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Live Reviews

BBC RADIO 2 FOLK AWARDS - Royal Albert Hall, London - 5 April 2017

There is, I suspect, some debate on the need for and value of folk awards, but nevertheless they are now a regular part of the scene. There is likely more debate on what sort of music constitutes folk. The Radio 2 Awards take a broad approach to this as was evinced by opening act, the Afro Celt Sound System, who muddied things further with the neither Afro nor Celtic Dohl drum of Johnny Kalsi prominent on stage.


Situated in Co Mayo, Louisburgh lies on the Western seaboard of Ireland in an area with a rich history in the traditional arts, and has enjoyed both a cultural and economic boost since the inception of the Feile Chois Cuain. The “Celtic Tiger” may have been subdued by the financial crash of a decade ago, but there are definite signs of a re-emergence of its former vigour. In the hamlet of Louisburgh the evidence is all around - from the extensive menus in smart cafés and restaurants, the modern independent bookshop which serves as a site for book launches and literary talks, and from the vibrancy of the music curriculum, exhibited by the school pupils who are part of a host of home grown performers. It’s like a microcosm of the land of plenty - a prosperous, exciting wee place to be.

PACKIE MANUS BYRNE CENTENARY WEEKEND - Ardara, Co Donegal - 17-19 February 2017

There were many journeys in evidence over what was a very special weekend organised to mark what would have been Packie Byrne’s 100th birthday. Like so many young men from Ireland, Packie made the journey over to England for work on a regular basis. Carrying his music and traditions with him, he eventually found himself a new community of friends and a special place in the folk revival in England. He appeared at The National Folk Festival at Keele alongside Felix Doran, Jeannie Robertson, Fred Jordan, Alex Stewart and Jimmy MacBeath. Despite several periods of poor health (he suffered from TB which left him with only one lung) he outlived them all, reaching the grand old age of 98. In some respects, his passing in 2015 marked the end of an era, but if we needed reminding, his centenary weekend ably demonstrated that the tradition continues in younger hands. In the various sessions, there were musicians spanning at least three generations.

THE TRANSPORTS - The Met, Bury - 28 January 2017

The stage is sparsely dressed: instruments stacked upstage left (guitars, fiddles, melodeons, cello, oboe); five upstage banners inscribed with fragmentary quotes from Peter Bellamy’s libretto (“fiel of Engl”); a few boxes; a length of rope; a couple of stools. In the course of the next couple of hours, these raw materials will create the haunting music of one of the Folk Revival’s finest works as well as generating settings from Norfolk to New South Wales. The boxes become, among other things, a prison bench, docks (in both senses of the word), gibbets, a mail coach and primitive buildings in a new land, while the rope will represent HMS Friendship, bondage and the shore of Old Blighty. Enhanced by the understated atmospherics of Emma Thompson’s inventive lighting design, this kinetically responsive set is emblematic of the wider message of the night’s show – the story of how rejects and refugees, human flotsam, can become the very foundation of societal advancement.

THE 15TH CARRYING STREAM FESTIVAL - Edinburgh - 9-16 November 2016

The Carrying Stream Festival was first held in Edinburgh to celebrate and commemorate the life and legacy of the great folklorist, songwriter and poet, Hamish Henderson, in November 2002, six months after Hamish's death in March of that year.

BROWN BREAD AND JAM CLUB - Cawley's Hotel, Tubbercurry, South Sligo - 12 November 2016

South County Sligo is well-known as the home of the iconic Irish traditional musicians, James Morrison, Michael Coleman and Paddy Killoran, but for eight years now, it has attracted an annual gathering of storytellers, singers and listeners known as the Brown Bread and Jam Club.


I challenge anyone to find a more unusual location than the main setting for this year’s Hartlepool Folk Festival. Most events are held in the Royal Navy Museum and Quay, some even held on board Nelson’s last frigate, the HMS Trincomalee. With low ceilings and wooden decks, this was a truly unique and atmospheric location.

CORK FOLK FESTIVAL - 28 September – 2 October 2016

A trip to Cork is never too much of a hardship, and we don’t usually need to be asked twice, so when the opportunity arose to visit this year’s Cork Folk Festival, we jumped at the chance. It has been a few years since we were at the festival, so we thought it was about time for a return trip. And, as we suspected, we were not disappointed.

SIDMOUTH FOLK WEEK - Sidmouth, Devon 29 July – 5 August

A large, week-long festival such as Sidmouth is made up of a very large number of constituent parts, some of which interlock, while others can stand PST as individual festivals in their own right. One such is the social dance. “If they want to,” social dance director Gareth Kiddier told me, “the dancers can start at nine o'clock in the morning and dance right through until 1.30 at night.” And, of course, participants can come and go as they choose, taking part in other events - dances, concerts, displays and pub sessions. The programme is nicely structured. Mornings was ‘homework’ with an emphasis on learning, improving and understanding the historical context of dances, with the chance to learn new material and get a deeper understanding of where it came from. The remainder of the day was geared to entertain, with a variety of different dances, bands and callers. This already popular strand is gaining even more fans with increasing numbers of young dancers and musicians attending and gifted dancers both participating and teaching.

EIRE! Festival Internazionale di Musica Irlandese - Bondeno, Italy - 26-28 August 2016

“We must have a break,” we said. “We need a holiday and a chance to get away from traditional music for a while,” we said. “Italy would be lovely this time of year,” we said. But when we realised that one of Italy’s premier Irish traditional music festivals was happening only a few short miles from where we were planning to be, it was just too hard to resist. So Bondeno, about 28 miles to the north of the wonderful city of Bologna, was added to our schedule.