And for the ninth festival which celebrates all things whistle-y, a switch of venues to the Town Hall's Elizabethan Suite - The Met having its well publicised facelift - and to be honest, probably not too bad a move. The main hall festooned with wedding drapes adding a sense of occasion to the high ceiling and several rooms commandeered for the events taking place. As well as the concert performances, the selection of workshops is often as big a part and allows the public to get up and close to the performers in the and hope some of their magic rub off.
Anyone not carrying a whistle or something to blow into could always browse the comprehensive stall and have a blow on something - making sure there was no backdraft from the breeze blowing through the front doors which could affect the experience. Soft or hard, different keys, not to mention the carry cases, it's a fascinating minefield for what seems like such a simple instrument. However, the musical events provided the main attraction and a suitably high profile bill of those at the top of the craft delivering some outstanding performances.
Roisin Ban - the translation 'white rose' revealing their Yorkshire roots. Fresh from an appearance at the Costa Del Folk with all the stories (or at least some of them) from an interesting trip to provide the culture in Magaluf, Roisin Ban's set of songs from around the British Isles plus a set from Brittany - about as close as you can get to the British Isles and be in Europe - was a comfortably friendly curtain raiser. No pressure of course on Tom Leedale as the whistler in the band (so it's his gig really), as 'Frowning Maddy' provides the high point in the set.
Bar the expected whistling and regular instrument switching , their USP comes in the form of some Sean Nos from Paddy Heffron - you can't beat a bit of Sean Nos - Irish style dancing which to the uninitiated might appear, as Tom Leedale points out, as though it looks a bit like he's dancing like he's a bit drunk. There would be plenty of that to come with Treacherous Orchestra, but in all actuality, it provides something unique and keeps the flame burning for the traditional arts which gather under the folk banner.
Over in the main hall, a taster from Glasgow based Barluath set the scene for the main event and possibly put a few bums on seats for their main gig the following day (more of which later). Almost like a public soundcheck, them the chance to run through a few numbers in a more relaxed fashion, set their levels and check the lie of the land. Not only that, the Celtic theme continued with a royal appearance from Phil Cunningham brought onstage by MC Phil Brown, his connections with Barluath and Flook piquing his interest to head to Bury on a day off.
But to what could have been for many, the highlight of the festival, Flook. If there were a folk supergroup this could well be it. Supergroup or possibly just a band of outstanding musicians in their own right - each individual a recognisable name but together, mathematically possible or not, they seem to be a band even greater than the sum of its parts. Set up with Sarah Allen and Brian Finnegan flanking Ed Boyd and John Joe Kelly, the two whistlers in constant eye contact as they twisted and turned (and in Sarah's case did the flautist's thing of balancing on one leg) as their seated partners hammered out rhythms giving them a base to weave their magic. Seated indeed but no less intense, the gun cracks of John Joe's bodhran and Ed's guitar, shifting from the finely picked and pastoral to belting out wild tempos - the signal for all sorts of whoops and hollers and the sign that it was seat belts on for take off. 'Road To Errogie' is a classic example and no surprise that it was the signal for the band to take a mid set break.
Apologies were offered for not having new product for a retail opportunity - and if there were a criticism you could throw at Flook, it would be that they just don't play enough gigs in the UK, yet on the other hand, there's the old adage of too much of a good thing always leaves one wanting less. They simply are a band who when they play, you need to go see them. The lucky Japanese were the next in line to be Flook-ed. Not for the first time, 'Live in Japan' would be a good album title - just a thought….Suffice to say that when you hear Flooks make a noise together, it's what folk music is all about.
There are only so many hours in a day and only so many gigs we can get to. We'd really like to expand our national coverage of the live scene as it remains the life blood of music.
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