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Live Reviews

Celtic Colours International Festival - Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia - 5-13 October 2018

It’s seven years since we last made the trip across the Atlantic to Celtic Colours, and we were mightily impressed then, so we were glad when at last we were able to make a return visit to the beautiful island of Cape Breton, just off the north-east coast of Nova Scotia in Canada.


July saw Aberdeen’s halls and bars flooded with fiddle activity, which spilled out into the nearby villages and lifted the spirits with a cascade of music. The North Atlantic Fiddle Convention had come back home! Started by Ian Russell in 2001, it has taken place in Aberdeen every four years (with interim stops in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia). Its 2018 iteration proved to be an almighty celebration of the study, performance and role of all things fiddle. Now in the hands of Carley Williams and Frances Wilkins, we were offered no less than 150 events over five days.

SIDMOUTH FOLK WEEK - 3-10 August 2019

Last year I mentioned that many of the events on Saturday evening at Sidmouth sported ‘House Full’ signs, seeing this as evidence of the vigour and popularity of the festival. This year it seemed to be more of a problem. People were complaining that, having bought expensive season tickets, they weren’t able to get into the events they wanted, because individual event tickets were being sold – and these were given priority at the door. This led them to wonder why they should support the festival by buying season tickets, when it was much cheaper and time efficient to buy individual tickets for the specific events they wanted to see. Queuing for up to two hours for an event, as well as meaning they possibly missed something else, didn’t seem a good way to spend a holiday. In previous times, season ticket holders could dip in and out of events, such as concerts at the Ham – now they have to pay extra for these and are constrained to choose one concert/event and stick with it. This is a circle that needs to be squared by the organisers before it causes serious problems.


Shrewsbury this year basked in bright sunshine, which really helped the festival atmosphere, but made some of the large marquees uncomfortably warm – you can’t have everything! There was the normal extensive range of events, craft fair and artists, with not just something for everyone, but plenty for everyone. Some of my highlights were the Richard Thompson Electric Trio (and occasionally Quartet) who really were electrifying. Concentrating on material from the forthcoming album, 13 Rivers, but sprinkled with classics from the past (even numbers from early Fairport which they’d never performed live), the band was on absolutely blistering form, with superb sound in the main marquee. Usher’s Island played (and sang) absolutely beautifully despite the fact that they’d travelled straight from their previous gig (in Denmark) by car and plane, arriving five minutes before they were due on stage! It was a shock to find this was the first appearance of Johnny Coppin at the festival. It was a surprise to see that he and Phil Beer had been put on in the smallest venue, the Sabrina Tent. Unsurprising, ‘House Full’ signs went up before they started and the performance was enthusiastically received following which the tent virtually emptied. Hopefully we will see more of him at this and other festivals in the future. The sound was odd – perhaps they didn’t think Phil Beer had anything worth saying?!


Way back in 1995, under the auspices of the London Borough of Hammersmith, the Irish Cultural Centre was formed. Originally known as the Hammersmith Irish Centre, alongside the provision of language and music classes and other cultural activities aimed primarily at the local community, it staged a stupendous regular series of concerts featuring musical acts principally from Ireland but also from Scotland.

FOLK ON THE TYNE - Sage Gateshead - 28 July 2018

Throughout the summer of 2018 on Tyneside, there was held a celebration of the north of England under the name of the Great Exhibition Of The North, based in art galleries, museums and other cultural centres, and including a wide range of music. Several of the musical events took place at the Sage in Gateshead. Prominent among these was a day's feast of folk music from the North East of England entitled Folk On The Tyne.

BRIDGET ST JOHN - The Greystones, Sheffield - 6 September 2018

As a schoolboy, I listened to John Peel’s Night Ride radio show. Much as I enjoyed the music, there were only two artists that excited me enough to spend my pocket money on their records, Chicken Shack and Bridget St John, so when I found out that Bridget St John was appearing less than 50 miles away I booked tickets immediately.

TOM LEWIS - Tigerfolk, Long Eaton - 8 April 2018

This excursion through submariner-singer Tom Lewis’s tales of a sailor’s life was part of a series of gigs tagged as “75 years in 75 minutes”, and hence there was plenty of context and naval knowledge supplied throughout the evening.

TRADFEST - Edinburgh / Dun Eideann - 26 April - 6 May 2018

Any enthusiastic response to the announcement of the mouth-watering programme for the sixth staging of Edinburgh's Tradfest was tempered by the warning from promoters TRACS (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland) that cuts of funding from Creative Scotland might mean that this would be the last festival in its current shape and format. The showcase for Scotland's traditional arts which has become a significant place in Edinburgh's festival calendar would be a sad loss to bear. However the continued success of the festival shown by the number of sell-outs and near sell-outs throughout the participating venues and the determination expressed by the co-curators to provide, in some form, the music, song, dance, storytelling and film that have been part of the festival brought some hope for the future of this event.


Until recently, this was an old-school English folk festival: shanty men, singer-songwriters, Morris dancers, a bit of fiddle and melodeon, all very traditional and rural and appealing to a folk club audience. But folk clubs are not the places they once were, and their audiences are generally getting older, so this year the festival really branched out to embrace overseas acts, Americana, jazz and punk influences, and other more esoteric art forms such as poetry and yoga. It certainly attracted a younger crowd, and filled the five stages with a broad spectrum of music and dance.