With little more than four months to go until the 35th Orkney Folk Festival, the team behind the late May event have announced the preliminary line-up of international and UK-based artists booked to appear at this year’s festival, alongside a handful of acts already confirmed from Orkney’s own fiercely renowned local scene.
Joining chart-topping Scottish songstress Eddi Reader, legendary Irish/American fiddle and guitar duo, Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, the much-loved English and Irish quartet, Flook, and fast-rising stars of Eastern Canada’s folk scene, The East Pointers – who were announced in December – are: two acts from the USA – Wisconsin’s Jeffrey Foucault, one of the finest singer-songwriters of his generation, and Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards, one of the New England post-folk scene’s most intriguing and captivating acts; one of Scotland’s best known and most popular groups, Blazin’ Fiddles (featuring Orkney’s own Kristan Harvey); the 2015 and 2016 winners of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards’ Best Group title, Stockton’s The Young’uns; arguably Orkney’s most prolific musical son, Kris Drever, celebrating 10 years as an acclaimed solo artist; two of Scotland’s most captivating young groups – and both veritable musical powerhouses – Talisk and Elephant Sessions; and one of the most innovative and contemporary Scottish Dance Band leaders, Tom Orr and his band.
This stellar cast will be welcomed to the festival by Orkney’s thriving local folk scene. Home-grown acts confirmed to appear, so far, alongside Kris Drever (now based in Shetland) include the gutsy roots pairing of Brian Cromarty and Douglas Montgomery, Saltfishforty; Orkney’s worldwide touring fiddle, piano and guitar duo, The Wrigley Sisters; and the eight-piece musical juggernaut, born out of the festival itself, The Chair.
Many more local artists will be added to the programme over the coming months. Between May 25 and 28, an estimated 50 acts, totalling over 200 musicians, will converge upon Stromness in Orkney’s West Mainland for the 35th festival.
Next year’s Orkney Folk Festival will take place hot on the heels of the event’s most successful outing, in 2016, which boasted both record ticket sales and venue capacities across the board. Over just four days, almost 7,000 individual event tickets were sold last year, for concerts, ceilidhs, clubs, workshops and talks throughout the county.
Heading up this year’s line-up is one of Scotland’s most prolific and instantly recognisable voices, needing little introduction. From topping the charts with Fairground Attraction in the 1980s and winning three BRIT Awards, to her heralded reworking of the songs of Robert Burns and subsequent solo albums, Eddi Reader’s is a career like no other. From the traditional to the contemporary, she brings joyous life to all forms of song.
Making his hotly-anticipated Orkney debut in May, Martin Hayes is regarded as one of the most extraordinary talents to emerge in the world of Irish traditional music. His unique sound and mastery of the fiddle combine to create an astonishing and formidable artistic intelligence. Whilst drawing inspiration from many diverse sources, he remains grounded in the music he grew up with in his own locality, in Feakle, County Clare. He met Irish/American guitarist Dennis Cahill in the 1980s, and their duo partnership – particularly Cahill’s spare, essential accompaniment to Hayes’ fiddle – is acknowledged as a major breakthrough for guitar in the Irish tradition.
One of the most innovative and exciting live acts to come from the English/Irish folk scene – making a welcome return to both Orkney and the festival after some 16 years – Flook weave Brian Finnegan and Sarah Allen’s flutes with the guitar of Ed Boyd and John Joe Kelly’s bodhran, into one breathtaking and groundbreaking sound. Whilst there is no shortage of virtuosity amongst the individual members, the unrivalled impact of the group, upon audiences and critics alike, stems from the wholly intuitive, almost symbiotic exchange between the various flutes, frets and skins: a rare blend of fiery technical brilliance, delicate ensemble interaction and a bold, adventurous musical imagination.
Although relative newcomers, The East Pointers have quickly amassed a devoted following in several corners of the globe, as a multi award-winning, exhilarating trio, whose music more than doubles the power of three. Cousins Tim Chaisson (fiddle/vocals) and Koady Chaisson (banjo/vocals/step-dance) are from the seventh generation of renowned Chaisson musicians from Prince Edward Island, and here join with guitarist Jake Charron, an Ontario native also from a strong family line of musicians. The trio’s union produces an easily identifiable trademark of Celtic-influenced, yet wholly modern, tunes and songs that have very quickly established them as a formidable force.
One of the finest songwriters of his generation, Jeffrey Foucault, from Whitewater, Wisconsin, has taken, in his own words, “the small roads;” building a brick and mortar independent international touring career of ten studio albums and countless miles across North America, Europe and the UK. Along the way, he’s been lauded for “stark, literate songs that are as wide open as the landscape of his native Midwest” (The New Yorker) and described as “quietly brilliant” (The Irish Times), whilst catching the ear of everyone from Greil Marcus to Van Dykes Parks and Don Henley, who regularly covers Foucault in his live set. His terse brand of minimalist Americana marries influences of country, folk, blues and rock and roll, with an openness and dimensionality that beckons the listener further in.
Propelled by inspired fiddle and cello playing, warm vocals, and arresting original songs, Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards have emerged as one of the most intriguing, versatile, and refreshing groups in the bountiful New England post-folk scene, with a sound that is both bold and elegant, schooled in the lyrical rituals of folk music whilst backed by grooves that alternately inspire Cajun two-stepping and rock-n-roll hip swagger. At times reminiscent of an old-time string band, and at others a chamber string quartet, female a-cappella group or indie band, the group’s sound defies categorisation, yet remains true to the group’s collective and individual identities as folk instrumentalists and vocalists.
From slightly closer to home, one of the world’s most prolific fiddle groups, Blazin’ Fiddles originally formed for a one-off tour of the Highlands – and, some 18 years later, are still raising roofs far and wide as one of Scotland’s foremost folk groups. With a ‘Blazers’ performance comes the rare opportunity to hear regional expressions from Scotland’s Highlands and islands, and the individual style from each fiddler – Inverness’ Bruce MacGregor, Shetlander Jenna Reid, Nairn’s Rua Macmillan, and Orkney’s very own Kristan Harvey – in a blend of ensemble and solo sets. Fiddles and bows ignite atop guitar and piano from Anna Massie and Angus Lyon, delivering a musically intoxicating evening for all.
Renowned for their pitch-perfect harmonies and rapid-fire humour, Stockton’s multi-award winners – including both the 2015 and 2016 Best Group titles at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards – The Young’uns have built a formidable reputation as one of the UK’s leading folk song outfits. Self-penned titles sit comfortably alongside traditional material from their native North-East England, bound by a passion for storytelling and commitment to maintaining the tradition of social commentary: songs of conscience, songs of warmth and wit, songs to provoke, and songs to inspire.
One of Orkney’s most prolific musical sons, Kris Drever’s voice and guitar now form a part of the backbone of today’s contemporary roots and folk scene. Hugely admired as a solo artist, collaborator, and a member of folk superstars Lau, he is a phenomenal and prolific artist. Indeed to simply call Drever ‘a folk singer’ would be like saying that Lau is ‘a Scottish folk trio’ – both true descriptions, but reductive ones that only hint at the progressive joys contained in the music of each. Having released three heralded solo albums, Drever returns to the Orkney Folk Festival in celebration of his first decade as an acclaimed solo artist and songwriter.
Winners of the 2015 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award, Talisk are one of the fastest rising bands on the UK folk scene. Featuring BBC Radio Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2016, concertina ace Mohsen Amini, alongside Hayley Keenan and Craig Irving, the trio create a captivating, energetic and dynamic sound that, in little more than a couple of years, has earned them multiple award wins and nationwide media and audience praise. With appearances at world-leading festivals including the Cambridge Folk Festival, Fairport’s Cropredy Convention and Denmark’s Tønder, as well as live sessions on both BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio Scotland’s flagship folk programmes, theirs is a star firmly, and rapidly, on the ascent.
Also at the younger end of the line-up, fiery Highland five-piece Elephant Sessions weld weapons-grade grooves and guitar attack with quicksilver fiddle/mandolin melodies. Recently nominated as Live Act of the Year at the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards 2016, and winners of Up and Coming Arts of the Year in 2014, the group fuses folk and trad with funk and electronica in an instantly captivating, progressive, visceral blend.
Meanwhile, one of the brightest and leading exponents of Scottish Dance Band music – making a welcome return to the festival – Tom Orr presents a youthful approach to an idiom steeped in tradition; pushing boundaries and challenging his team to explore alternative influences, creating an innovative sound that is truly unique within the genre. Variety is very much the name of the game, with sets ranging from vintage pipe tunes to hot-off-the-press compositions, duets and adventurous reels combined with a formidable technical prowess, fully demonstrating the wide-ranging capabilities of a traditional band line-up.
Orkney Folk Festival’s Artistic Director, Bob Gibbon, said: “The feedback that we received when announcing the first four acts, just a few weeks ago, was fantastic – and so we are delighted to now be unveiling many more visiting artists heading to the festival in May.
“’Folk’ means lots of different things to lots of people, and these are very exciting times for the genre and the festival, with more and more people tuning in, where previously they might not have thought folk music was for them. Boundaries and traditional confines are being pushed, and so we try and accommodate that within the programme. It’s often said that we hope there’s something for everyone, but there is a lot of ground covered, and the committee’s wheels are now fully in motion to deliver another cracker of a weekend.”
Tickets for the 2017 Orkney Folk Festival will go on sale in April. To find out more about the festival, and keep in touch head to www.orkneyfolkfestival.com