Harping on

Norman Chalmers flexes his fingers and tunes his ears for the annual

Edinburgh folk and harp


It will soon be Spring. when the Edinburgh Folk and Harp Festivals come round again. and there is a feeling that the formula might be getting a little tired. Times have changed and there are many. many more ‘folk' festivals on offer over the year. from the mammoth Glasgow Celtic Connections and Aberdeen‘s Rootin Aboot. to the local festivals which now operate somewhere in Scotland every week in stnnmer. Edinburgh‘s pic-eminent place as one ofthe major music events in the folk/roots calendar can no longer be taken for granted.

Ten days long. some might suggest too long. and financially not in the same league as the major. heavily funded events like the Evolving 'l‘radition at London‘s Barbican. which promotes a similar mix of folk/roots music around the liastcr weekend. the Edinburgh Folk Festival still manages to reflect a healthy Scottish music scene. bring guests from overseas. and present a substantial package of workshops and tuition.

Edinburgh's Harp Festival shares half the first week. and jointly with the Folk Festival. presents the Queen's llall opening conceit headlined by Ceolbeg. one of Scotland‘s longest established bands. in yet another incarnation.

Wendy Stewart is (‘eolbeg‘s harp player. and she explains her life-long fascination with Scotland‘s ancient instrument. and the modern. electronic version. ‘Only now with an amplified electro harp can the instrument take the lead in a band with pipes and a drum

kit. The volutnc and attack just wasn‘t there in acoustic instruments. or a least in the old-fashioned way these

instruments are strung. which tends to

Edinburgh’s pre-eminent place as one of the major music events in the folk/roots 5 calendar can no longer be taken for granted.

mimic concert harp stringing. and can be too heavy.’

‘ln Ceolbeg there’s enough going on in the harmony department. so l can often just leave out chords and play melodically. ()n the electro harp the strings are made of nylon. rather than gut. which gives a distinctive. brighter. cutting tone. and I use a volume pedal through the amp. so it‘s easy to control

the level when you take a lead line.

Ceolbeg: stretching themselves musically

l’atsy and Mary also use one in the l’oo/ics. and it‘s heartening to notice over the last decade how the image of the harp has startcd to change. It‘s no longer automatically regarded as prissy. or soft and feminine. or just an accompanying instrument. all arpeggios.‘

‘()f course the small harp. be it Irish. Scottish or Breton. is essentially the same instrument. and it's difficult to play llltlsit.‘ that is too chromatic. because of all the lever changing that goes on. The instrument is best in its own modal context or not too far from it. and there's lots of great music being written like that nowadays. ()ur piper and bass player Mike Kat/ has made some beauties. They really stretch your technique. 'l'hcrc's a real feeling that the music is moving on.‘

(‘PUf/M’t’ play the Queen '5‘ Hull. lz'tlirilnnyli on l’ri 2‘).

Eire on a G string

The music of Ireland, or to be more precise, the musicians of that most musical island, have had a huge influence on the evolution of contemporary Scottish styles, and the major concert of the Festival presents three of the best examples of Erin’s great talents. Andy Irvine, singer and fretted instrument player, was one of the seminal band Planxty, which, even more than the Chieftains, created the forms which folk hands all over Europe and the English-speaking world still unconsciously adhere to. The focus on instrumental facility and complex structure in song accompaniment, and the use of mandolin, bouzouki and the ‘new’ cittern, all stemmed from that explosive period in the late 60s, early 703.

Irvine's musical peregrinations took him to Eastern Europe, then a deeply

unfashionable, and deeply misunderstood affiliation of countries and cultures, where a fascinating and little-known musical vitality continued to flourish as it had done for centuries. His love affair with those beautiful compound-time melodies has informed all the groups he subsequently played with, including Planxty, and the current Patrick Street, whose latest album Cornerboys has just been released.

A few years ago, an absorbing album of Balkan music, in which he was joined by Irish musicians including Davey Spillane, Biverdance’s composer Bill Whelan, and Bulgarian master-musician Nikola Parov was released, and Irvine is currently following it up with a live band tour playing just that Balkan music, with no Irish at all.

But Irish music and song is still his first love, and he is an engaging soloist, weaving intricate countermelodies, riffs and progressions under a so-relaxed vocal delivery.

He shares the Festival concert with

the wonderful partnership of fiddler

I Andy Irvine: fretboard wizard

and singer Nollaig Casey and guitarist extraordinaire Arty McGIynn, the most tasteful and accomplished duo in the contemporary Irish tradition. (Norman Chalmers)

Andy Irvine/Arty McGIynn and Nollaig Casey play the Oueen ’5 Hall, Edinburgh, Fri 5.

f" a

Fish dish of the day T

t l

. 8

cosmopolitan folk

Fishut are

One of the most interesting concerts of the Festival is the double bill of Flukcl. virtuoso llute player Brian Finnegan's new trio of contemporary acoustic musicians. all of whom can play flute. but don't. at least not all of the time; and another new line up ofexcellent musicians going under the odd name of Fishut.

‘lt‘s meaningless. and I don‘t know where it came from. but that's our name. \‘v’c‘vc accepted it.‘ reveals Jim Sutherland of Fishut.

The Scottish musician and producer (with a first solo album due for imminent release) is more sure of the band's music. which Scottish audiences will first hear at lidinburgh's Folk Festival. ‘lt's not really Celtic. although people who like reels and jigs will probably hear that in us. I would say that w c‘re more liuropcan sounding.‘

The hand is completed by I 'ewcastle‘s lan ('arr. one of the most distinctive and accomplished guitarists in the current folk/roots scene. and fellow Kathryn Tickell band member. Neil Ilarland. on bass. English melodeon maestro Andy Cutting. and on top of all this instrumental prowess. guest singer Julie Murphy. who has a background in English folk music but can sing in her native Welsh.

Jim admits that ‘wc rehearse more titan we perform. In fact. we've been together fora couple of years and only played one gig. but we‘re going to spend about ten days touring small linglish venues before we get to lidinburgh. where I'm looking forward to playing the big Hall in 'l'eviot House v- I remember last playing there ten years ago in Easy Club.‘

‘Fishut music is very much a product of the band. rather than French. or liastern European or [English or whatever. it‘s got its own strong character. It‘s just music. we're not trying to go anywhere. or be anything. .\lost of the stuff is original. a lot of the

songs are. and those that aren't have been arranged by the band in unusual ways. We experiment a lot. that‘s how we came about getting Julie. we wanted to try sotne sung lyrics over a piece we'd been writing. and she was an obvious choice she's brilliant.‘ Fix/mt and Fluke play 'I'cviot Hall. lidinburg/I Sat 6. See Festival listings.

The List 22 Mar-4 Apr I996 39