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Live Reviews

FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS - Buxton Opera House - 17 February 2018

It may have been February but the Fisherman’s Friends brought a little summer sunshine and a taste of the Cornish coast to the Opera House in Buxton.

A visit with ‘family’ at Celtic Connections

There’s no indication the organisers of the first Celtic Connections, which took place in Glasgow 25 years ago, spared a thought for traditional music lovers like me who enjoy popping over from the continent for three or four days to attend what sometimes feels like an extended family reunion. The festival’s official explanation, that the dates were chosen to bring “much needed entertainment and economic cheer to the city during the darkest part of the year,” has charm from our perspective, too.

TEMPLE BAR TRADFEST GALA NIGHT - Dublin Castle - 27 January 2018

The venue was listed as “Dublin Castle”, the impressive 13th century building in the heart of the city, but Gala Night actually took place in the Printworks, a modern, 600-seat hall in the courtyard of the castle.

SCOTS FIDDLE FESTIVAL - Edinburgh - 17-19 November 2017

An unmissable event for devotees of Scottish fiddling, SFF is now in its 21st year. Since I last attended in 2013, a few things have changed. This year saw a new venue at Summerhall, a new artistic director in Rosie Munro, and a lot of new faces both on stage and off. The festival is one of the main events of the Scottish fiddle calendar and attracts a lot of visitors from near and far, taking its place in Edinburgh’s procession of festivals from harps to jazz to books to film. Despite its narrow focus, the Scots Fiddle Festival offers elements of all of the above, and much more.

TRIP TO BIRMINGHAM TRADFEST - 23-26 November 2017

We got delayed on the M6, so our particular trip to Birmingham was not the smoothest, but we made it in time for a lively session in The Spotted Dog. Our settee in the angle of the L-shaped bar enabled us to hear both groups of musicians at the same time. Great craic!

PATRICK O’KEEFFE TRADITIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL - Castleisland, Co Kerry - 27-30 October 2017

If you’re a keen student of early 20th century Irish history, you may associate the Crown Hotel in Castleisland with the formation of a branch of the Irish Volunteers in 1914. Well-known speakers on the balcony of the hotel convinced huge crowds to join the nationalist cause. If you were in the Crown during this year’s festival weekend, you’ll have been involved in great sessions with musicians from this area of Kerry and beyond. Many of the tunes they’d be playing would be ones associated with Sliabh Luachra and maybe more particularly with one of the great exponents of the music of this area, Patrick O’Keeffe.

BROMYARD FOLK FESTIVAL - 8-10 September

“It’s hard to believe the festival that started out in the swinging sixties as a ceilidh in a shed is now one of the longest-running and well-regarded folk events in the country.” So states the programme of this, Bromyard’s 50th Folk Festival. From a ceilidh in a shed to a comprehensive programme of events over several venues in a well-established site at the town’s football club, the festival at Bromyard has certainly come a long way.

HARTLEPOOL FOLK FESTVAL - 13-15 October 2017

So where does the year go? It only seems like five minutes since I was waxing lyrically about last year’s festival and now it is time to do so again. This festival is based at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, home of the 200 year old HMS Trincomalee, using most of the space both on board and in surrounding buildings. Larger concerts are held in the lovely Town Hall theatre.

SHREWSBURY FOLK FESTIVAL - 25-26 August 2017

Sidmouth Festival had sent me regular news beforehand and when I arrived gave me tickets, an information pack highlighting events of interest, a programme and a mobile phone number to call if I needed anything or wanted interviews with artists arranged. A bit of a contrast to my arrival at Shrewsbury, where I was given a ticket (which told me sternly that I was not allowed backstage – so no talking to the artists then), no information or programme but a strict encomium that I was to return the ticket if I set foot off the site as they were “running short” - so no reviewing events in the town either! Luckily there was so much going on that it was easy enough to get immersed. The site is spacious, with plenty of camping room which really makes a difference to the enjoyment of the weekend. Dogs are allowed on site – a big deal for some people, but one that didn't seem to be causing any problems.

SIDMOUTH FOLK WEEK - 4-11 August 2017

One of the advantages of a week-long festival is that, with a bit of planning, a structured series of workshops is possible. Workshops used to be seen as filler – where a star performer would spend 40 minutes teaching a tune to a group of acolytes who would have forgotten it a couple of hours later. Nowadays Sidmouth's workshops are almost a festival in itself. On offer are no less than 17 types of dancing (does “hamboning” also count?), band, instrumental, storytelling, singing – it's almost a complete summer school. These days too, the artists put as much thought into their teaching as into their performances and provide tuition at every level, from learning to play in a band to violin masterclasses (with luminaries such as Sam Sweeney and Emma Reid). I went to some of John Dipper's fiddle workshops (intermediate level) and students were given a raft of techniques to help bring a tune to life, making them think about their presentation and performance. By the end, the group standard had noticeably increased and they will have gone home with a tangible means to continue improving their playing.