FOLK FESTIVALS FEATURE
It’s The Reel Thing
If you need to relax, really relax, and you’ve only a weekend to do it in, take a tip: go to a folk festival. Your cares will evaporate; you may come back knackered if you go for it properly, but you’ll be totally invigorated. Almost every weekend in Scotland this summer, some village or island community will be hosting a musical event where the sessions go on late into the night and the musicians in the audience join those on the programme. Norman Chalmers and Sue Wilson guide you round the folk festival circuit.
t’s a long-cherished dream of mine to
spend the entire summer. ideally from
about April to September. travelling
around folk festivals. There can be few
pleasanter ways of spending a few days
than in an environment thoroughly infused with music. intoxicants and hedonistic congeniality.
If you think you don‘t like folk music, you’ll be amazed by the jostling diversity of sounds and styles that festival committees across the land will bracket under that heading, fromjazz to country to blues to bluegrass to cajun to rockabilly to world music and all sorts ofthings in between. Not a lot of heavy metal or hip-hop.
but then you can‘t have everything . . . And even outside of the ofﬁcial programme, you’ll hear a weird and wonderful variety of sounds — one of the things that gives folk festivals their flavour is the fact that there are so many musicians. mostly amateur. among the punters; the fiddle or guitar or accordion will be an integral part of the luggage. as people set off in search of sessions and new people to play with. new tunes to learn.
And besides. it's the crack you really go for (or the craie to give it its Gaelic spelling — which could usefully be more widely used. these days) and folkies invented the crack. Whether it’s at the actual gigs. in the sessions in the pubs, back at the campsite or guesthouse, there’s always some crack going on, always people playing. somewhere. more or less constantly. for a minimum of 48 hours.
Should I ever realise my dream. I would take in a few of the big English and European festivals. the mega-events like Cambridge. Sidmouth. Tonder in Denmark. Lorient in Brittany. and I’d deﬁnitely go to some of the Irish ones. but for the most part I would very happily stay in Scotland, which this year will see a grand total of 60 folk festivals. Apart from anything else. they’re a brilliant way to visit new bits of the country: you’ve got your entertainment all laid on. your daytimes for looking around the place (depending on just how late you were up the night before. and assuming you make it further than the pub), an infallible guide to the best pubs (the ones with the most music coming out the door) and a situation highly conducive to rubbing shoulders with and getting chatting to the locals. Festivals on islands are always a wee bit special; there’s something about getting on a ferry and sailing away (even if it’s only the half-hour crossing to Arran). spending the
weekend with a substantial body of water between you and the weekday world. that catalyses the evaporation of those cares partic- ularly effective.
Even though most festivals are organised by a volunteer committee. on a limited budget. with few resources for publicity. a growing number of people would appear to be discover- ing the many pleasures they offer for themselves; a Scottish Tourist Board survey in 1990. using a sample of six festivals roughly representing the diversity to be found across Scotland (big or small, traditional or contem- porary/eclectic. weekend or longer), estimated that visitors to these events contributed a total of £10 million annually to the Scottish economy. the vast bulk of it going to local businesses in rural communities — B & Bs, pubs. shops. cafes — rather than. like much tourist revenue. to the big hotel or store chains. Which only adds yet another nice wee glow to the proceedings. (Sue Wilson)
Norman Chalmers draws on a lifetime of experience to select the best of the folk festivals planned for the next six months.
I Glasgow Fleadh Cheoil Na Breataine. St Andrew‘s College. Bearsden. Sat 25—Sun 26. Information 041 637 0241. The All—Britain Fleadh is a huge competitive celebration of the traditional music and dance of Ireland. the equivalent of the Scottish
Mod but more traditional. more fun and. well. lrish. It was last held in Scotland in the late 1960s.
Around 500 musicians. set dancers and singers will arrive in Glasgow. with uillean pipes, ﬂutes. fiddles. tin whistles, concertinas. bodhrans. mouth organs. harps. accordions and many other instruments. The Saturday
night lrish Ceili is sold out. and competitions. informal sessions and the crack begins on Sunday at 9.30am. Pay at the door to listen to the
I Arran Arran Folk Festival. Isle of Arran. Firth of Clyde. Mon 6—Sun 12. Information 0770 700406/302416. Well established festival with concerts and dances. workshops and sessions all around the Firth of Clyde island. concentrated on Lamlash and Brodick over the ﬁnal weekend. The spiritual centre is the glasshouse bar and lawns of Brodick's Ormidale Hotel. Guests include England's Whlppersnapper. Scots Dougie Maclean. Iron Horse. and Ireland‘s Deanta. and lllamh
Parsons and the Loose Connections.
I Rothbury Rothbury Traditional Music Festival. Rothbury. Northumberland. Sat 1 l. Information 0669 20718/20149. Farnously lasting an endless weekend. across the Border. in the lovely Northumbrian village of Rothbury. the Festival became too busy over recent years and the organisers have shrunk it down to one day of traditional music and song competitions. Northumbrian pipe workshops. an evening ceilidh. and a concert hosted by Geordie concertina maestro Alistair Anderson. Camping by the river. Many pub and open-air sessions.
The List 3—16 June 1994 21