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Live Reviews

51ST ORKNEY FOLK FESTIVAL - 23-26 May 2019

First things first - acknowledgement must be made to the hard-working volunteers on the festival committee in their efforts to make sure that this year's folk festival in Orkney took place on schedule, in spite of elements beyond their control. The combination of a one-day strike closing Kirkwall airport, the breakdown of one of the ferries crossing from the mainland to Stromness and the consequent cancellation of one of the services bringing musicians and festival attendees across on the days before opening night meant it was a struggle for all the performers to reach their venues on time. On top of this, in contrast to recent years, the weather throughout was consistently overcast, raining most days, with the sun finally appearing on the morning after the festival. But however unappealing the weather outside was, the venues in Stromness and Kirkwall and outlying areas throughout the four days saw heart-warming and exciting performances from visiting artists and local singers and musicians alike.

A VISIT TO THE SERPENTARIUM - Dorchester - 27 May 2019

You may possibly own a terrarium, and you’ve probably visited an aquarium at some time, but have you ever been to a serpentarium? If you have, you’re lucky, because they only occur once every two years, in a different part of the world on each occasion, and they inexorably draw serpents (and their players) out of their lairs and away to wherever the event’s being staged.

TRADFEST - Edinburgh - 26 April-6 May 2019

At the end of last year's sixth annual Tradfest in Edinburgh, there were fears that this highly successful festival would come to an end due to the loss of funding to TRACS, who had organised the event so well. Fortunately, the Soundhouse Organisation, who promote live music in Edinburgh through house concerts and weekly concerts at the Traverse and who have previously hosted some Tradfest events, stepped in to take over what for this year was a smaller scale festival with hopes of establishing a more ambitious festival in the future. Sub-titling the event as “the past, present and future of traditional music”, Soundhouse concentrated on putting on 11 days of traditional music events around Edinburgh, leaving the Scottish Storytelling Centre to maintain activities concerning Beltane and May Day, whilst Transgressive North, separately funded, was able to continue its ever-expanding Folk Film Fest at the Filmhouse.

GREEN MATTHEWS: A BRIEF HISTORY OF MUSIC - The Rose Playhouse, Bankside, London - 8 May 2019

Why does a crumhorn have a curved bottom? Answer: no reason, it just looks nice! This was just one of the many musicological morsels proffered by multi-instrumentalist husband and wife duo, Chris Green and Sophie Matthews. They describe their show A Brief History of Music as “600 years of musical history in 90 minutes” and by gum, they’re not lying.

NEW ROOTS - Trestle Arts Base, St. Albans - 7 April 2019

“It’s the best concert of the year,” says Barry Goodman, introducing the New Roots finalists every April at the Trestle Arts Base, St. Albans, and for the 20 years of the competition’s life that has remained true. It’s one of the biggest, too: the music begins with the first act at 11:00 a.m. and finishes at about 3:00 p.m. with an hour for lunch. This year, there were 12 acts in total (two classes: under 18s and 18-24 year-olds).

NEWCASTLE PIPING FESTIVAL - 22-24 March 2019

The second Newcastle Piping Festival took place to great acclaim in March, in various venues across the city and beyond. Following on from the success of the 2017 festival, this one promised to be a slightly bigger affair. Although hastily organised in the months since Christmas, a stellar line-up was promised, and did not fail to deliver a spectacular weekend of concerts, sessions, workshops and general piping socials.

MICK RYAN’S HERE AT THE FAIR - Victoria Hall, Ripponden - 28 April 2019

The semi-staged format of this modern-day ballad opera lent an informal feel to what was actually a tightly organised and well-executed piece of musical theatre - one that portrayed an important aspect of the human condition: people must indeed be amused, especially when living in the shadow of something like the Peterloo Massacre.

TRAD RECLAIMED: WOMEN IN FOLK MUSIC - Kings Place, London - 15-17 March 2019

It all started when Rachel Newton, who became Musician of the Year in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2017, wrote a Facebook post about the lack of women in folk music in 2016, citing as an example the experience of the seven members of the all-woman group, The Shee, including herself, when they were turned down for a festival as the organisers had already booked their quota of one 'girl' act for the year. The response online was overwhelming, and there followed a panel discussion at Celtic Connections in 2017.

Centenaries, Celtic Crossover and Spinning Tops at Celtic Connections in Glasgow

Some trad enthusiasts look sceptically at Celtic Connections: too big, too commercial and not Celtic enough are complaints sometimes heard. Those with a folk club nearby, regular sessions in the local pub or a steady stream of gigs on the home circuit may be prone to this perspective. But to get the picture right, there’s more to reflect upon.

DANCING ENGLAND - Nottingham Playhouse - 26 January 2019

Dancing England was an annual event from 1979 to 1987, held in Derby, and was relaunched two years ago in Sheffield. It’s taken another two years and a move to Nottingham for the next one to happen, but it was worth it.