week in California attracts hundreds of students of all ages without financial support. Alasdair had to organise an overflow week in Nevada City which has now outgrown VotM, and VotM has spawned similar camps in Ashokan, Skye, Spain and Australia.

SCOTS FIDDLE FESTIVAL - Edinburgh - 16-18 November 2018

I caught the Saturday and Sunday concerts, both sold out, and soaked up some of the sessions, smaller performances, and spilt champagne before and after. The Friday concert was a smashing performance by all accounts, but Saturday’s gig looked set to outdo it for glitter, glamour, and sheer rock’n’roll excitement.

Celtic Colours International Festival - Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia - 5-13 October 2018

It’s seven years since we last made the trip across the Atlantic to Celtic Colours, and we were mightily impressed then, so we were glad when at last we were able to make a return visit to the beautiful island of Cape Breton, just off the north-east coast of Nova Scotia in Canada.

NORTH ATLANTIC FIDDLE CONVENTION (NAFCO) - Aberdeen - 11-15 July 2018

July saw Aberdeen’s halls and bars flooded with fiddle activity, which spilled out into the nearby villages and lifted the spirits with a cascade of music. The North Atlantic Fiddle Convention had come back home! Started by Ian Russell in 2001, it has taken place in Aberdeen every four years (with interim stops in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia). Its 2018 iteration proved to be an almighty celebration of the study, performance and role of all things fiddle. Now in the hands of Carley Williams and Frances Wilkins, we were offered no less than 150 events over five days.

SIDMOUTH FOLK WEEK - 3-10 August 2019

Last year I mentioned that many of the events on Saturday evening at Sidmouth sported ‘House Full’ signs, seeing this as evidence of the vigour and popularity of the festival. This year it seemed to be more of a problem. People were complaining that, having bought expensive season tickets, they weren’t able to get into the events they wanted, because individual event tickets were being sold – and these were given priority at the door. This led them to wonder why they should support the festival by buying season tickets, when it was much cheaper and time efficient to buy individual tickets for the specific events they wanted to see. Queuing for up to two hours for an event, as well as meaning they possibly missed something else, didn’t seem a good way to spend a holiday. In previous times, season ticket holders could dip in and out of events, such as concerts at the Ham – now they have to pay extra for these and are constrained to choose one concert/event and stick with it. This is a circle that needs to be squared by the organisers before it causes serious problems.

SHREWSBURY FOLK FESTIVAL - 24-27 August 2018

Shrewsbury this year basked in bright sunshine, which really helped the festival atmosphere, but made some of the large marquees uncomfortably warm – you can’t have everything! There was the normal extensive range of events, craft fair and artists, with not just something for everyone, but plenty for everyone. Some of my highlights were the Richard Thompson Electric Trio (and occasionally Quartet) who really were electrifying. Concentrating on material from the forthcoming album, 13 Rivers, but sprinkled with classics from the past (even numbers from early Fairport which they’d never performed live), the band was on absolutely blistering form, with superb sound in the main marquee. Usher’s Island played (and sang) absolutely beautifully despite the fact that they’d travelled straight from their previous gig (in Denmark) by car and plane, arriving five minutes before they were due on stage! It was a shock to find this was the first appearance of Johnny Coppin at the festival. It was a surprise to see that he and Phil Beer had been put on in the smallest venue, the Sabrina Tent. Unsurprising, ‘House Full’ signs went up before they started and the performance was enthusiastically received following which the tent virtually emptied. Hopefully we will see more of him at this and other festivals in the future. The sound was odd – perhaps they didn’t think Phil Beer had anything worth saying?!