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Live Reviews

ACROSS THE VALE: SONGS BY GRAEME MILES - Saltburn Community And Arts Associations Theatre, North Yorkshire - 10 June 2016

Tribute concerts are prone to be a disappointment, often because they highlight how much the original will be missed – can you imagine a Dave Swarbrick memorial concert that wasn’t about loss? This concert at Saltburn was different; Graeme wasn’t missed because his songs were still there and, unlike Ewan MacColl, he was never a great performer. Also unlike him, his songs haven’t become suddenly more familiar after his death but that was the point.

TRADFEST - Edinburgh - 27 April - 8 May 2016

Now in its fourth year, this festival of traditional culture living up to its billing of being “rooted in the past, resonating in the present”, has not only established its place in Edinburgh's calendar of festivities, but has expanded even further with more venues and more sell-outs - many evenings giving prospective punters even more choices to make. Once again promoted by TRACS (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland) and based primarily at the Scottish Storytelling Centre with performances taking place all over the city, it was as previously scheduled to coincide with Beltane and May Day celebrations, and walks and talks featured strongly in the 12-day programme alongside the music, songs, stories, dance and other traditional arts and crafts.


This concert, in part sponsored by the Harris Tweed company and commemorating the 125th anniversary of An Comunn Gaidhealach (The Gaelic Society), stood out as being of special interest on initial perusal of this year's programme for Edinburgh's annual extravaganza of harp music. It proved every bit as enjoyable and instructive as anticipated, but before concentrating one's attention on this show, mention must be made, albeit briefly, of the variety of musical delights from all over the world that had been on offer during the three days leading to this showpiece.

KINCORA TRADITIONAL WEEKEND - Killaloe & Ballina - 14-17 April 2016

This festival, now in its fourth year, continues to delight and educate. The original committee, chaired by local resident, Michael Hackett, was in the first instance keen to restore teaching and performance opportunities within the area which, strangely for two bordering counties steeped in traditional music, were lacking in the twin towns of Ballina and Killaloe.

CATHRYN CRAIG AND BRIAN WILLOUGHBY - Stirling Folk Club - 18 April 2016

A regular club night at the Stirling County Rugby Club saw the gathering of about 40 held pretty much universally spellbound by a couple of seasoned performers, who have matured into one of the most popular acts of their genre. A sizeable contingent had travelled from Falkirk, as this act had given such a polished performance last November that they wanted a second helping.

COSTA DEL FOLK - Magaluf, Mallorca - 22-28 April 2016

I didn’t think I would ever be in Magaluf – party central for giggling pink tee-shirt clad hens and beer swilling staggering stags – yet I found myself Mallorca bound to go to the latest Costa Del Folk festival at the end of April. Apparently the town of Magaluf is trying to dispense with its image as a location for drunken debauchery, so an influx of 700 or so well-mannered folkies, who brought the average age of the town’s inhabitants that week up by a considerable margin, must have been welcome. As Eddi Reader joked from the stage, when she was asked where she was from by one of the lads in a Scottish bar in the town, she replied: “Another century, son!”


Festivals! How do we choose them? What is most important? Well, entertainment would seem to be number one - the chance to hear good music from your favourite artistes and, if you’re lucky, see them up close and even talk to them. But that’s by no means the only reason and, for some, it’s not even the best reason. There are many more, such as timing, venue, accommodation, accessibility, food, cost, “singing sites”, fringe, people and so on. A good festival has a large combination of these and the ShantyUK Easter Festival is a very good festival.

BUTTON BOXES AND MOOTHIES - Aberdeen - 6-8 November 2015

It has been an exciting time here at the Elphinstone Institute at the University of Aberdeen. On 6-8th November 2015, we held the fourth Button Boxes and Moothies festival, attracting musicians and enthusiasts from many parts of the UK, Ireland, and as far away as France and the United States. This is a unique event which takes place every four years and aims to bring together instrumentalists who play mouth organs, concertinas, melodeons, Jew’s harps and diatonic button accordions. The idea behind it is to offer a platform for these often under-exposed instruments, to whet the appetite and open the ears to the music of some of our very best talents from Ireland, England and Scotland. One of our main concerns is to be able to provide a platform for performing and appreciating the unique styles of individual players, something which at many festivals seems to get lost among the numerous bands that are booked to perform.

MAIRI CAMPBELL: PULSE - Tron Theatre, Glasgow - 27 January 2016

For many folk musicians, Celtic Connections becomes a second festive period. It’s a bit busier than the first one - there’s no lazing in front of the fire eating mince pies, it’s more of a marathon. Everyone involved is constantly running between rehearsals, soundchecks, performances, the showcase Scotland trade fair and late nights at the festival club - catching up with old friends and making new ones in what is no doubt the most sleepless month in the life of the Scottish folk musician. And now that it’s all over, I’ve heard much more complaint about the post-Celtic blues than I ever have about the post-Christmas blues!

WHEN THE MULLIGANS CAME TO TOWN - Drumkeeran Community Hall, County Leitrim - 14 November 2015

The Ó Maolagáin (Mulligan) family of Currycramp, Bornacoola, near Mohill in County Leitrim has been a real force in Irish traditional music for many years, and the influence of fiddle player Tom (TP) Mulligan has been right at the heart of it. The fact that TP was born exactly 100 years ago inspired the John McKenna Society of Drumkeeran to invite the family to the village to mark the anniversary at the annual John McKenna Traditional Festival earlier in the year. Sadly, in this close-knit community, the tragic loss of the highly respected festival chairperson, Packie McPartlan, on the eve of the 2015 festival, led to the total cancellation of that whole weekend. However it was felt appropriate to re-arrange this celebration night during TP's centenary year and what resulted will live long in the memory.