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Folk Column: The no bell prize
Folk and trad news by Greg McAteer.
Greg McAteer, 18 Sep 2007
While we’re on the subject of banjos, I have a confession to make. I’ve never much cared for it as a means of making music. Lore has it that the banjo made it’s way into folk music because it was easy to make and consequently cheap enough for anyone to afford. To me, that just never seemed like a convincing reason for using it in anger. So I have to admit to a slight disquiet in the face of my road to Damascus moment when I heard Pat McGarvey of the Southern Tenant Folk Union play it. I’m currently consoling myself that it’s only because he’s doing it in the company of five other top class players in one of the most uplifting bands I’ve seen this year (and given time and the right therapy, I may come to loathe it again) but right now – deep breath, say it loud – I LOVE BANJO.
If you missed Southern Tenant Folk Union on their recent Irish tour, I would strongly urge you to check out their self-titled debut album. With such a strong line-up featuring in this year’s Open House Festival, it’s a crying shame that they won’t be amongst the roster. They play a repertoire that mixes modern sounding old-time tunes with old-timey sounding new compositions. The band are all superb instrumentalists and they have the most sublime vocal harmonies. The beautiful Frances Vaux in particular has a gorgeous fragile quality to her vocal that shoots authenticity through everything she comes in contact with. Lead singer Oliver Talkes looks too good-looking to be able to produce the raw, aching vocals that propel the songs along. He’s a cool customer too. I’m not going into the details of the ‘rat incident’ but suffice to say he isn’t fazed by rodents dropping from the sky.
Hailing from Nashville but having grown up on a diet of Seattle grunge and West Coast rap, Old Crow Medicine Show play a mix of pre-World War II blues, fiddle tunes, rags and hollers with a raw brazen energy that was honed over a protracted period spent busking in Canada before they had recorded their first album. Now, four albums in, they are one of the most essential listens out there. Having tried in previous years to book them for the Open House festival, Kieran Gilmore managed to pin them down this time round and they’ll be playing in the festival marquee in Belfast’s Custom House Square on Friday September 28. The following evening they’ll have heaved into town in Galway for a show in the Black Box Theatre, and they wash up in Dublin on Sunday September 30 for a show at the Village.