What, you might wonder, would motivate a 75-year Englishman to travel to a small town in northern France to be at a concert of traditional Irish music – and this at a time when the Omicron variant of COVID was surging across Europe?
“Own the stage,” said Ffion Mair, introducing the judges’ comments. “It’s yours from the moment you walk on until the moment you walk off. Engage the listeners, talk to them. Don’t hesitate to adjust your tuning on stage if you need to.”
Instigated by London’s Musical Traditions Club and compèred by Mossy Christian, with tech assistance from Matt Quinn, this Zoom-based evening was certainly ambitious and attracted nearly 150 subscribers from right around the globe, including members of Peter’s family. The attraction was obviously the man himself and his music, and also the galaxy of guest performers, each of whom was given around 25 minutes to perform and reminisce.
It needs to be stated that things were stacked against it from the start. The name, Lewis Barfoot, was not widely known here. The COVID infection rate has been soaring in this part of Sussex and the age groups that normally make up the audience for such gigs in Lewes were the ones most likely to take notice of this. A fair proportion of the usual Con Club audiences come over from the much larger Brighton, only eight miles away, and on top this the following night of the tour was in Brighton and at a ‘free admission with collection’ venue.
As we tentatively come out of the restrictions that COVID has imposed upon us, the most eagerly anticipated thing for many is the return of live music, albeit still with significant protection measures. This occasion saw the welcome return of Martin Simpson to the capital. The support for the evening, admirably presented by Evie Waddell with Katie Allen, set the scene for a cracking night of entertainment.
Bromyard was back, and what a joyous occasion it was with friends old and new catching up with the festival experience that they had missed. A real sense of camaraderie and spirit was evident among all the various groups of people needed to run a festival of this size. The weather was kind, although I got the sense that whatever had happened, the various organising strands and teams would have coped. COVID precautions were in place throughout the site. It felt safe. The Food Court saw the return of most of the Bromyard regulars.
Not the Sidmouth Festival. Managing expectations? We knew it was going to be different because it was billed as “A Celebration Of…” rather than just being the festival. But even with all the changes it still had a comfortingly familiar feel.
Tunes new and old, hardly any swearing, and fabulous musicianship filled the second night of Phil and Aly’s misleadingly-named No Rush tour of England and Wales. The good people of Hitchin had been waiting 18 months or more for this postponed concert, an early victim of COVID closures, and they weren’t disappointed when it finally arrived.
Like many festivals in 2020, the pandemic cancelled planned bills of fayre, leaving no time to contemplate alternatives! One year on, at the end of the third lockdown, the weekend after Easter’s jamboree at Morpeth took place – virtually. The opening speech of welcome by gadgie Alex Swailes announced all would be “brought to you by the marvels of Zoom, YouTube and Facebook – way beyond the ken of a 14th-century bailiff!”... or words to that effect. And a fine day out it was.
Cathal McConnell from Fermanagh is a living legend in Irish music, a tradition bearer from his home place and a collector of songs and music across Ulster and beyond. He was a founder of the influential group, Boys Of The Lough, in the 1960s, and still performs with them, but in his own trio he is admirably supported by fiddler and violist Kathryn Nicoll and harper Karen Marshalsay. This pre-recorded 40-minute set features Cathal on flute and vocals, and on the humble tin whistle, with brief introductions to each piece.