At the start of 2020, things were normal for Britain’s first and longest surviving folk-rock group: they embarked on their annual winter tour, with a fine new album, Shuffle And Go, to promote, their spring acoustic tour in place and a year ahead of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the release of Full House, leading up to the first ever complete live performance of the album at Cropredy, where the bill would include several acts with strong Fairport links, including Richard Thompson and Matthews Southern Comfort, also celebrating 50 years since t
The University of Limerick’s Irish World Academy of Music and Dance hosted an international conference on singers, songs and collectors at the beginning of June, co-organised with the Traditional Song Forum. Participation was both in person and online over the weekend, with the presentations concentrated on the Saturday and Sunday; Friday night was the welcome session and a singaround.
It had been a frustrating afternoon for Andy Irvine, who had been hoping to watch Everton in a critical game against Brentford. When kick-off was put back for television, the match then clashed with his soundcheck. But he is very happy to be back on the road after lockdown and facing live audiences once more.
What, you might wonder, would motivate a 75-year Englishman to travel to a small town in northern France to be at a concert of traditional Irish music – and this at a time when the Omicron variant of COVID was surging across Europe?
“Own the stage,” said Ffion Mair, introducing the judges’ comments. “It’s yours from the moment you walk on until the moment you walk off. Engage the listeners, talk to them. Don’t hesitate to adjust your tuning on stage if you need to.”
Instigated by London’s Musical Traditions Club and compèred by Mossy Christian, with tech assistance from Matt Quinn, this Zoom-based evening was certainly ambitious and attracted nearly 150 subscribers from right around the globe, including members of Peter’s family. The attraction was obviously the man himself and his music, and also the galaxy of guest performers, each of whom was given around 25 minutes to perform and reminisce.
It needs to be stated that things were stacked against it from the start. The name, Lewis Barfoot, was not widely known here. The COVID infection rate has been soaring in this part of Sussex and the age groups that normally make up the audience for such gigs in Lewes were the ones most likely to take notice of this. A fair proportion of the usual Con Club audiences come over from the much larger Brighton, only eight miles away, and on top this the following night of the tour was in Brighton and at a ‘free admission with collection’ venue.
As we tentatively come out of the restrictions that COVID has imposed upon us, the most eagerly anticipated thing for many is the return of live music, albeit still with significant protection measures. This occasion saw the welcome return of Martin Simpson to the capital. The support for the evening, admirably presented by Evie Waddell with Katie Allen, set the scene for a cracking night of entertainment.
Bromyard was back, and what a joyous occasion it was with friends old and new catching up with the festival experience that they had missed. A real sense of camaraderie and spirit was evident among all the various groups of people needed to run a festival of this size. The weather was kind, although I got the sense that whatever had happened, the various organising strands and teams would have coped. COVID precautions were in place throughout the site. It felt safe. The Food Court saw the return of most of the Bromyard regulars.
Not the Sidmouth Festival. Managing expectations? We knew it was going to be different because it was billed as “A Celebration Of…” rather than just being the festival. But even with all the changes it still had a comfortingly familiar feel.