London’s internationally-renowned traditional Irish music, song & dance festival ‘Return to Camden‘ kicks off this week (20-26 October 2015). Now in its 17th year the London Irish scene has been an important one since the late ’40s when many Irish came to London to work on rebuilding the infrastructure damaged during the war. As Ron Kavana says on his excellent ‘In the Smoke‘:
Sat around barroom tables with flutes, pipes and fiddles
Sliabh Luchra slides met with Donegal highlands
Songs from the thirty-two counties mixed with slip jigs and reels
The legacy of Casey, Gorman, Doran, Byrne, Ennis, Clancy and ‘the lovely Lucy Farr’ is very much alive as this year’s lineup more than demonstrates.
As well as hosting more sessions than you can shake a stick at there are dance and music workshops and a stunning array of performances across venues from the wonderful Green Note to Kings Place. You can download a full programme by clicking here (PDF). Here’s a few highlights which only really scratch the surface:
Crossharbour / Artisan Row – Evening Concert – Thurs 22nd Oct
We caught Crossharbour at this years Purbeck Valley Folk Festival where they put on a lively performance that I personally would have been happy to see go on for the whole evening. They capture the magic of the Irish session and along the way they humoured us with some very interesting stories behind their tunes, especially ‘Surprise Package’ (ask them). Here they are performing at Bath Folk Festival in 2014.
Although the players may not be new to you, Artisan Row are, according to the website London’s newest Irish band, featuring Elma McElligott, Karen Ryan, Conor Doherty and Pete Quinn who are all well known on the London Irish scene. Here they are perforning at the Green Note for last year’s festival:
Breaking Trad featuring Gino Lupari + Seven Glens – Fri 23 Oct
Breaking Trad is bound to be a lively one with Dónal Murphy (accordion) from Abbeyfeale, West Limerick, a winner of numerous All-Ireland titles on both Button Accordion and Melodeon, Niall Murphy (fiddle) from Camlough, South Armagh, a winner of multiple awards including All-Ireland Senior Fiddle competition, Fiddler of Dooney and Fiddler of Oriel, and also multi-instrumentalist Mike Galvin. Here they are performing in Sligo at the Fleadh Cheoil in 2014.
Evening Concert – Altan / Cran – Saturday 24th October
These two should need no introduction to Irish traditional music lovers. Altan have been playing together now for over 25 years. They started out in the early 1980s as a duo of Belfast flute-player, Frankie Kennedy and Gweedore singer and fiddler, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh. Over the years they have developed their sound in particular their trademark twin fiddle sound. Presently playing fiddle opposite Mairéad is the great Donegal fiddler, Ciaran Tourish. The band has recently been joined by Ciaran’s cousin, Martin, on piano accordion. Martin is also a composer of note and was the recipient of the 2008 TG4 ‘Young Musician of the Year’ award.
I was introduced to the wonderful Cran a good few years ago now by a listener, they are Ronan Browne, uilleann pipes, flute and vocals, Desi Wilkinson, flute and vocals and Sean Corcoran, bouzouki and vocals. The band’s performances combine musical virtuosity with songs, humour, banter and stories. They are also performing on Mon 26th October.
Danny Meehan and Le Chéile / Caitlín Nic Gabhann and Ciarán Ó Maonaigh – Sun 25th Oct (2pm)
Le Chéile was the cult Irish band of 1970s London, producing some of the most memorable recordings of the time. The 1970s album, Lord Mayo, was reissued on CD in 2006. To coincide with that release, the surviving original band members – master fiddlerDanny Meehan, Liam Farrell (banjo), John Roe (piano) and Kevin Boyle (guitar) – reformed alongside new recruits, flautist Paul Gallagher and accordionist Andy Martyn. Here’s a recent video of Danny, one of Donegal’s finest fiddle players:
Both Caitlín Nic Gabhann and Ciarán Ó Maonaigh are regular performers in their own rights, but together they make an exciting duo, they will be launching their new album Caitlín & Ciarán in a double album launch that evening along with Patsy Maloney who launches his debut solo flute album, The Temple in the Glen.
Johnny Connolly and Johnny Óg Connolly / The London Lasses and Chris O’Malley – Sat 24th Oct
Father and son: Johnny Connolly and Johnny Óg Connolly will a rare treat for lovers of fine accordion and melodeon playing, as father and son, Johnny Connolly and Johnny Óg Connolly, from Connemara, pay their first visit to the Festival.
The London Lasses have played at an impressive array of festivals and concert halls in the fifteen years including Cambridge Folk Festival, Dublin City Hall, Philadelphia Irish Festival and the Royal Albert Hall, where they performed the first ever BBC Proms céilí as part of the 2008 season and supported The Chieftains on their 50th Anniversary tour. Here’s a small taster from their latest album The One I Loved the Best