Since its inception seven years ago, Sligo Live's trajectory, has, in the main, been an upward one, based on a combination of careful budgeting and some of the most imaginative programming around. Add to that the fact that the town is a hotbed of artistic endeavour from art and ceramics to the best of rock , jazz and trad and the mix of events - more than 80% free of charge - should be just right. And so it proved, as jugglers and street performers vied with the headline acts for the close attentions of a critical audience.
I've always subscribed to the view that an army(my wife and i) marches better on its stomach and opted for dinner before heading out to the Knocknarea Arena for KT Tunstall. Even there, we got more than we bargained for as we were treated to some of the best Scottish trad music I've heard in years. At the arena, KT was an energetic revelation, as she held a full house in the palm of her hand for nigh on two hours with a set that was drawn from her three albums but mainly from last year's Tiger Suit.
Kicking off with Glamourpuss, replete with human beatbox, she tore through it before telling the crowd "I'm soooo gonna do a banging gig for you guys" She fulfilled her promise with songs of love, separation(The Other Side Of The World), the Arctic Circle, alternating between acoustic and electric guitar-and,for one song,piano. A writer of wit,substance and depth, she was engaging and connective at every turn.
If the main roads were the ones most heavily travelled over the weekend,the boreens and cul de sacs had their moments also.Friday night in The Model Gallery, Tim Edey and Seamus Begley delivered an incendiary set, the usual repertoire of slides and polkas beautifully balanced by songs from SB such as Andy's Gone To Cattle, picked up on a tour of Australia . In the meantime, some of this gig can be seen on Youtube. Nice too to see Maurice Lennon, his brother Brian and father Ben, with Declan Courell on guitar, bring us back to the well for the source material. A myriad of young musicians proved that not alone is the tradition in safe hands, but that they are well capable of extending it.
Saturday night found us struggling to find seats in a packed arena. The hero of the hour, preceded by a beautiful set from the Rachel Sermanni Band, strolled out on stage with a purposeful "how the devil are you then?",and deliverd a jaw droppingly brilliant set of two hours duration,beginning with Oliver's Army and finishing with a frantic Pump it Up.
In between there were digressions into material by Squeeze and The Beatles, eight guitars used, plus a bullhorn, the common thread being unfailing good humour("been here once.1968 I think!")and a back catalogue that would stand up to any scrutiny.
As with say,Richard Thompson ,there's a peculiar Englishness to what Costello does, his ability to evoke a mood effectively drawn in songs like A Drag With Josephine. For me,though,it was his penultimate piece, Shipbuilding, which put the tin hat on things.The gentleness of it's delivery only served to enforce its message more tellingly.
The Hawkswell Theatre was the venue for the third major concert of the weekend, a feast of roots and trad featuring The Unwanted and Matt Molloy, John Carty and Arty McGlynn.The former are a versatile trio who are seeking-successfully- to explore the common ground between Irish and American music ,mining in the process material from Stephen Foster, Leadbelly and both acoustic traditions with diversions by way of Sweden and Finland. Cathy Jordan, away from vocal duties with Dervish, is a revelation, a one woman joke machine who played and sang her head off alongside Rick Epping and Seamie O'Dowd , whose talents need little validation from me.
As flute players go ,they don't come any finer than Matt Molloy, who ,for more than an hour , along with his two amigos gave testament to the melodic and rhythmic richness of the South Sligo and Roscommon traditions.
This was music of friendship, natural expression, superb craftsmanship in a variety of forms which held an enthralled audience in silence until the last notes of the set were drawn.Carty and Molloy are a most natural pairing,eye contact and smiles dictating next moves,while Arty McGlynn's guitar work was inspired throughout.When,with The Unwanted in tow for a ferocious tilt at Colonel Frazer,they brought the curtain down,they brought the house with it.Roll on next year.
Pics:Declan Courell. More of Declan's photos from Sligo Festival can be found here
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