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Live Reviews


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.

ROOTS 66 - Theatre By The Lake, Keswick - 5-7 February 2016

You know Route 66, the fabled American highway. But do you know the A66 going through Keswick, the home of Theatre By The Lake, to Workington, the home of Fellside Records? Two fine Cumbrian institutions took a punt with a February folk festival, mainly to celebrate Fellside’s 40 years of recording and releasing albums and nurturing talent (272 releases on the folk label alone). Over three well-attended evening concerts and two afternoon showcases there were many warm words and rounds of applause for Fellside’s Paul and Linda Adams. There’s more about the label in LT112.

HECTOR CHRISTIE & CHRIS EDWARDS - Cellar Upstairs Folk Club - London 23 January 2016

There's a lot of competition in Central London to grab your entertainment money on a Saturday night. It says much for this club's trust in organiser Sheila Miller that there was a very healthy turnout for this duo largely unknown in London. Two 40 minute sets, culminating in demands for an encore, showed that the booking certainly paid dividends for all concerned.

SWEET LIBERTIES - St. David’s Hall, Cardiff - 27 November 2015

Our democracy, such as it is, has been a long time in the making. In 1215 the Magna Carta was signed and in 1265 Simon De Montfort called his Parliament. To celebrate 800 years in the pursuit of democracy and equality of rights, the English Folk Dance and Song Society and Folk By The Oak commissioned Martyn Joseph, Nancy Kerr, Sam Carter and Maz O’Connor to examine the history and compose new music to mark the rights and liberties that people have fought to achieve and protect. They were joined by musicians Patsy Reid and Nick Cooke for performances across England and Wales in November.

The Trip to Birmingham

Alex Monaghan reports back from a traditional music festival in deepest Digbeth.

Four days in Birmingham at the end of November. It doesn't sound like a dream holiday, but a sell-out crowd was attracted by this year's Tradfest. On its second run, this aspiring annual festival of Irish music is organised by a small bunch of local lads who play music but also have the skills to run a major event. Between them, they manage logistics, funding, advertising, ticket sales, technical matters, stage management and crowd control. The first Tradfest in 2014 was a surprise success, and 2015 built on this to make things even better.

Manifold – The Peace Tent

Deep in the heart of the Peak District lie two beautiful river valleys – the Dove and the Manifold. The latter gives its name to a wonderful and small (and small is beautiful) Folk Gathering. No, it is NOT a Festival, it really is a gathering. A collection, not bigger than 240 of Malcolm Hawksworth’s friends. All gather to celebrate music, poetry, chat and beer in great company.

FIDDLER'S GREEN FESTIVAL - Rostrevor, County Down - 19-26 July 2015

The Fiddler's Green Festival has come a long way in the last 29 years. It began as a one day event, progressed to a weekend festival, and now extends to eight days and seven nights of music, culture and craic. Two things help define the festival - The Sands Family and the location, Rostrevor, a scenic village nestling on the shores of Carlingford Lough against the backdrop of the Mourne Mountains, which really do roll down to the sea.