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The Big Whistle Festival Saturday

Venue: The Elizabethan Suite
Town: Bury
Date: 6-7/5/16


How do you follow Flook? With a damn good try is how. Late supersub Tim Edey standing in for West My Friend, provided an absolute masterclass and without wanting to encourage X Factor type competitiveness, maybe ranked up there for many as possibly the event of the festival. Certainly as far as sheer entertainment value was concerned. Another musician who'd travelled from afar, fresh from recording with Natalie McMaster in Toronto where he'd picked up some new tunes which he was keen to show off including some hornpipes with jazzy overtones. Playing solo but with the use of loops, what's better than Tim Edey being accompanied by…Tim Edey. A multi instrument master playing guitar and switching to whistle and melodeon, he provided a fascinating, excuse the ghastly pun, whistle stop tour of songs and tunes from round the world and even took requests from the floor. An hour simply wasn't enough. A charming gentleman and a damn fine musician.

For their gig 'proper' Barluath alternated from the heartfelt 'Come And Spend A Little While With Me' to a healthy helping of songs inspired by angry Scottish ladies all played out on a range of instruments. Intricate, intimate and delicate yet able to shift to vibrant and vigorous, there was a copious sprinkling of Gaellic in their combination of the traditional and contemporary, even inviting some singing along - not sure how it worked with a Lancashire accent. However, it reinforced the quality of music coming out of Scotland - while they may be experiencing a lull as a sporting nation, the musical strength, strength in depth at that, is astounding. Like a conveyor belt of talent churning out of the academies.

The Hut People - what a contrast they provide. Sam Pirt on the lone accordion while partner Gary Hammond, self confessed instrument junkie, plays anyhting and everything he can get his hands on. For 'plays', read 'shakes', 'hits', 'rubs', 'bangs', the list is almost as endless as his collection of instruments. For a duo, you can't argue that their sound is limited. Adding a bit of foot percussion as an afterthought seems almost churlish. Simply just good fun and a joy in playing music which might appear to be simple is just the sort of thing which young observers need to encourage a love of music and performing.

That element of fun and enjoyment is paramount in Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton - Ross possibly gaining the vote as the hardest working musician at the festival, playing a couple of gigs and running a workshop. Making Tim Edey earn his keep by calling him up at the end of their set and even persuaded into an encore by a packed room, it was a hugely entertaining hour and a bit. If it were a football match the stats would probably read a pretty even split with 50% music 50% irreverent chat and no-one was complaining. The banter with each other and the crowd was as entertaining as the music. A case of "what shall we play?" and improvising most if not all the set was part of the appeal - none of the rehearsed to death set pieces, but more of an organic creation, especially when Tim joined the duo in the session, the Hutton/Ainslie pairing flitting between whistles and guitars while doing their best to plug their new project together.

The last band on Saturday night had to be one who could hold their own in such a slot. Treacherous Orchestra weren't going to allow a fire alarm evacuation of the building spoil their exuberant set. A band not averse to leaving the stage during their gigs, they aren't about crossing boundaries, but breaking the barriers. Jokes and japes aside about smouldering fiddles and smoking pipes, it all added to the riotous sense of occasion that is a TO gig. Leading a vibrant community singalong on the Town Hall steps on a Saturday night isn't the normal town centre Saturday night scene but you couldn't have scripted it better. A band who both respect yet exploit the traditional, who'd have thought that young people would jump and dance about to the sound of bagpipes, yet kitted out in their black brigand attire, they offer up an element of danger and menace as they turn the tables and roll their folk rebellion roughshod nationwide. As Eamonn Coyne said from the stage - they'd been part of the festival for the past two years and were more than happy to keep coming back. Apart from the fire brigade, not many would disagree.

Mike Ainscoe, words and pictures

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