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Live Reviews

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

Six years ago, three or four lads at college in Birmingham had the idea of putting on a festival so they could book some of their favourite Irish bands. How hard could it be? And thus, Birmingham Tradfest was born. The lads are still running it, but their team has grown, and they now know just how hard it is to organise a world class festival! Tradfest has been hugely successful and has established an enviable reputation since the first event in 2014. The line-up for 2019 included some of the biggest names in Irish music for the last 50 years, as well as recent stars and total newcomers, all crammed into a November weekend to rival the finest Irish festivals on the planet.

BBC RADIO 2 FOLK AWARDS - Bridgewater Hall, Manchester - 16 October 2019

In a break with the usual timetable, this year’s awards took place much later in the year to link with the Manchester Folk Festival and the English Folk Expo. The ceremony was broadcast live on Radio 2, but this year there was no video taken for the BBC website.

L2F - Lichfield, Staffordshire - 18-20 October 2019

“Super Saturday” was how many right-wing rags referred to the sitting of Parliament on Saturday 19th October. Alas for them the “cunning plan” of their hero in No 10 and his Baldrick-like adviser came to nowt. Meanwhile 132 miles to the north, in Lichfield, a truly Super Saturday was unfolding. Ah, but I rush… first of all there was Fabulous Friday, made absolutely fabulous by a supercharged reformed Home Service. Even before then - two days before in fact - the scene was being set on board the Folk Train. This rolled out of Lichfield at 7.58pm, picking up folkies from throughout the region for a mobile session on board, and picking up momentum as sessioneers joined at stations along the way, eventually decamping at a session pub in Sutton Coldfield where they continued until tumbling on to the last train homeward. A head of anticipatory steam(!) had thus begun to build throughout Lichfield before the festival had officially kicked off.

RICHARD THOMPSON’S 70TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION - Royal Albert Hall, London - 30 September 2019

It’s exactly 50 years since Liege & Lief cemented Richard Thompson and the rest of Fairport Convention’s place in folk music. Naturally, folk was well represented at the all-star gathering to mark his seventieth year. In the course of the three-and-a-half-hour gig, Britain’s most famous folkies shared the stage with rock stars from the ridiculous to the sublime.

SIDMOUTH FOLK FESTIVAL - Sidmouth, Devon - 2-9 August 2019

The daddy of all the festivals, the 65th Sidmouth Folk Festival lasted for nine-and-a-couple-of-bits days and had no fewer than 867 events scheduled. As ever, this gives the visitor the ability to follow a particular thread of music or dance throughout the week, or alternatively to experience the kaleidoscope of music which is on offer. And if you should weary of that, just over the road is a splendid beach. This year saw quite good weather until the final day, when gale-force winds from the sea forced events at the Ham to be cancelled, the marquee itself to be taken down and events moved to the Bulverton marquee, a more sheltered inland venue. Sadly, this was to no avail as the audience had to be evacuated when it became apparent that the wind was causing the steel supports to flex. Many congratulations to the organisers for making the difficult decision to cancel events for the safety of the public, whilst doing their utmost to find alternatives.

SHREWSBURY FOLK FESTIVAL - Shrewsbury, Shropshire - 23-26 August 2019

Hot. Hot, hot, hot. And then some. Just the weather to make you want to sit in an airless marquee with 3,500 other people isn’t it? Thought not. But the festival did a great job of keeping temperatures reasonable in the main marquee (not so much in the secondary, 2,000-ish marquee) and, as ever, the sound was excellent and the light shows impressive. But the big yellow disc in the sky was having none of it, especially for the numerous Morris dance sides, who were expected to stick to their original schedules, resulting in a few keeling over. Even in the dance tent, it was bad enough for Alberio’s electric keyboard to burst into flames! And to think that last year people were leaving because the cold, horizontal rain and gale force winds were snapping their tent poles.

FOLK AT THE SALMON BOTHY – THE 10TH HAAL - Portsoy -31 May – 2 June

The 10th Haal, held in Portsoy earlier this year, was declared a resounding success by organisers, performers and audiences, as all were treated to a weekend of superb songs, tunes, stories and poetry. Both Friday and Saturday concerts were sold out and all the other events enjoyed huge crowds too.

37th ORKNEY FOLK FESTIVAL - 23-26 May 2019

Throughout this year's Orkney Folk Festival, 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. The opening concert at Stromness Town Hall (sold out - as most events were) gave an exhilarating indication of what to expect through the three following days. Piping from Stromness's RBL Pipe Band was followed by more local music from the fiddles of the West Mainland Strathspey and Reel Society. Of the visiting acts, the local audience assuredly enjoyed the stunning combination of fiddle maestro Ryan Young and in-demand guitarist Jenn Butterworth, also at the festival with the Kinnaris Quintet. Cara Dillon ‘topped’ the bill with an immaculate demonstration of the purity of her voice, but it was the return of The Poozies with their new line-up which was, perhaps, the highlight of the night, with Sarah McFadyen from Hoy on fiddle and banjo providing two songs in Orcadian dialect alongside other songs from the group in Gaelic and English, and the magnificent sound of three fiddles, banjo and guitar with Mary McMaster's harp.

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.