The Temple Bar TradFest is in its 13th year. Always on at the same time as Celtic Connections, the Dublin fest is similar, but smaller. One of the assets of the festival are its unconventional venues: Churches, the Town Hall, Dublin Castle, the House of Lords. These places do not have bars, so audiences listen well.

There are of course plenty of pubs nearby for pre and post gig drinks. A considerable percentage of the TradFest audience are music fans who travel from abroad. There are sessions and concerts in pubs as well, but for me it is the sit-down gigs and the strong line up that are the main attraction. These were my highlights:

I knew of the sisters by reputation, but this gig very much surpassed what expectations I may have had. It is always special to hear siblings singing together and this was definitely a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. The girls were backed by an excellent three piece band. Shelby looked frail and emotional, but this did not affect her singing in any negative way. When I read that the girls had released an album of covers I remember thinking that I would have preferred original material. I will take that back - their versions are superb. The only problem with this gig was that it was too short; a good complaint to have.

Tim is an extraordinary musician and a great character. “Tim here runs on Duracell”, I remember Seamus Begley once saying during a gig that still stands out in my memory as one of the very best I was at ever. Tim’s current run of gigs is billed as a one-man-show. No slick soundcheck for him: He walked into the church five minutes prior to the start, with all his equipment in a shopping bag. He was set up in no time and what a joy the show was. Tim played guitar and accordion and, following his discovery of the loop pedal, both simultaneously. He sang some songs and talked quite a bit in between - it was all highly entertaining. He received a standing ovation and the festival’s artistic director Kieran Hanrahan appeared side-stage to assure Tim that he could play for as long as he wanted. Everybody in the audience left the church with smiles on their faces.

Maria has a successful acting career and opportunities to see her in concert are few and far between. She performed at St Werburgh's Church accompanied by husband Kieran Kennedy on guitar, backing vocals and all kinds of pedals, looking like he was pottering around in the garage. Maria is a great singer, a fabulous songwriter and has a lovely stage presence. It feels like a privilege to spend time in the company of this couple, listening to their unique music. Maria played songs from her recently released self-titled album. 'Last day', 'Colour code' and 'Last call' were my favourites. She climbed up to the pulpit to sings a song unaccompanied and encored with a cover of Abba’s ‘S.O.S.’

Jarlath Henderson impressed me at a Music Network concert last year and so I decided to check him out with his own band. Jarlath modernizes traditional music in the same way as Michael McGoldrick does, with the difference that Jarlath is also a fine singer - his voice somewhat similar to Paul Brady’s. Jarlath and his band performed intriguing and jazzed up versions of traditional songs such as 'Ye rambling boys of pleasure', 'Fare thee well lovely Nancy' and 'Courting is a pleasure. The show also included traditional jigs and reels. Special mention has to go to percussionist Andrea Gobbi, whose equipment included cubes with sensors that respond to touch and movement. The electric heaters had to be switched off when the band came on as apparently they interfere with this particular machine.

According to the write-up in the excellent TradFest programme Laoise Kelly is “the most significant harper of her generation”. I am no expert but her harp melodies sounded just heavenly in the packed out St Werburgh’s Church for Saturday’s lunchtime concert. Laoise teaches as well and her introductions to the music she was playing as well as other things she talked about were very interesting. We learned that the harp is the national instrument of Paraguay and is apparently much played all over South America.

As a lifelong Waterboys fan I could not miss this rare headline concert from the fellow who fiddles. Many Waterboys fans had travelled over for this gig. Steve had a five piece band with him, that included guitarist Joe Chester, who produced his latest album, ‘Beekeeper’. Steve is starting to look more and more like Tom Waits, and he sounds a bit like him too. The one drawback of Steve singing is that this cuts from the time that he plays the fiddle and I personally think there is nothing more beautiful to listen to than Steve’s fiddle-playing. Steve is a great character and his in-between-song chats were fun. ‘The raggle taggle gypsy’ “with Mike” was on the setlist and Mike Scott tweeted that he was in a taxi en route to the show. What caused him to no show we do not know.

The lunchtime trad recitals at the City Hall offer a unique opportunity to see instrumental virtuosi in concert. David is a piper, Tríona a harpist and this was the premiere of a new duo project. All I can say is that I hope that they will continue to perform this show and consider releasing a CD as this was outstanding. I had found the sound in the Town Hall a bit echoey in the past, but for this concert they seemed to have got it just right.

Michael and Mick played a short support set for Steve Wickham. I was not familiar with Michael (hope I heard his name right), whose voice and songs I liked very much. Mick McAuley I knew from Solas. His duo album with Winifred Horan, ‘Serenade’, is a firm favourite I often come back to. I wish they had had a bit more time to play for us.

Some americana amongst the trad. Martin from Woking and Daniel from Tennessee have two albums to their name and are talented instrumentalists. Both men sang and chatted amicably. Daniel also plays in the Gerry Douglas Band who were up for a Grammy on the night of our gig. This gig was at the Printworks, an odd place - more conference centre than concert venue. However it did have complimentary drinks in the foyer courtesy of one of the sponsors and a proper merch table. Harley & Kimbro vinyl was selling well.

I saw a number of up and coming acts as part of Live at the Hub, and Junior Brother stood out. This is a young singer/songwriter from Co.Kerry with a very unique style. A bit like Damien Dempsey, or a one-man Proclaimers, with the facial contortions of Loudon Wainwright III. Check out his single ‘Hungover at Mass’. A name to watch.

I have started bringing my vinyl over from the Netherlands and the most recent batch included In Tua Nua’s 1988 album ‘The Long Acre’. I listened to it prior to this gig and it remains a strong album with good songs ('Meeting of the waters', 'The innocent and the honest ones'). Leslie Dowdall had the flu which affected her voice, but disregarding that what disappointed me is that this was just nostalgia with nothing added. The only ‘new’ thing in the show was an Elbow cover.

Notable mentions: I attended the recording of RTE radio programme 'Arena' at the House of Lords. Interesting to see the workings of a programme that has to go out live. And a real treat to get a few songs from Johnny Kalsi and the Dhol Foundation.

Noel Hill - Aisling Ghéar
Paddy Hayes’ documentary about concertina player Noel Hill premiered the Irish Film Institute. This was a festive event with Noel Hill, his family, director Paddy Hayes, producer/musician Edel Fox, festival patron Stephen Rea and the mayor of Dublin all in attendance. Sunniva O’Flynn (head of Irish film programming) of the IFI conducted an interview with Noel and Paddy afterwards. I only knew of Noel Hill by name and was unfamiliar with his story. The music in the film was beautiful. It made me want to jump on a bus and go West...


Festival website