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Live Reviews

TRADFEST - Edinburgh / Dun Eideann - 26 April - 6 May 2018

Any enthusiastic response to the announcement of the mouth-watering programme for the sixth staging of Edinburgh's Tradfest was tempered by the warning from promoters TRACS (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland) that cuts of funding from Creative Scotland might mean that this would be the last festival in its current shape and format. The showcase for Scotland's traditional arts which has become a significant place in Edinburgh's festival calendar would be a sad loss to bear. However the continued success of the festival shown by the number of sell-outs and near sell-outs throughout the participating venues and the determination expressed by the co-curators to provide, in some form, the music, song, dance, storytelling and film that have been part of the festival brought some hope for the future of this event.


Until recently, this was an old-school English folk festival: shanty men, singer-songwriters, Morris dancers, a bit of fiddle and melodeon, all very traditional and rural and appealing to a folk club audience. But folk clubs are not the places they once were, and their audiences are generally getting older, so this year the festival really branched out to embrace overseas acts, Americana, jazz and punk influences, and other more esoteric art forms such as poetry and yoga. It certainly attracted a younger crowd, and filled the five stages with a broad spectrum of music and dance.

HUMAN CARGO - The Plough Arts Centre, Torrington - 23 May 2018

Human Cargo is a two-handed theatre production around the subject of emigration, slavery and transportation. It is the creation of Matthew Crampton, writer and storyteller, and derives from his 2016 book of the same name. While Matthew supplies the stories, Jeff Warner supplies the songs.

The harp that twice… Alex Monaghan enjoyed a double helping of harpist Lily Neill on the Welsh border

I was tempted over the old border still marked by Offa’s Dyke and into the fringes of Wales by the promise of an exceptional workshop. It was late March, but thick drifts of snow still lay in the deep valleys, and the air was redolent of wet earth and wetter sheep as I headed to Rhydycroesau to meet Maryland harpist, Lily Neill. Hiding between Oswestry and a very large blank space westward, until you reach Bala and Snowdonia National Park, the village of Rhydycroesau actually straddles the modern border; its main distinguishing feature is its absence from many maps of both Shropshire and Powys, but they know their harp music there.

37th EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL HARP FESTIVAL - Edinburgh 30 March - 4 April 2018

Since Edinburgh's International Harp Festival made its home amid the beautiful surroundings of Merchiston Castle School on the outskirts of the city, it has been a source of great pleasure between the scheduled courses, workshops, afternoon recitals and evening concerts to be able to stroll around the school grounds with views of the Castle and the Forth in the distance. However, there was little opportunity this year due to the miserably cold and damp weather which culminated in a very snowy last day. Fortunately, in stark contrast, the music on display throughout this extended Easter weekend more than made up for the weather, living up to the festival's long standing reputation with a scintillating series of evening and afternoon performances along with the regular variety of courses and workshops on offer.


Sheffield as a city is renowned for its eclectic music, and in particular its folk music; “The epicentre of the folk universe” as it was once described. A number of well-known folk artists live in Sheffield, and the university music department has a reputation for encouraging young folk performers along with an M.A. in Traditional Music of the British Isles. There are two of the surviving British traditional longsword teams; what often seems like innumerable morris, rapper and clog teams; and a pair of processional giants modelled on those found in Spain; add in The Sheffield Carols sung from November to New Year and it all makes for a very healthy scene.

WINTER WILSON - The David Hall, South Petherton - 14 April 2018

A most enjoyable evening’s entertainment from one of the folk world’s busiest and most entertaining duos, and the pleasure was enhanced by David Hall’s amazing acoustics (described by The Voice Squad as among the best they’d ever experienced). Kip Winter’s outstanding vocal talents and Dave Wilson’s stunning abilities as a songwriter, composer, guitarist and singer welded seamlessly to produce a most memorable evening that obviously pleased the very varied audience that the venue enjoys.

BBC RADIO 2 FOLK AWARDS - The Waterfront, Belfast - 4 April 2018

This year saw the award ceremony cross the sea to Belfast. A packed hall clapped and cheered throughout the presentations and some spirited performances from Lankum, Dónal Lunny, Olivia Chaney and Paul Brady. Cara Dillon sang a verse from Tommy Sands’ There Were Roses to remind us that we were only a few days away from the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS - Buxton Opera House - 17 February 2018

It may have been February but the Fisherman’s Friends brought a little summer sunshine and a taste of the Cornish coast to the Opera House in Buxton.

A visit with ‘family’ at Celtic Connections

There’s no indication the organisers of the first Celtic Connections, which took place in Glasgow 25 years ago, spared a thought for traditional music lovers like me who enjoy popping over from the continent for three or four days to attend what sometimes feels like an extended family reunion. The festival’s official explanation, that the dates were chosen to bring “much needed entertainment and economic cheer to the city during the darkest part of the year,” has charm from our perspective, too.