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Live Reviews

FESTIVAL AT THE EDGE - Whitchurch, Shropshire - 28-30 July

Volume 2 - FatE Accompli!

I want to tell you a story of a summer weekend, of men and women, of animals and deities, of musicians and dancers and heroes and folk. Once upon a time? Not quite, but I’ll explain.

35th ORKNEY FOLK FESTIVAL - 25-28 May 2017

This year's Orcadian musical extravaganza followed the same successful pattern of previous years, with almost every venue selling out before the start of the festival, and the sun coming out on the first day and remaining as bright as the music for most of the weekend. The major concerts were held in Stromness, with one concert in Kirkwall, the other major centre on the Mainland island of the Orkney Isles, and ceilidh evenings involving a mix of visiting artistes and local musicians at various outlying areas of Mainland and the southern islands connected by causeways in Burray and South Ronaldsay. There were also overnight visits to the Southern end of Hoy and the far-out island of Sanday, as well as special afternoon concerts in Kirkwall Cathedral, Birsay, Skaill House and St. Ninan's Kirk.

TRADFEST Edinburgh - 26 April - 7 May 2017

The fifth annual celebration of Scotland's traditional arts known as Tradfest Dùn Èideann recently confirmed its standing in Edinburgh’s annual calendar of cultural festivities. Taking place over the Beltane and May Day period, it occurred at a time between Edinburgh’s International Harp and Film Festivals in April and June respectively and this year there were links to both these other festivals, notably in the Folk Film Gathering which is now a thriving part of Tradfest.

FAIRPORT CONVENTION - Union Chapel, Islington - 27 May 2017

It’s 50 years to the day since Fairport Convention played their first gig. Clearly, The Cropredy Convention will be the occasion to celebrate that half century, but how to mark the anniversary itself?

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.