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.
The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 caused the Whittlesea Straw Bear organisers to abandon plans as early as June for the following year’s mid-January festival, and aim for a ‘virtual’ route, using Zoom, Facebook and YouTube. Teams and performers were invited to send in videos of themselves to complement a thoughtfully put together programme – the trick being to replicate two hour-long concerts, one ceilidh, and the pageantry into a weekend’s presentation.
This was the second Zoom event for Bollington Folk Club, more are planned, and the audience includes the club regulars as well as those attracted by advertising for the particular concert. I saw this one posted on Facebook, and as I had reviewed Tom's recent CD and book, Seasons Of Change, about his English busking project, I was interested to hear the man live and to see what this particular series of concerts was like.
This may indeed be a bleak midwinter for any number of reasons, but our musical journey down Christmases past was illuminated by the brightest of festive lanterns. The shining of that light came courtesy of Chris Green and Sophie Matthews, both experts in their respective instrumental fields. Performing under the name GreenMatthews, the duo plays traditional English folk music at concerts and festivals, all of which are tragically in short supply at the moment.
Every April since 2000, New Roots finalists have gathered in St Albans, since 2003 at the Trestle Arts Base. This year was different: the final was first delayed until November, and then had to be replaced by an online event. There was also a fine 21st anniversary showcase concert on YouTube which can still be viewed on the New Roots YouTube channel, along with this year’s competition performances.
THE SANDY DENNY PROJECT - Otley Courthouse - 31 January 2020
The Sandy Denny Project is a coming together of six highly talented musicians (two of them impressive multi-instrumentalists)… or four lead vocalists… or, if you wish, all of IOTA backed by three of Little Johnny England… another branch of the band-family tree would take you back to the revived Fotheringay or Trad Arr. This is an act with a record (several in fact – see the merch stand) and this is their latest conviction – and utterly convincing it is!
JOE NEWBERRY & APRIL VERCH - Eyemouth Hippodrome - 1 February 2020
NARTHEN: HARK, HARK - Het Stuk, Leuven - 20 December 2019
Every winter, Fi Fraser and sister Jo Freya accompanied Coope, Boyes & Simpson on their annual Christmas tour. They continue the tradition with Barry Coope – Fi’s husband – and Jim Causley as Narthen – a good northern name. And they still sing the local carols that fell out of favour during the Victorian era, squeezed out of churches by the arrival of organs and the publication of Hymns Ancient And Modern.
Birmingham Tradfest - 21-24 November 2019
Alex Monaghan sampled one of the most exciting Irish festivals in the UK