Monthly Archives: June 2015

Spancil Hill Again.

It’s the 23rd of June again. That means Spancil Hill Fair.

The day didn’t start too well. Sometime during the night I stubbed my foot into a chair and dislocated my little toe. Pain! It had a 90 degree bend in it and I didn’t sleep that night. I figured I would limp through the day and seek treatment later.  The Show must go on.

But I didn’t count on the magic of the Fair. As I stepped onto the hallowed ground, dodging the horse pats, I was miraculously cured. The toe clicked back into place and the pain just disappeared instantly.

Should Spancil Hill become the new Knock? Conversion on the Road to Tulla?

Can’t believe it’s a year since I was here. I blogged on it then so I won’t repeat those thoughts here as they are still entirely apposite.

https://singersongblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/spancil-hill-it-being-the-23rd-of-june/

Yet last time it was such a novelty. Now I feel more part of it. I was with Miriam and Linda, woofers from Germany, staying with Pakie and Irene, who have a farm near Mullagh, and they are both horsey people so they gave me more of an insight into what was going on.

And what was going on was, literally, horse-trading. This is so much a part of so many lives still here in Ireland. There was much to take in. Traveller girls dressed to the nines, men with sticks, so many sticks (and when a horse bolted in my direction I understood why), horses of all types, ponies, donkeys, carts, puppies, traders selling pretty much everything, the three-card-trick, drinking, hamsters and chickens, and more horses. I watched deals done and the apparently haphazard system results in buyers and sellers coming away happy. People, young and old, just stand there in the field with their pony or horse and potential buyers look them over and, if they like it, agree a price and take their purchase away.  No spruiking or pressure.  Horse traders from Britain in particular arrive in droves, buy them up cheap and take them back to sell to riding schools or wherever.  It’s been thus for hundreds of years.

As the crowd thinned people gravitated to the Spancil Hill Inn where I was persuaded to sing. I sang half a dozen songs. That was a real buzz. Afterwards wind down sessions at the recently reopened Brogans and then Ennistymon on the way home. A day that started at 9am and finished at 1 am.

The Sunday before the Fair was a family fun day at Duggan’s Pub, with a donkey derby (bookmaker and all), tractor balancing, wellington boot throwing and musical chairs with donkeys and with bikes for the kids. You had to be there.

I decided to use black and white on many of these photos. Just thought it gives a more timeless aspect to the images.

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Categories: Real Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Doolin Folk Festival 2015. People.

A festival such as Doolin is obviously about the music. But it’s also about the people.

That people of all ages and from all parts of the planet, enjoyed themselves at Doolin is beyond question. What has been created here is an atmosphere where everyone can be part of the festival on their own terms.  Families, people who just want to listen, people who want to party.  All the little spaces around the marquee create that ambience.  You can curl up on the couch or sit around the fires or sit in the front row and hear and watch every note or just catch up with friends.  Or make new ones.  Or you can chat to the musicians that stay to listen.

When I wasn’t photographing musicians, I turned the camera in other directions. I think  I have caught some of these moments.

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Categories: Concerts, Festivals, Real Ireland, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Doolin Folk Festival 2015 Day 3

Phew! How did I survive?

I was wrong the other day when I said the hardest gig was playing first up at the Festival. Sorry David, but Dingle-based Ríona had an even tougher job opening the Sunday. Clearly many had not yet got up after Aldoc and whatever after that, but this was a shame for them as they missed a great new voice with her own heartfelt songs and lovely understated guitar. How do you find these gems, Conor?

Then two of the real stars of Clare music got together to revisit their seminal album ‘Setting Free’ released over twenty years ago. Cyril O’Donoghue and Tola Custy. For Tola this was back to his roots and very different to recent explorations such as Guidewires and Tradivarious. But we were reminded what a good traditional fiddler he really is. And Cyril’s magic voice! we hear it so rarely these days in sessions around Ennis.

What a treat, the virtuosic mandolin of Brendan O’Regan. And the inspired combination with Floriane Blancke’s harp and Dermot Byrne’s exquisite box playing transported us from an Irish pub to a French café, to the drawing room of a stately home, to ‘Deliverance’ country and then back to Ireland. There is no other word for it – delicious!

Stone the Crows! (Aussies will know what I mean). Sligo boys, No Crows were a revelation. I had never heard them before, though I had heard of them during my visit to Sligo last year when I had the interesting experience of playing with Seamus Tansey at Shoot the Crows. With the amazing Steve Wickham and two other extraordinary fiddlers their music defies pigeon-holing. Celtic meets gypsy jazz with a dose of Jimmy Hendrix! I was absolutely blown away when I heard Steve sing. What an extraordinary voice. And his inspiring narrations of tales of the Aran Islands made for riveting listening.  I almost forgot to take photos.

How could you beat that? You bring on Paddy Keenan and Daoiri Farrell. And then you get Paddy to invite his mates onto the stage: Eddie Lee (amazing bass player with No Crows), Katie Theasby, then Conor Byrne. Then you bring Flo and Dermot and Seamus back and you lift the roof off the tent. Great songs from Daoiri and those wonderful old favourite tunes such as Jenny’s Wedding and Craig’s Pipes and then Paddy on the low whistle with A Stór Mo Chroi seamlessly blending into The Boys of Tandragee.

Then we had Luka Bloom’s most recent carnation Oh! Sahara, a trio with Jon O’Connell and Quentin Cooper.  Their set built up after a mellow start until by the end they were rocking and the audience was belting out the lyrics.  I won’t say anymore as I reviewed them at a previous concert they gave recently at Kenny’s(https://singersongblog.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/osahara-at-lahinch/). Was this their last gig?

The tent then swelled in expectation of Stockton’s Wing. Their wings were unfortunately clipped with the unfortunate absences of Maurice Lennon and Steve Cooney (speedy recovery guys) but the replacements who included Tara Breen on fiddle stepped into the breach magnificently. The light continued to shine in the western sky and the audience loved it. I reviewed their recent concert in Ennis in March. Check it out at https://singersongblog.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/stocktons-wing-concert-ennis/

And to finish the night and the Festival, and what a great choice, Arum. I know little about them but that mattered not. The crowd that was left after midnight did and they were all there to see the amazing flute of Conor Crimmins. Unfortunately I had hit the wall and left soon after 1 am. I have no doubt the party went on till the small hours became large.

Well done Conor, Lisa, Hana, Roisin and all the other nameless helpers that worked so hard to put on this Festival.

I have one more blog to come. Keep an eye out for it.

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Categories: Concerts, Festivals, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Doolin Folk Festival 2015, Day 2

Only a few words today. I am going to let the pictures talk. I’ll just say that the full house yesterday was treated to an incredibly strong showing of what ‘Folk Music’ is today in Ireland.

We had solo singer-songwriters such as Fiach Moriarty, we had a dose of Sliabh Luachra with Brian O’Leary’s band and then the perfect hangover cure with Colm Mac Con Iomaire. This group deserves special mention. All eleven of them had made the trip to Doolin and their eclectic and extraordinarily beautiful arrangements of ‘trad meets trance’ was a real eye-opener.

We had ‘modern’ trad with the Four Winds reprising their gig of a couple of weeks ago at the Fleadh Nua in Ennis and if anything they lifted it a notch from that show. I especially loved Farewell to the Gold, a song I have been singing since the early eighties. We had the Lost Brothers, two guys who definitely weren’t lost. Two brothers, two voices and two guitars; lovely stuff. We had more brothers with We Banjos Three (who are actually four – explain that; oh sorry, this is Ireland!) , where ‘trad meets old timey’.  Their extraordinary virtuosity makes them a standout wherever they play.

Then we had Cork man Mick Flannery and his band, another unknown to me.  Not easy to follow the Banjos but they delighted their loyal fans.

The highlight of the day for me though was Fiddler’s Bid, four lads from Scotland and the Shetlands who, surprisingly, all play the fiddle.  They were supported by some of the finest harp playing you will ever here and a rhythm section with guitar and bass and sometimes piano . But wow! Four fiddles, sometimes in unison, sometimes weaving in and out with harmonies and chords but always electric, energetic and enervating. I had heard them at New Year in Donegal a the most amazing Hogmanay and they certainly did not disappoint this time. Not much more to be said. Oh except the night was finished with Aldoc (for me at 1:30) with Alan Docherty’s amazing flute at the core, but with a lot more going on around him.

Today was another perfect gaggle of gigs. Not everything is to everyone’s taste. But as I said yesterday that’s what makes a great Festival.

One last thing. I met heaps of fantastic people yesterday. From all over Ireland and the world. I also took lots of shots of people of all ages enjoying the craic. I will put some of these up on my blog in the days to come. Without these wonderful people there would be not be a Festival.

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Categories: Festivals, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Doolin Folk Festival 2015 Day 1

From the moment I walked out the door and into the festival marquee it had an air of familiarity. There were the seats and fires in drums and hay bales and over to the right was the food area with my tongue already salivating for a pulled pork roll; the L-shaped marquee, everything was the same. And that great vibe that I only found here at this Festival, last year in my travels around Ireland.

But yet it was different. Lots of new music with only one band familiar from last year. This is remarkable that organiser, Connor Byrne could have managed this. But it is testament to the depth of music talent in this tiny country.

The hardest gig in a festival is to kick it off. People are still dribbling in and it takes a lot to grab attention. Clare man David Hope did this creditably with his guitar and self-penned songs. . The rapidly filling tent gave him a warm reception and by the time he handed over to Fiddle Case the crowd was well and truly in the mood. Musicians in this band are well known to people from this part of Clare. Eoin O’Neill (of West Wind fame and current recipient of the Mór Glor award for his contribution to Clare music), the multi-talented Quentin Cooper, Adam Shapiro and Jon O’Connell can be seen regularly in sessions at Doolin, Lahinch, Ennistymon, Lisdoonvarna or Ennis. This familiarity however did not take away from what was a fresh and vibrant set of tunes interspersed with songs from Jon. The mellow unhurried delivery suited the situation to a tee. It was especially nice to see a larger audience get to hear the wonderful voice of Jon and, in particular, Liscannor Bay, a song he has made his own.

The boys were joined by the legendary Christy Barry, who impressed with The Coolin on low whistle and then a duet of Paddy Fahey tunes with Adam Shapiro. Adam is one of those modest unsung fiddling talents of West Clare and brought the house down with his playing. The set was interrupted by Luka Bloom who announced Christy as the recipient of the Doolin Festival award for lifetime achievement. When an emotional Christy recovered his composure he delivered a fine speech. Modest to the end he thanked everyone, saying how grateful he was to get the award because it meant he didn’t have to play. He was profuse though in his praise of Doolin. ‘There is no theatre in the world like Doolin’.  And Christy is a huge part of that. We had a cameo dance piece from Tess McGovern and then it was time for Sharon Shannon.

Sharon and her band burst onto the stage and gave us everything we wanted. This was a very different Sharon to the one I remembered way back in Fremantle maybe 15 years ago at the Fly by Night Club. Here she engaged the audience, chided them for not dancing, there was banter and there was fun and she was clearly happy to be back home in Clare. There were all those familiar favourites mixed in with some classical, some slow airs, some mouth music turned beat boxing and some out-there electric guitar. Particularly memorable was Black Betty morphing into the Mouth of the Tobique. A deserved encore gave us, of course, Galway Girl. All through it there was Sharon’s infectious smile and sense of joy and you couldn’t help but go along for the journey.

Mea culpa time now. I have to admit I hadn’t heard of Declan O’Rourke before. Shame on me as he actually started his music in Australia and his first album (Since Kyabram) referenced that time. I was soon brought up to speed. The largely female audience thronged to the front as the seats were removed. A deep gravelly voice one moment and then falsetto the next. Declan is a unique talent. I recognised the song Galileo and the audience joined in enthusiastically with Love is the Way. Here is a real musician, a singer songwriter with a unique talent and a similarly unique soulful voice. This is what Festivals should be about – discovering new music that touches you.

In the Main Arena Moxie were given the party spot starting at 12 and keeping a large crowd there until after 1:30 when I called it quits. I remembered them from last year and this bunch of young guys deliver a distinctive energetic, sometimes frenetic, instrumental Celtic-based music. I say Celtic-based because while the instrumentation is familiar to the trad heads (banjos, accordions) the sound is not. A great way to finish the night.

Meanwhile in the Whitehorse Sessions there was some fantastic music on display. I only caught bits of it but was blown away by The Evertides, three Dublin girls, with gorgeous harmonies and Marc O’Reilly and his band. A great innovation.

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Categories: Festivals, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dungarvan TradFest and Danú

How many Festivals have you gone to recently with a line-up of musicians such as this? Connie O’Connell, Gerry Harrington, Andrew MacNamara, Eileen O’Brien, Charlie Piggott, Matt Cranitch, John Carty, Jackie Daly, Donal McCague, Sean Ryan, …… oh and Danú and heaps more. This was Dungarvan TradFest 2015 held in the Waterford town over the June Bank Holiday weekend. It’s a pity more musicians don’t make the trip to take part, because it was well worth it.

There were only a few formal functions with a free choral concert on the opening night a concert with John and Maggie Carty and the highlight, Danu’s 20th anniversary concert. In between was a gig rig with appearances from well-known groups along with local bands and wall to wall sessions. The festival coincided with the County Fleadh so it was possible to attend these competitions also. And there were events that I hadn’t seen elsewhere including a Busking Competition (for which yours truly was dragooned into being a judge!) and a Bucket Singing Competition.

It started on the Thursday with the Official Opening by the worldwide head of Comhaltas, Vince Jordan, some tunes from local young musicians and then a concert by the Cor Fear na nDeise,  a local male choir and 120 children from local schools. Aside from the spectacular achievement of coordinating this throng, the music was delightful. All in Irish and all sung with gusto. The choir led by Darren O Droma really pulled it off and to see the unbridled enthusiasm of the children performing to a packed auditorium of largely proud parents was wonderful to see.

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There was no formal session that night but I was told of a session afterwards at Lismore, an half an hour away. It was held in the appropriately named Classroom Bar and led by young musicians including All –Ireland champions, Sarah and Seamus O’Gorman. Great tunes. Fast and energetic. The session was hijacked though by locals and it became a good old Irish ‘sing song’ with one song starting almost before the other had finished. We had a plethora of old favourites and some rousing and not-so-rousing renditions. In fact we had songs sung in keys not yet invented. Nevertheless it was all sung with passion and it was great craic. It was amusing to watch the frustrated musicians waiting patiently for the tiniest gap to jump in with a tune.

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I had got a tip there may be music out at Ring. Ring (An Rinn) is only fifteen minutes from Dungarvan and on the way to to Helvic Head (I really must learn that tune). It is a small Gaeltacht area and fiercely proud of it. So I headed out there next day. After a long chat with fisherman Jack at the harbour at Helvic and a few deep breaths to recharge the batteries I headed to Mooney’s Pub where sure enough some of the best local music talent was gathered to help celebrate the end of the school term. I recognised musicians from the concert the night before including the leader Darren.. What a pleasant way to spend a sunny afternoon.

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That night there was a concert by John Carty and his daughter Maggie at The Local, so I got there early to take up a seat in the front row. I have always admired his playing since I met him in Perth back in a previous century. How deliciously sweet it is, with effortless bowing and a beautiful flowing rhythm, Maggie’s talented banjo playing provided a terrific counterpoint. It was gorgeous music enhanced occasionally by guest spots from Donnchadh Gough from Danu on the bodhran, who just happens to own the pub. And then the icing on the cake, they stayed around for a session with some of the young local musicians and a few others dropped in such as Andrew MacNamara. I was privileged to be part of this . Perhaps the less said about the dancing though the better.

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The weather was not kind the next day with squally rain and occasional hail though there were sunny breaks. I had just ordered my hamburger at the The Local when an harassed organiser came in. “We have a problem, can you help”? Turns out that a judge for the busking competition had pulled out and they needed an urgent replacement. Like right then! The busking was underway and there was about half an hour to go. Never one to refuse a challenge I agreed and after scoffing my burger I was discussing strategy with the Chairman of Comhaltas, who was the other judge. There were no guidelines;  how on earth do you judge a busking competition? So we went our separate ways and arrived at three “winners”. Turns out however that this was just Day One and there were another 15 contestants next day AND Vince was leaving that night so I would have to judge the remainder and and pick the winners out of both days. As it turned out the winners were obvious and I was able to remain in town unscathed without being hacked to pieces by irate parents.

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Of course my raison d’etre for being at festivals is to session and each day from 4 pm I followed the Session Trail until the small hours. In fact most nights I went to bed as the sun rose. There were many highlights. For example a truly tasty session in a quiet pub with Gerry Harrington, Charlie Piggins and James Duggan being one. Another was to be joined on a couple of occasions by living legend and genius John Dwyer (brother of Michael, Finbar and Ritchie), a delightful man and a wonderful musician. Here is a selection of photos. You’ll get the picture.

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The headline concert on Sunday night was at a function room at the Park Hotel and 600 plus people crammed into a space that they really shouldn’t have. It was bursting at the seams and there was a mad rush to get more seats to accommodate some of those standing. The warm up act was a group of young local musicians featuring Claire and Niamh Fennell, Clara Mannion & Sarah O’Gorman and really they did a fantastic job.

Danú are local heroes and one of Ireland’s most durable traditional bands. Most of their current line up was there and a few guests including previous singer Ciarán Ó Gealbháin joining Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh and Donal Lunny, producer of two of their albums. . This was a high energy concert and there was a buzz in the hall as they were celebrating their twentieth year together. They were clearly happy to be there and from the opening chord to the electric dancing and the rousing climax kicked off with a bodhran solo from Donnchadh Gough there was never a dull moment. The loyal and loving home crowd was screaming for more.

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There were a few intrepid survivors on the Monday and they gathered at Downey’s Pub for the Bucket Singing Competition. This long standing Waterford tradition (well it is at least two years old) involves singing with a bucket over your head and then being savagely demolished by an entirely unsympathetic adjucator. Quality had nothing to do with the final result with rules being invented and broken as the competition went on. The majority of competitors suffered the Downey’s Drop announced solemnly after the adjudicator donned a black handkerchief.  It was great craic and at the risk of my never being allowed to compete again the organisers would have great difficulty defending the accusation that the winner was a not home town decision! I have contacted my lawyers! Congratulations to the organisers and in particular to the MC (Sean) and Judge (Dick) who kept it all together with a marvellous commentary. Bucket Singing may have a controversial history with some saying it goes back hundreds of years but the winner on the night was that other Irish tradition of slagging.

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There were more sessions on the Monday but the enthusiasm was waning and by midnight everyone and believe it or not, yours truly, had had enough.

A memorable weekend and seamlessly organised by the ever present Michael Marrinan and an amazing committee. Well done all.

Categories: Concerts, Festivals, Sessions, Trad Irish Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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