Some of the best folk music around packed into four days
The 29th Tønder Festival was a marathon of music, with
a wide variety of quality acts and happenings, on and off the stage. In a festival
which values old friendships and returning artists, over half of the 39 acts
at this years festival had never performed at the Tønder before.
The most noticeable themes this year were the predominance of high energy Scottish bands and rapidly maturing Danish bands, as well as several acts which showed a mastery of showmanship and stagecraft. There were also a number of pleasant surprises for the audience and unwelcome surprises for the organizers. The unwelcome surprises included the cancellation of Eddi Reader due to illness and Liam O'Flynn due to a family tragedy. But the organizers and musicians pulled together to fill the gaps and present the audience with a memorable weekend.
The Scottish bands making the trip to Tønder included regulars Wolfstone and newcomers Blazin Fiddles and Shooglenifty. Wolfstone gave their usual high powered performance despite changes in the rhythm section. The core of their sound remains Duncan Chisholm's fiddle and Stevie Saint on highland pipes. The guitarist and bassist gave a slightly more restrained performance the manic presentation of early Wolfstone, but the groove and drive of the band remains high. A new angle on the sound was the use of samples for keyboard sounds and percussion. Taking a different approach to Scottish music, Shooglenifty performed incredibly funky interpretations of music from the Highlands. Shooglenifty is a six member band playing a combination of 13 instruments, mostly strings and percussion, in a style they call Acid Croft. This is definitely a band to experience live. The third Scottish band, Blazin' Fiddles, played much more traditional performances by comparison. The band consists of five of Scotland's top fiddlers, representing the different regional styles, with a rhythm section of Andy Thorburn on piano and Marc Clement on guitar. While they originated as a show band, Blain Fiddles have gelled into an excellent tight unit and gave a great display of the variety of Scottish fiddling, from the Shetlands down to Glasgow. A real key to their success is the ability of Andy and Marc to adapt to the different styles of each of the fiddlers.
A number of Danish bands moved up to the main stages this year, as the revival in Danish folk music continues and the bands reach new levels of maturity. In fact, the festival saw two of the bands hold CD release parties for their highly regarded new recordings. The advance party in the Danish resurgence is the duo Haugaard and Høirup. Harald Haugaard and Morten Alfred Høirup have been touring the world for several years now, and their status as top level performers was apparent at their shows at this years festival. A special treat was the guest appearance of Blazin Fiddle members Catriona MacDonald and Adrian O'Rourke at Haugaard and Hoirup's Saturday night concert. ULC, was formed in Denmark several years ago as the trio of Peter Uhrbrand, Seamus Cahill, and Sonnich Lydom, highly regarded folk musicians on fiddle, guitar and accordian respectively. They have added two of the top jazz musicians from Copenhagen, Mads Vinding on bass and Peter Rosendahl on piano and their performance at the festival introduced the audience to their unique approach to blending styles. Rather than have folk musicians try to play jazz or jazz musicians play folk, the trio played straight Danish fiddle tunes and Irish songs while Mads and Peter provided a swinging foundation and occasionally stepped forward with proper jazz solos. Their performance and CD release party should also featured the special guest on their new recording, Liam O'Flynn, who unfortunately wasn't able to come to Tønder.
The second Danish CD release coupled with performances was by Zar. Zar also began as a traditional folk trio several years ago. They have taken a different approach to developing a contemporary sound by inviting the pop singer Sine Lahm join the group in a lineup which now includes two fiddles, acoustic guitar and bass. When I heard them at last years festival it was evident that Sine had just joined the group. But this year they have really matured and the effort they have put into stagecraft and blending the folk and pop styles has really paid off. I heard many people around the festival grounds talking about Zar, the band is generating a real buzz.
There were a couple of very pleasant surprises this year, including newcomers Canadian fiddler April Verch and the Spanish band Corquieu. April Verch is a quiet and calm person, but she gave a dynamic and varied performance which included a bit of singing and step dancing in addition to her excellent fiddling. She comes from the Canadian province of Ottowa, so her repertoire is a bit different from the Cape Breton and Quebecois fiddlers. Her training from the great jazz fiddler Matt Glazer at the Berklee College of Music showed itself in her swing and virtuosity. Her band included Hans Holzen on guitar and Kyle Kegerreis on bass session players from Nashville and her husband, Marc Bru on percussion. The elements of country and western swing in her playing gave a welcome touch of variety. Corquieu is from the northern Spanish province of Asturia, which is next to Carlos Nunez's home province of Galicia. Asturia also has a very strong native Celtic heritage, which was clearly evident in Corquieu's performances. The band featured a traditional Celtic lineup of fiddle, bagpipes (gaita), bouzouki, guitar, bodhran and vocals. While the rhythm section was reminiscent of some of their top Irish counterparts, the melodies and songs were unique, somewhere between Basque and Irish/Scottish. The bodhran player, David Mateos Rosete, and the bagpipe player, Roberto Surez Alfonso, deserve special mention for their virtuoso performances.
Like Peruvian street musicians, Flook seem to be everywhere these days. And after seeing their shows at Tønder is easy to see why. Their performances are up to the same high standards of their recordings and the good humor and banter between the band members made their Tønder shows a special treat. Another treat was Eileen Ivers and Immigrant Soul. Eileen and her band combined solid musicianship with a tight stylistic choreographed show. The entire band seemed to effortlessly manipulate the energy level and to be acting as one even though they were a diverse group of musicians with very different backgrounds. This is a band which should be seen live.
The Sunday evening finale concert had something for everyone who likes any type of Irish music. Karan Casey was delightful, though I would like to see her again in a more intimate venue. Karan was followed by supergroup Altan. Expectations are always high when a group of Altan's stature is on the bill, and they didn't disappoint. It was a special performance in that fiddler, singer and soon-to-be mother Mairéad Ni Mhaonaigh will be taking a break from performing for a few months. Her parents came to the show and her father, Frank, joined the band for several sets. His rough energetic Donegal style gave an extra kick to the show. Altan was followed by a single song from The Cottars. The final performance of the festival was a 30 minute show by the Riverdance Flying Squad. Their highly stylized and crafted performance was like the final sweet dessert after an evening of full of pure excellent music.
Now if you will excuse me, I still have some sleep to catch up on....
Tonder Festival's website is at www.tf.dk
There are also German reviews of this years Tonder Festival - review 1 and review 2.
Photo Credit: All photos by Michael G Rose.
(1) Wolfstone's Duncan Chisholm & Stevie Saint, (2) Haugaard & Hoirup, (3) Zar, (4) April Verch, (5) Corquieu
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