Issue 6 10/98

FolkWorld Live Review

The Tønder Pilgrimage '98

Tønder Festival August 1998

By Michael & Christian Moll

Ron Kavana and Solas' Karan Casey; photo by The Mollis Every year at the last weekend of August, thousands of music fans from Denmark, Germany and all the rest of Europe make their way to the charming little Danish town of Tønder, just besides the German border, to experience some of the best of Celtic music at their all-time favourite festival. The 1998 version of the Tønder Festival had again loads of music sensations to offer, showcasing a line-up of bands and musicians that is simply fabulous.

Ticket Sales have beaten all records so far, with 20.203 tickets having been sold on the first day of the sales, being 75 % of all tickets on sale! One of the reasons for this record was the first ever appearance of the Scottish Roots Rock band Runrig with their new singer, the Canadian Bruce Guthro, drawing their fans from all over the world to Denmark. The demand for Runrig tickets was that huge that the festival needed to organise an extra concert the night before the festival would normally have started.

Niamh Parsons, Aoife Clancy, Ciaran O Gealbhain; photo by The Mollis But their was lots and lots more great stuff to see. Galicia's star piper Carlos Núnez had his first ever appearance in Denmark with his band, and the audience was going wild listening to this blend of Galician Celtic music, Flamenco and Cuban music that they never ever had heard before. Meanwhile, the tickets for the concerts with La Bottine Souriante were very much in request, as they had been one of the highlightes at Tønder two years ago. The audience once again celebrated Québec's favourite folk band; and the 'smiling shoes' were in good shape playing their French-Canadian traditions with their eclectic mix of traddy music on accordion, sitting step, fiddle and song and that special grooving jazzy thing in it with their four piece brass section – simply wonderful stuff.

Niamh Parsons and the Loose Connections were another band to watch out for - their style is quite unique in the Irish scene, combining Irish traditional music and song with modern rhythms and songs written by Niamh's husband and The Loose Connections' bassist Dee Moore (and other contemporary songwriters). The amazing thing is that Niamh's singing sounds both at home in the pure Irish traditions and in modern arranged contemporary songs. Hugely enjoyable!

Another special act to appear was the newly formed band Kavana, McNeill, Lynch & Lupari. All members are well-known in the folk circuit; and it is well worth and impressive to see them in live as they are a really *big* band that needs also a big stage. Their live performance is good fun, bringing together the talents of Irish singer songwriter Ron Kavana, Scottish singer songwriter and fiddler-par-excellence Brian McNeill, bodhrán player, entertainer and singer Gino Lupari (Ex-Four Men and a Dog) and – inmidst of those big men – the Irish piper and singer Thomas Lynch. They still have to work out some of the arrangements, but no doubt this is one of the new big bands in the Celtic scene.

Keep it up; photo by The Mollis Another great-fun-act were Keep it Up, with a highly amusing and entertaining set in the Visemøllen on Saturday night. The band features four of the best, but especially four of the funniest musicians the Edinburgh folk scene has to offer: Simon Thoumire is the crazy concertina player who is also known as Hamish MacGregor (watch out for the interview next issue!), Eilidh Shaw is the funny little fiddler, then we have Malcolm Stitt playing bouzouki and pipes - well-known from his playing with Deaf Shepherd - and finally Kevin MacKenzie, another funny young guy who plays the guitar.
Their music is superb; they play mostly slow music to show the full beauty of the tunes, but they are by far not boring as they are all very skilled musicians. To some surprise, Eilidh sang two songs as well - and she is a tremendous, intimate singer! What makes the band amusing are always the crazy introductions of the tunes - catch Keep it Up, and you will have more fun than with some comedians!

Carrying the Irish flag for the second time in Tønder, young Irish band Danú had their big day on Saturday, playing three gigs that one day – in the afternoon, in the early evening and their favourite late night session gig at the Visemøllen, the smallest Tønder Festival venue. Last year, Danú had done twice the late night gig in the 400 year old 'song mill', and for them these late night gigs have become legendary.
Danu; photo by The Mollis This year again one late night from 1 am to 3.30 am, with Danú saying that this gig was much more challenging and special than all the concerts at Tønder's major stages. And this late night was once again one of the highlights of the whole festival. Just having had a major line-up change, Danú presented themselves in a brilliant shape, maybe their sound has become even better than before. Their new singer, Ciarán o Gealbháin, is a superb and unique Gaelic singer; with the band having worked out exciting arrangements to his beautiful singing. Their new fiddler, Jesse Smith, and new guitarist, Noel Ryan, are also great musicians, playing already very tight in the band. Danú not only showed their very own best, but they also had invited quite a few not too unknown friends to join them as guests in their late night.
Most of Cherish the Ladies were there, as well as Danú fan Niamh Parsons, Donal Clancy and Ron Kavana. We were treated to a Gaelic song of Ciarán and Niamh – two of the most beautiful Irish voices joined together, just magic! Another special moment was when Niamh, Aoife Clancy and Ron Kavana entered the stage to sing together Ron's very own song Reconciliation, having been recorded by both Aoife and Niamh. The concert was just a delight.

Carlos Nunez and Paddy Keenan; photo by The Mollis As always, the most special concert in Tønder was again the Sunday afternoon Ceilidh concerts. On two stages in the big tents, nearly all bands and musicians of the festival are showcased. Any booked act is welcome to play three pieces, and they are also very welcome to invite guests of other bands with them on stage. It is always difficult to decide which one of the ceilidhs to choose, as both are always most special affairs. We took this year Tent 2, where Danú would start off with their kicking and energetic music. They were followed by Joe Derrane, the American-Irish accordionist, who captured the audience in the same way as Danú before did. Highlights of this afternoon were especially the unusual collaborations. You could see there some of the best Irish singers singing together songs – Solas' Karan Casey with Danú's Ciarán o Gealbháin, and –again – Niamh Parsons with Ciarαn. The voices of these singers harmonise in an enchanting way; they are just a perfect combination. Another special moment was when two of the world's best Celtic pipers played together on stage: The Galician Carlos Núnez and the Irish Paddy Keenan – just terrific; and another time a combination that might have had its only ever appearance at the '98 Tønder Festival. That is the special thing about Tønder – all these collaborations that might never happen again.

Finally the Grande Finale of the Tønder Festival on Sunday night. Starting off were Solas, the Irish American stars, with a superb set in the 2.200 seats carrying Tent 1. They were followed by Scottish singer/songwriter Dougie MacLean, and amazingly enough, all 2.000 people in the audience were totally quiet when he performed, the only noise being their huge applause in-between, and their joining in the choruses - another proof that the Tønder audiences are some of the best audiences to be found at any festival. Finishing off were the Chieftains, who were lucky enough to find several musicians that they have already collaborated with at the festival. So they were joined for a few tunes by Cherish the Ladies' step dancers, and for some other tunes by Carlos Núnez, the Galician who has toured for quite a long time as 'seventh Chieftain' (Paddy Moloney) with them, with the audience once again going wild. Later on Great Big Sea were invited on stage; this Canadian band is featured on the Chieftain's latest album, 'Fire in the Kitchen', representing the Canadian Celtic traditions. These guests made the Chieftains gig even more special. In the end, all other musicians who were part of the festival filled the stage for the Finale, singing along with the audience Tønder Festival's classic finale song 'Will the Circle be Unbroken'. Another fabulous weekend had passed.

1999 - 25 years Tonder festival Now what makes Tønder such a special festival? It's on the one hand definitely the quality of organisation and the professionalism, and also the attention and interest for the music by the audience, but on the other hand it is definitely also the fact that musicians who might have never met before come together in a friendly atmosphere, allowing them to play together even on stage. One example of this festival feeling is the story, that Paddy Keenan has played during this weekend the first time since six or seven years in an informal session, and he had loads of fun doing it. Also many musicians try to get to Tønder in those years when they are not invited to play. This year, Tønder gained quite a few new of these fans. One of them is Danú; with Benny McCarthy saying: "Whether we play at next year's festival or we won't– we might come anyway – it's a great festival. We might come for holidays. It's nice to come here – it's like an annual pilgrimage.”

And next year this pilgrimage should be even more special, as a huge birthday party will take place. Tønder Festival has then its 25th anniversary, with an extravaganza of music never seen before in Tønder. We cannot really imagine how the organisers can still raise the quality and quantity of the music as the festival has been perfect already this year, but we will see. There is definitely no other place to be than Tønder from the 26th to the 29th of August 1999. Book early (to be exact, book on the 31st of july 1999, first day of ticket sales) to avoid disappointment!

Photo Credit: All Photos by The Mollis;
(1) Ron Kavana and Solas' Karan Casey
(2) Niamh Parsons, Cherish the Ladies' Aoife Clancy and Danú's Ciarán o Gealbháin at the Late Night Show
(3) Keep it up: Malcom Stitt, Elidh Shaw Simon Thoumire (without Kevin McKenzie)
(4) 3 of Danú: Tom Doorley, Jesse Smith and Benny McCarthy
(5) Carlos Núnez and Paddy Keenan at the Ceilidh

Infos for future festivals available at: the Festival Homepage

To the content of FolkWorld Articles & Live Reviews
To the content of the FolkWorld online music magazine Nr. 6

© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 10/98

All material published in FolkWorld is © The Author via FolkWorld. Storage for private use is allowed and welcome. Reviews and extracts of up to 200 words may be freely quoted and reproduced, if source and author are acknowledged. For any other reproduction please ask the Editors for permission.

FolkWorld - Home of European Music
FolkWorld Home
Layout & Idea of FolkWorld © The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld