Folk column: Same old Damo

While fans mourn the Seamus Ennis Centre, there’s a great line-up at the Kilkenny Arts Centre, and Damien Dempsey returns to Ireland.

They say you never miss it until it’s gone and that’s certainly true of my favourite place to catch a gig. Not particularly cool, not particularly comfortable and not endowed with many of the niceties of concert-going, The Seamus Ennis Centre in Naul managed, however, to create a unique atmosphere which drew fantastic performances out of artists who in many cases were real finds.

Set up to promote traditional music in memory of piper and archivist Seamus Ennis, the centre’s director Sean Mac Philbin has chosen a more organic approach and it has become a haven for a broad spectrum of music from folk, through blues and Americana.

The news that much of the centre had burned down came as a huge shock, although tempered by the fact that the venue itself is unscathed. With much of the original house destroyed though, the centre will be closed to the public until further notice.

In the meantime, the centre’s upcoming shows have been moved out to the Hollywood Lakes Golf Course where White Raven will be performing their trademark three-part harmonies with a repertoire drawn from folk and traditional song on August 17. Next night Bruce Mathiske, the Australian steel-string guitarist, known for his formidable finger-style technique will be taking to the stage. Saturday, August 19 sees a whirlwind visit from Teada, who must have the heaviest touring schedule of any band out there, yet have still delivered the freshest traditional album of the past year, unrepentantly old-school and performed with a drive and dynamism which should put their elders and betters to shame.

Teada also play at this year’s Kilkenny Arts Festival which runs in the Marble City from August 11 to 20. They share a double bill with Beoga on August 12 at the city’s Rivercourt Hotel. It should be an interesting pairing as stylistically the two bands have chosen different seams of the tradition to mine.

At lunch-time on Sunday August 13 the majestic Iarla O Lionaird will perform in the intimate surroundings of the Parade Tower, accompanied by special guests fiddler Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh and piper Mick O’Brien. Best known still for his seminal involvement with roots fusion super-group The Afro-Celt Sound System, this will be an opportunity to hear Iarla with a more straightforwardly traditional ensemble.

Also performing a lunch-time gig, on Tuesday August 15 in St. Canice’s Cathedral is Caoimhin Vallely, the youngest of the three Vallely brothers from Armagh, who is joined by special guests Niall Vallely on concertina and Brian Morrissey on guitar. Caoimhin has re-thought how the piano fits into traditional music with a style rich in deft touches, which point up the influence of his study with Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin and nod towards the experience he has garnered touring with groups like North Cregg, Buille and Solas, leading to a diverse and rich sound that hints at jazz and chamber music.

One of the festival’s highpoints will be Eliza Carthy with her band the Ratcatchers. Daughter of folk guitar-hero Martin Carthy and singer Norma Waterson there was no way she was ever going to escape a life in music. She has, to borrow a phrase from The Frames, burned the maps and lit up some dark corners of English folk along the way. Having chalked up an awesome seven BBC Folk Music Awards, been nominated twice for the Mercury Music Prize and been championed by the late, great John Peel, her Ormonde Hotel show on August 16 is likely to sell out fairly sharpish.

There are a few interesting acts in the world music programme at the festival as well, kicking off on August 11 with Nigeria’s finest Femi Kuti and The Positive Force. Inheriting the mantle of high priest of Afrobeat from his revolutionary father Fela Kuti, Femi’s 14-strong funk driven ensemble should hit the stage of the Ormonde Hotel with all horns blazing.

Monday August 14 in Cleere’s sees percussionist Ramesh Shotham’s Madras Special combine funk and raga, jazz and deep South Indian temple music. This rhythmic tour de force draws on the vivid personalities of vocalist Sandhya Sanjana, herself steeped in Indian folklore, gypsy violinist Zoltan Lantos and bassist Christian Zürner.

St Canice’s Cathedral is the venue for the show by Kurdish singer Aynur Dogan on the evening of August 17. Dogan grew up immersed in the music, myth and poetry of the Alevites, a minority within a minority in the heavily supressed Kurdish region. She re-imagines this richly textured music, with its traditional lutes, woodwinds and elegiac songs for a new generation of Turks. Her voice has an emotional impact that perhaps is born out of the historical suppression of Kurdish identity.

When Messrs. Deary and Turner first opened the Spirit Store in Dundalk as a music venue there was a strong singer-songwriter feel to the programme there. Since then as the venue has gone from strength to strength, attracting world-class performers into that intimate crucible where the sheer physical proximity between the performers and the audience creates an unparalleled vibe, there has been a huge diversity amongst the acts that have performed there. There’s now a conscious move afoot, though, to try and rebuild that early sense of a community of songwriters at the venue and on August 16 the downstairs back bar at the venue will open its doors to the first of a new series of monthly songwriter sessions. Hosted by Dundalk’s own finest exponent of the genre, Stewart Agnew, the sessions aim to build on an audience for local songwriters and will feature guest performers each month. Doing the honours on the opening night will be Kevin May from the Guggenheim Grotto.

Meanwhile, upstairs at the main venue, the claustrophobic amongst you may want to practice your slow rhythmic breathing in advance of Damien Dempsey’s visit on September 7 as part of a ‘back to the roots’ tour of smaller venues. The big guy has been playing these type of venues in the US as he supports the American release of Shots on UFO and he’s obviously enjoying getting more up-close and personal with the audience. The Spirit Store show could be quite a squeeze though, even by those standards.

For those of us still sweltering in Dublin, this summer’s soundtrack will be provided courtesy of Kieron Black’s series of gigs in the Café Theatre above Bewley’s, Grafton Street. Shay Cotter returns there on August 17 and is promising another mystery guest. Last time out it was Declan O’Rourke who stepped up to the mark to provide support, so there’s no guessing what might happen this time round.

A week later there’s a double bill featuring Mumblin’ Deaf Ro (whose 2003 debut Senor, My Friend is rated as a lost classic, full of finger-picked guitar and songs of lost souls) and Michael Knight, named after the owner of KIT, the flashest car in TV history.

The following evening, Jenny Lindfors and Alyanya hit the stage together with a set that will feature songs from each of their individual catalogues as well as some collaborative material. They’ve know each other since school and did their first gig together aged 18. So the chemistry should be good.

 

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