Temple Bar Tradfest is now in its twelfth year, and as a certain Michael Eavis would say, this year's was the best one yet! A welcome attraction at the end of the bleak month of January, the event is comprised of concerts, recitals and special events in venues, pubs and churches in the centre of the capital. The term trad is applied loosely. There are indeed events that are very traditional, but the line up also included Billy Bragg, Fairport Convention, the Rails, Martin & Eliza Carthy, Mundy and an ultra-rare concert by Maria McKee.
Perhaps not quite as extraordinary as Kate Bush returning to live performance after thirty years, this Maria McKee show had a similar vibe to it all the same. Maria has not toured since 2006 and she released her last conventional album in 2007. Since then she has been working with her filmmaker husband on films and soundtracks. She still has a devoted fan base, which became clear when she asked on Twitter what people would like to hear at this one off concert in Dublin. Many obscure requests were tweeted. People travelled from the U.K., Holland, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Norway to be at this gig.
St Patrick's Cathedral is a fabulous venue for a concert. The vicar came on to welcome us, mention fire exits and introduce support act Luan Parle. After a short interval Maria walked onto the stage, to a huge ovation, which prompted her to say, “I must come out of retirement more often!”
On some songs she was accompanied by friends on acoustic or electric guitar, but the main part of the show was performed solo, either with acoustic guitar or piano. It is amazing how well complicated songs such as 'High Dive' and 'Absolutely Barking Stars' translate into acoustic versions. She played the hits - 'A Good Heart', 'If Love Is A Red Dress' and a particularly impressive 'Show Me Heaven'. Her voice is as strong as it always was, and it sounded huge, reaching all corners of the cavernous cathedral.
Maria's in-between-song-chat was very funny and despite her becoming a bit of a recluse she seems well and happy. We learned that she is the same age as her dog, is Facebook friends with Linda Thompson and is not ruling out living in Ireland again. The encore, 'Life Is Sweet', was the highlight for me. Several people were wiping away tears.
Afterwards Maria came out to chat and was generous with her time. Fans stood around and listened to each other's conversations. A man in front of me announced that he had come from Italy, which caused Maria to exclaim, “Are you Lorenzo? You called your baby after me!!” Hard to top that... My trump card was a photo of me and her at Tower Records Piccadilly from 1986. Most people just wanted to say however how grateful they were for the opportunity to see her perform again after such a long time.
The Tradfest has a number of free events, including the Front Row Sessions, with artists such as the Fureys, Stockton's Wing and Sharon Shannon. Each act performed a number of times over the weekend. I caught Sharon Shannon at the Old Storehouse for an afternoon gig. I have followed Sharon since her Waterboys days, so I knew she would be great. It was lovely see her in an intimate pub setting.
Sharon was accompanied by Jim Murray on guitar, Sean Regan on fiddle and beatboxing and Jack Maher on electric guitar and vocals. This is as good as trad gets and it is to Sharon's credit that she has made this music accessible to an audience that would not normally go for this kind of thing. Of course none other than the late great John Peel was a Sharon Shannon fan.
Her one hour set featured her biggest tunes, 'Coridinio', 'Mouth Of The Tobique', 'Rathlin Island', but also a new set. A new album will be out in March. Jack Maher sang a lovely version of Dylan's 'Don't Think Twice, It's Alright' and the inevitable, but always hugely enjoyable, 'Galway Girl'. For the final song, 'The Bungee Jumpers' the band were accompanied by a class of special needs children on about twenty bodhráns. It sounded fantastic and put a smile on everyone's face.
Grammy nominated multi-instrumentalist Wunderkind Sarah Jarosz played St Werburgh's Church early on in the festival. There was a long queue well before the doors opened. I had seen Sarah before but this was her best show yet. She was accompanied by two musicians who played various string instruments and who were superb. I thought the electric guitar parts were particularly beautiful. It made you wish you were somewhere in a vast sunny open space, rather than in this extremely cold church (note to self: If I ever go to a concert in St Werburgh's again bring a flask of vodka..).
Sarah commented on the cold a number of times, also indicating that it affected the instruments. Some furious tuning went on. It made for a very quiet atmosphere, though it is hard to say whether people were too cold to move much or just listening so intently as the show was that good.
Notify are a modern trad quintet, lead by concertina player Pádraig Rynne. Their songs feature traditional-sounding melodies, played by Pádraig, backed by more contemporary sounds coming from keyboards, drums and an electric bass. It works wonderfully well. The compositions are their own. The band are unassuming and non-showy. Check out their CD 'In Concept'.
Notify played in St Michan's Church (heated!) and were followed by Jiggy, a nine piece collective who are trying something not dissimilar to the Afro Celt Sound System. Although the group includes very talented musicians including Éamonn De Barra on flute and Matthew Noone on sarode (a Indian instrument) it did not work for me as a whole. I would always be sceptical of a band that includes someone on MacBook on stage...
I saw two lunchtime recitals at the City Hall, and they are terrific events in a very pretty setting. The most traditional of gigs, they are introduced by festival director Kieran Hanrahan himself, and his enthusiasm for the music he is presenting is plain to see.
Concertina player Mícheál Ó Raghallaigh treated the lunchtime crowd to an hour of reels, jigs, hornpipes and airs on three different types of concertina. His banter was witty and the tunes hypnotic. I often think that in trad less is more and it was great to have the opportunity to hear these instruments at length and unaccompanied.
Flute player Órlaith McAuliffe is from London with Kerry roots. She played a one hour show on flute and whistle. As Mr Hanrahan said afterwards, not a note was out of place. It was also refreshing to hear Órlaith talk about the tunes, in a break from the trad habit where musicians think it is hilarious that they do not know the names of tunes.
LIVE AT THE HUB
Under this banner the Tradfest presents up and coming artists at free late night concerts at the Old Storehouse. Singer/songwriter Sive has her own band, her own songs and a confident stage presence. One to watch for sure.
Female a cappella quartet Landless were good too. They sing four part harmonies, with songs from the Irish, English, Scottish and American tradition. Their set was well received. They made people stop chatting despite the late hour.
Cáitlín, Ciarán & Cathal were not listed in the festival programme, so they must have filled in. Their set was one of the most traditional and all the better for it. The guys looked old-fashioned in their tweed jackets; their music was top-notch. Ciarán is a member of the Na Mooneys musical family from Co.Donegal, and Caitlín Nic Gabhann is an All-Ireland concertina champion and a former Riverdancer.
Temple Bar Tradfest is held annually the last weekend of January.
A warm welcome from festival directors Mick Peat and Bob Rushton, plus local folk heroes John Tams and Lucy Ward greet us at the start of the 10th Derby Folk Festival. As it's the 10th festival they've put together a great line-up including the new and as yet unknown, the traditional and much loved, and the unaccompanied voices to the full-blown band.
The festival is now split across eight venues around the city, but the first night is mainly focused in the City Marquee which has been erected in the city's market square.
First off tonight is Alma, who consist of award-winning fiddle-players Emily Askew and John Dipper with guitarist Adrian Lever. They play instrumentals inspired by their various backgrounds in English and European traditional music, there are waltzes, mazurkas and bourees all played beautifully and very well received by the attentive audience.
Next, Sam Kelly and The Lost Boys playing a lively up-tempo mix of traditional and contemporary songs and a couple of surprising covers. Sam has a great, strong voice and works in a variety of bands and projects. Traditional folk songs such as 'Jolly Waggoners' and 'Blackbird' are played beautifully, 'Dullahan' is an original song about the Irish Bogey man stories of which Sam's grandpa used to scare him. In the folk tradition of collecting songs , they have a “song collected in the North East of England by Mark Knopfler” which is a great cover of 'Sultans of Swing'. End of set is the second surprise cover, a folky version of Fleetwood Mac's 'The Chain'. An excellent set which leaves the audience on its feet and with beaming faces.
Stage compère Chris Sweeney introduces the headline act as “.. a band I first saw in 1972...and the creators of the first album I bought 'Liege and Lief'”, it is of course Fairport Convention. The set list tonight covers the whole of the band's history, the title track from the most recent album 'Myths and Heroes' is played early in the set, followed by a beautiful version of 'Crazy Man Michael' from the aforementioned 'Liege and Lief'. There's an as yet unrecorded new song 'Devil's Work' , which I first saw multi-instrumentalist and main songwriter Chris Leslie play solo about a year ago. At one point Simon Nicol looks genuinely surprised as an audience member runs up to the stage and hands him a fiver !
Ralph McTell gets the songwriting credit for 'The Hiring Fair' featuring some beautiful fiddle playing from Ric Sanders. 'Matty Groves' has the now familiar bluegrass banjo intro and for the encore of 'Meet on The Ledge' there's a nice touch as they invite the festival directors and stage compère on stage to sign the chorus. At the end the audience are on their feet giving the band a deserved standing ovation, there's clearly a lot of love for this band here tonight.
Day 2 starts with a genuine set of Americana in The Guildhall. Sam Gleaves is from South Virginia and plays traditional and original tunes in the Appalachian style on banjo, guitar, and American style fiddle. Clearly playing to his audience he sings a fun version of 'The Derby Ram', there's an original song 'Ain't We Brothers Too' which addresses contemporary issues of discrimination. Sam is joined on-stage by Peggy Seeger who we can quite rightly use that overused word icon to describe as she is acknowledged as one of the finest interpreters of Anglo-American folk-songs. Although now 80 she still plays and sings beautifully and is endlessly entertaining in her between song chat . 'Old Friends' is a beautiful and moving song with Peggy on autoharp, the song about the Mississippi steamer 'John Gilbert' is lovely and the call and response of 'Grey Goose' is a delight. Sam Gleaves returns for a duet on the blue grass favourite 'The Cuckoo'. A genuine icon and an absolute pleasure and privilege to spend a hour in her presence.
An early October downpour causes a steam to creep under the marquee and West Midlands folk trio Granny's Attic, to comment “this is a Sea Shanty, it's called 'Death of Nelson'”,which they reveal the children at a recent school concert thought refers to Nelson Mandela. Granny's Attic are a lively three piece combing guitar, fiddle and accordion and get some dancing, or splashing around in the marquee.
Next is 9bach , who are playing their final live show of 2016. Some find appreciation of 9bach difficult as Lisa Jen sings entirely in the Welsh-language (providing translation for the non-Welsh speaking audience prior to each song). But I find that this adds to the mix of beautiful, haunting melancholy. The harp playing in Brain (Crows) is beautiful, the very moving Plentyn (Child) is written about the lost generation of aboriginals. Wedi Torri (It's Broken) with a repeating guitar motif and Llwynog (Fox) with the extended live vocal loops are both gorgeous. Anian has no direct translation, the closest interpretation of it is a deep, gut-level connection we may feel to each other or a place and a lovely thought; and a lovely of tune.
Over to Derby Cathedral for Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, who were the 2015 winners of R2 Folk Awards duo of the year, and now as Josienne puts it “just a duo”, but they are far more than that. Josienne has a captivating, rich almost bluesy-folk voice and the perfect accompaniment to Josienne is Ben's beautifully finger-picked and played acoustic guitar parts. As they say it's not music to dance to, almost guaranteed to clear a party , but their melancholy is “ .. the best five star misery you can get your hands on”. Beautiful cover of 'Banks of Sweet Primroses' and 'Reynardine'. Original song 'It Would Not Be A Rose' from 'Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour' is moving. They are the perfect fit for the ambience of the Cathedral and the find of the festival.
An early Sunday morning slot for duo from Dorset ,Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere, who perform under the name Ninebarrow. Together they produce great harmonies accompanied by ukulele and a pump organ and captivating interpretations of traditional folk tunes such as 'The Begging Song' and 'Dark Eyed Sailor' as well as some original songs. For a duo who left Dorset before dawn, they are remarkably bright and have an engaging sense of humour which gets Day 3 of to a great start.
In the Georgian ballroom of the Old Bell Hotel, the good people of Furthest From The Sea who do worthy work promoting Derbyshire talent and creativity are putting on a fringe festival. Threaded are a three piece consisting of the unique instrumental combination of clarinet, violin and guitar. All three are classically trained from the Birmingham Conservatoire but play a mix of folk and acoustic music. Today's version only features violin and guitar but there's still stunning musicianship here, and I cannot wait to check them out as a three-piece soon.
In the chapel in the Cathedral there's Benammi Swift who's a melodeon player from Derbyshire and a finalist in the 2016 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award. He plays a short, but fine set of tunes from fellow players such as Andy Cutting and concertina player Rob Harbron to a small, but stunned audience.
Heidi Talbot has brought her husband John McCusker and his band along as part of her talented backing band for this evening's show in the marquee. Her new album was released last week and several tracks are played here tonight She's a chatty storyteller with an engaging nature and husband John is on the end of several good natured digs throughout the set. Just before playing 'The Music Tree' she recounts the time one of her fellow Pilates students broke wind as her teacher was using the track as appropriately relaxing music. The lads in the band play of set of toe-tapping, hand-clapping Celtic tunes. Heidi has a bright, strong and beautiful voice and plays a great set of county-infused pop tunes tunes, which is a fine end of the festival for me.
I've only covered a small part of what the festival has on offer. There's loads to listen to and see and it's well worth putting the date into your 2017 your gig calender now. I'll see you there .
This festival has had one or two years off but was back with a bang this year. This time round featuring some top-class bands, and including the larger 'Pyramids' venue.
Great value for money at £20 a ticket. Bands were playing from 1.00 pm at the majority of the 20 venues so inevitable there would be frustrating clashes. Notably, bands we were unable to see included, The Big Moon, Pigeon Detectives, Honeyblood, Inheaven, Sisterray, Black Honey.
Apart from The Pyramids Centre all venues are located on Albert Street and range from the established Wedgewood Rooms to various small rooms within/behind/above pubs. Pyramids is a 15 minute walk away
The first-class nature of today's line up saw co-headliners Mystery Jets clashing with British Sea Power. Having caught MJs the previous Wednesday in Reading and being a BSP devotee this choice was in reality a no-brainer. In all we managed to take in 11 great acts.
The V2s - Little Johnny Russell's
Competent guitar band to get things underway. Set List written on a waiters note-pad
The Dead Freights - Little Johnny Russell's
Highly likeable local Southampton band. Tunes laced with 60's soundalike melodies. More Animals than Beatles
Just Millie - The Vaults
Undergoing a change of name later this month. At the behest of her label she is moving into experimental electronic territory and will perform under the moniker of 'Wren'. Today an acoustic set with bass and Nicki on box-beating drums
Cassava - Little Johnny Russell's
Back to noisy guitars. Having been running late, this venue had now caught up so only caught last two songs
King Nun - The Loft at The Kings
Most interesting venue of the day - an extensive room above a pub with stage in the corner. Interesting as it presented a down n dirty rock n roll backdrop. In truth the whole room and furnishings require a refurb. But no complaints, good to see an event like this creating a useful home for creative arts. This band are from Richmond (South London, not Virginia). Nirvana guitars with Mark E Smith vocals.
Palm Honey - Little Johnny Russell's
Far and away the best 'unknown' on show today. This band is truly one to put on the radar. Standard guitar line-up but with a prominent synthesiser giving colour and depth to most of their songs. Saw them at Truck Festival earlier in the summer. As then, they announced their last song 22 mins into the set and proceeded to go into an excellent 8-minute prog-based guitar jam which moves into an extended outro comprising scuzzy guitars and strangely melodic feedback as instruments are left strewn across the stage as the band walks off.
Kassassin Street – Pyramids
Off to the Pyramid Centre for three bands firmly on our list today. Kassassin Street are a local Pompey band who deservedly drew a strong local following. The big stage and vibrant light show enabled this band to show their dancey side in full flourish. At the end of the set, lovely to see them taking pictures of the crowd - savouring their big moment. This band potentially has even bigger moments in store.
Eagulls - Pyramids
Eagulls’ songs rely on George Mitchell's powerful vocal being front and centre. Sadly today the band were a guitarist down and seemed to over-compensate by cranking up the volume of the lone guitar. As a result George's sullen poetic lyrics were somewhat drowned out. The slower 'Life In Rewind' off sophomore release 'Ullages' was the best song in today's set.
Little Comets - Pyramids
Had to play a curtailed set to get the venue back to timetable but delivered 7 wonderful songs including one of my all-time favourite songs 'The Blur, The Line, The Thickest Of Onions'. Their jerky rhythms and concisely-delivered vocal lines give this band a truly unique sound.
Lucy Rose - Wedgewood Rooms
A great turn-out for this wonderful female vocalist. Tonight with a band but that didn't detract from the delicate style in which she delivers her beautiful songs
British Sea Power - Wedgewood Rooms
BSP are not on tour currently so this was a one-off; but they were still on fine form. What I find striking about this band is that each of the six members has a brilliantly defined role down to Phil on cornet and Abbi on strings, and cowbell on 'Matches', one of two new songs in this set that otherwise comprised better known numbers including 'Remember Me', 'Waving Flags', 'Great Skua' and 'Carrion'. The customary dancing bears joined in the fun during live favourite 'Spirit Of St. Louis'. The somewhat over-exuberant white bear (aka Bi Polar) took a crowd-surf following which he fell in an unceremonious heap across the barrier. Marvellous fun!
Ye Vagabonds have been on the road playing support to Glen Hansard, Lisa Hannigan and Roy Harper. They have released a wonderful EP but I personally cannot wait to hear their debut album, when it will finally see the light of day? This was their biggest headline show yet and my first time seeing a full length concert by the brothers. There is something old-fashioned about Brían and Diarmuid, and this is meant as a compliment. Their music is as timeless as it is superb.
They played some of their own, excellent compositions, as well as songs by others, explaining where these were "got". There is something very wonderful about siblings harmonizing. Cork Folk got their share of this as Lynched of course has two brothers too and the Unthanks had played on the opening night.
Ye Vagabonds had brought two musicians along for the occasion. Alain McFadden on banjo and bodhrán (plus good looks and tech duties) and Jesse Smith on fiddle and viola. I did not think they added much and I was grateful that for a large part of the show Brían and Diarmuid played by themselves. When it comes to trad, less is always more, in my view.
Brían performed a beautiful instrumental piece on his own, entitled 'For Bert'. I had not heard them do 'The Lowlands Of Holland' before; a beautiful song that I had incidentally never came across until I moved from the Netherlands to Ireland.
The audience was really into it and well behaved (in terms of talking). There was much joking about the sound of cans being opened. I love the concept of Live At St Lukes. This former church is now solely being used as a live music venue. Punters are allowed to bring drinks (the website recommends three cans per person) and the venue has full cooperation from the pub and the carryout off license across the road. The acoustics in the church are slightly echo-y, which was perfect for these particular shows, but I do not know how well it would lend itself to louder music.
Support for Ye Vagabonds was by Tiz McNamara, a sympathetic singer/songwriter from Cork. An engaging storyteller as well as a performer, Tiz specializes in sad songs. Guy-with-guitar support acts can sometimes be a drag, but this was not at all the case here and he went down very well. A name to keep in mind.
On the previous night support had come from Morning Veils, a female trio, also from Cork. This was gothic, atmospheric music; a bit shoegazey as well. I was reminded of acts such as Fursaxa and Miranda Sex Garden. The girls were curiously dressed in regular clothes (one of them wore a 'Repeal' sweater) but with gauze veils tied around their heads. Instrumentation included harmonium and percussions bells. Radie from Lynched was sitting in the audience nodding along approvingly and later mentioned that she thought they had been great.
Lynched were utterly fantastic at St Lukes. It had been nine months since I saw them previously, hence many setlist changes. Their acclaimed debut album is over two years old now. Lynched have been touring constantly (many festival appearances over the summer) and have introduced a lot of new songs into their set. By the time they get to record album number two, they should have settled on perfect arrangements for this well worn-in material, thus avoiding any difficult-second-album problems. I am most curious if they will have an original song as good as 'Cold Old Fire'. If they do, they are keeping that up their sleeve for the time being.
Highlight of the show for me were the three songs on which Radie Peat sang lead. The acoustics of the church probably played a part - it was utterly impressive. It caused Ian Lynch to say, "It just struck me that I am in a band with the best singer in Ireland". True true.
Radie sang 'What Will We Do When We Have No Money', which she learned from a version sung by traveller Mary Delaney. I did not get the name of the second song she sang, but that was the one that took Ian and I guess all of the audience by surprise. The gig closed with 'The Old Man From Over The Sea'. Radie probably has enough good songs for a killer solo album, but that may be for another day. If I had any say in the matter though, she should get at least three songs on the next Lynched album.
The show included plenty of humorous banter. The original version of 'Salonika' was played so as to not to upset the keyboard warriors from the People's Republic of Cork. They also played a medley of some lesser known songs that the Dubliners recorded. Daragh explained that they got these songs on an album that they found in a 'crusty punk house' in Seattle.
The interaction between band members is a special thing to watch. The role of the quiet man with the perfect pitch, Cormac, is not to be underestimated. I found myself wondering why people get nostalgic for the 60s and 70s when there are bands as good as Lynched - and Ye Vagabonds - around that you can go and see nowadays.
The band seemed to enjoy the show as much as the crowd did. They mentioned that they love playing in churches, they complimented the audience on "some savage clapping" and wrote on Twitter that it had been one of their best crowds ever.
Move over U2, move over Kíla. Lynched are the best live band in Ireland right now.
OnRoundhay is the newborn northern sibling of the OnBlackheath festival which has been running since 2014. The festival site sits in a natural bowl in Roundhay Park which gives very good views of the enormous music stage and two top quality video screens from wherever you are in the main arena. The tie in with John Lewis means that there's a cookery demonstration tent and a selection of fine festival foods. There's also a Penguin storytelling area , a mini sports day, and giant, costumed characters (Peter Rabbit and Spot The Dog for the kiddies, and The Clangers for grown-up kiddies with longer memories) walking around for selfies and high fives.
Promoter Harvey Goldsmith is the compère for the day and he introduces Actor, who are a discovery of BBC Introducing West Yorkshire. Actor are a three-piece based in Leeds who produce a set of epic power pop tunes in a Bat for Lashes style driven along by Louisa Osborn's vocals which are powerful and striking. Standout tracks are 'Power' and 'Baby Cries'.
Another local band The Haggis Horns are next .They play mainly instrumentals of funky tunes with surprise, surprise a killer horn section. Their sound bursts from the PA and gets the partisan crowd down the front dancing. I suspect they would be at their best in a small, sweaty venue with everyone up on the tables and dancing, but to the uninitiated each track sounds very similar and the appeal is lost after a while in the wide open spaces outdoors.
Harvey's back on stage to introduce “ one of the hottest bands around .. Wolf Alice” and having seen Wolf Alice several times in the past couple of years Harvey's not wrong. Their sound is fuller and heavier live than on their debut album 'My Love is Cool '. Highlights include 'You're a Germ', 'Fluffy' and 'Moaning Lisa Smile'. The shortened set of 45 minutes and 13 tracks means there's little chance for audience / band interaction, but that's a minor quibble as their consistently high quality live performance means there's likely to be great things ahead for Wolf Alice.
A band already with a great past, current and likely future is Primal Scream, who understand that they are playing to a festival crowd so select a set list of greatest hits. A couple of minutes of opener 'Moving On Up' ignites long distant memories, causing a stampede of grown-ups into the area in front of the stage. 'Moving on Up' is one of four tracks from 'Screamadelica' in the set which also includes 'Jailbird' and 'Rocks', plus the two best tracks from 'Chaosmosis' the new album. A final anthemic 'Come Together' sends the crowd back to their early twenties and hopefully converts a few of the current teens/ early twenties present in the audience.
The investigatory powers of Sherlock Holmes are not required to deduce from the flowery face paint and band merch being displayed by the audience that tonight's headliners James are the main reason many are here tonight. Tim Booth ,wearing a beanie to protect against the rapidly dropping temperature, welcomes the audience “Good evening , it's a real pleasure to be here”, as the intro to the slow burn of 'Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)'. 'Sit Down' causes the inevitable mass sing-along.
The giant sun disc/ speaker from the front cover of their most recent album 'Girl at the end of the World' hangs over the band and there's six tracks from that album in the set tonight. But there's a steady drip of hits including 'Laid', 'She's a star' and during 'Sometimes' there's a mass audience sing-along to the fade out “Sometimes, when I look deep in your eyes, I swear I can see your soul”. The encore of 'Say Something ' ends in band bows and farewells to close this fine day.
The varied music selection, interesting food stalls, general good feeling and family atmosphere all blessed by the surprising late Summer Yorkshire sunshine means that the birth of On Roundhay feels like a successful delivery. We hope that the biggest village fête in Yorkshire will return again next year.