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.
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!