FolkWorld Live Review issue 29 09/2004 by Michael G. Rose
The Tønder Festival celebrated its 30th anniversary this year, and the music was as good as the weather was wet. And the weather was very wet. While presenting the usual excellent cross-section of Celtic music, this year also featured a number of excellent Canadian bands, Appalachian and Old Time American acts and some very promising new Danish faces. And in keeping with the Danish tradition of throwing a huge birthday party on round brithdays, every 10 years, the organizers had a number of special birthday treats for in store for those who came early to the festival.
As is the tradition at Tønder, Thursday night featured two folk rock bands. The first band, Vamp, was unusual in that it is a Norwegian band, singing in Norwegian, with special guest Mick O'Brien on uilleann pipes and whistle. Vamp played an entertaining set, playing a range of tempos and styles. At their best they captured the soulful longing and loneliness which is so typically Norwegian while still performing with energy and playfulness. It was also a pleasure to watch the musicianship of the band, and especially Øyvind Staveland, as he coaxed so many different sounds out of his fiddle. The second act of the evening was Runrig, who have become almost synonomous with Thursday night at Tønder. They have been together about as long as the festival, giving their first performance there 28 years ago, and on this evening gave a polished performance of their own brand of stadium folk rock.
One of my favorite aspects of the Tønder Festival is that the artists perform several times, in different venues, and oftentimes as each other's guests. One of this year's mix-n-match concerts found Richard Wood and John Spillane joining Danu at a late Friday night concert. Danu had just played another concert earlier in the evening. This first concert showed why Danu is one of Ireland's busiest and most versatile bands, with the seven members sometimes playing as a full ensemble and for other tunes playing in smaller groups of varied instrumentation. The real treat was Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, her low and expressive voice gave a rare and welcome depth to the songs. Earlier in the evening Richard Wood had given a concert with his own rhythm section of Kimberly and Skip Holmes, on piano and guitar respectively. The trio performed a fairly straight Cape Breton set which focused attention on Wood's flair for showmanship. However when Wood was Danu's guest for the late night concert he dropped the dancing and concentrated on the music. It was a pleasure to listen to him in this setting. And as much as I like John Spillane as a solo performer, there is an extra dimension to his music when he is accompanied by musicians of the caliber of Danu.
Saturday afternoon gave a chance to hear a number of promising young bands in a dual event hosted by Harald Haugaard and Morten Alfred Høirup. Highlights of the afternoon included the Anna Massie Band, Karen Mose & Helen Blum, and the students from the Carl Nielsen Conservatory. Anna Massie is a young Scottish multi-instrumentalist who plays with a musical maturity far beyond her years. And her trio mates, Mairearad Green and Jenn Butterworth were equally accomplished, with surprising depth in their musicality. This trio was my favorite new find of the festival.
The Danish singers Karen Mose and Helene Blum have recently begun singing together and working with the well known duo Haugaard & Høirup. They are renewing the old Danish ballads, lovely songs which have long lain neglected. The balance between Karen's deeper voice and Helene's higher and younger sound is perfect, reminding me of the sound of Maddy Prior and June Tabor in their Silly Sister's recordings. Morten Alfred Høirup has often worked as a tasteful accompanist to singers, Harald Haugaard comes from a solo instrumental tradition and adds his fiddle's voice to the songs in his own unique way. Harald is also the director of the folk music program at the Carl Nielsen Conservatory in Denmark, and the students take part in the afternoon concert as a big band. This year's concert was their best yet. The students each get a chance to showcase their own compostions or a tune from their home region. The pieces by fidder Sophia Erikkson and singer Iouliana Svetlitchnaia were particularly good. Finally, another young Danish fiddler, Henrik Jansberg used the occasion of the festival to release his new CD. Signatur. Though Henrik plays mostly Danish tunes, there is a strong influence of Western swing in his playing which gives his style a very good groove.
There was also a chance to hear some good music from Canada and the U.S.A. On Saturday night we were treated to Bruce Molsky and J.P. Cormier. Bruce Molsky has become a leading ambassador for Appalachian and southern U.S music. He draws the audience into his world and makes them feel as if they are sitting in his living room while he entertains with his pure clean voice and musicianship on fiddle and banjo. He has also mastered the art of accompanying himself on fiddle while singing. J.P. Cormier made a return trip to Tønder this year, and I was happy to finally catch his concert, with his wife Hilda. J.P. sings and plays virtually all of the string instruments and Hilda accompanies him on piano. Their repertoire covers a vast range of material but they are especially strong with their native Cape Breton tunes.
The finale concert on Sunday night began on an intimate note with the Irish masters Seamus Begley and Jim Murray on button accordian and guitar. Their music was rich with a full and energetic sound and was complemented by step dancers Seosamh Ó Neachtain and Róisin Ní Mháinnín. Murray was especially impressive for the full sound he drew out of his nylon stringed guitar while complementing Begely note for note on the dance tunes. Carlos Nunez followed, exuding his natural Iberian exubernace. Nunez often draws on local talent whereever he performs, so for this show he had the Danish piper Stig Bang-Mortensen join him for the last few numbers. Bang-Mortensen marched onstage playing a well known Danish ballad on his highland pipes, resulting in a spontaneous sing-along from the appreciative crowd. The evening closed with family reunion, as Mary Black was joined by her three brothers who also had given a concert at the festival. It gave a warm look back into the Irish singing tradition and to the Cork songwriting tradition, from which she draws much of her material. In fact she added two John Spillane numbers to her show, to the delight of both him and the audience.
Tønder Festival Homepage: www.tf.dk
In the next issue of FolkWorld will be another review (by the editors of FolkWorld) of the 30th bithday bash of this grat festival - look out for that!
Photo Credit: All photos by Michael G. Rose: (1) La Vent du Nord jams with the Bills; (2) Danu and Richard Wood; (3) Haugaard, H°irup and Helene Blum; (4) Sophia Erikkson and Hal Parfitt Murray from Carl Nielsen Academy; (5) Seamus Begley and Dancers at Session (at half past four in the morning...)
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