- 21 Jan 13
This year’s Temple Bar Trad Fest features a widely varied line-up covering acoustic rockers, traditional instrumentalists and Baltic bands alike – posing the $60,000 question: what is trad?
This year’s Temple Bar TradFest, by dint of its January slot, will be viewed as a primer for the 12 months ahead. There is, as usual, a fairly broad selection of events on offer, challenging – whether deliberately or not – preconceptions as to what traditional music really means. Let the debate begin!
Make no mistake, there are some very fine trad acts on the bill for 2013. City Hall is the venue for a series of lunchtime shows, each of which pairs an American exponent of the tradition with an Irish practitioner. Joanie Madden (January 23) will be duelling with Eamon Cotter on the flutes. The following day (24) New York fiddle player Brian Conway will give a recital for which he’ll be joined by Philip Duffy. In the same venue (25) US box player Billy McComiskey will be playing, alongside Cavan fiddle maestro Anton MacGabhann.
In what will undoubtedly be one of the high points of the festival, The Sands Family and Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill perform in Christ Church Cathedral on the evening of January 23. That’s a gig not to be missed. Meanwhile Maura O’Connell and banjo player Gerry O’Connor team up in the same venue the following evening. Quite simply, any opportunity to see Gerry work that banjo should be seized with both hands – no-one does it better.
Another virtuoso, Sharon Shannon, celebrates 21 years of bringing a smile to the nation’s face with a concert in St. Patrick’s Cathedral (25), for which she will be joined by members of her family. And, from Thursday 24 to Saturday 26, there are free showcases and masterclasses (the latter featuring John Spillane and Charlie Lennon), sponsored by IMRO, in the New Theatre.
The prognosis for uncompromising traditional music isn’t uniformly positive, however. Turning the clock back for a minute, on Tuesday January 22, you can treat yourself to the massed forces of some of the finest voices and instrumentalists in, or in the vicinity of, traditional music. Karan Casey, Muireann NicAmhlaoibh, Lumiere, John Spillane, Donogh Hennessy, John McSherry and Donal O’Connor are the performers adopting a super-group approach for this one-off event.
Very little wrong with that from an audience point of view. Except, perhaps, that we won’t get to see any of these artists put in a full set or deliver more than an instagram of what they might be capable of – which is a curious reflection on Irish people’s apparent lack of depth-appreciation of traditional music right now.
It does make you wonder – as I’m sure the organisers must – how wide you can stretch the term trad. For example, over the weekend of January 26 and 27, there is an outdoor ‘Headline Stage’ featuring hours of free entertainment – ‘from rock tunes with a trad twist to Irish dancers from all over the world’. This manages to encompass almost the entire gamut – mixing, among many more, Aoife Scott and Mary Coughlan with The Latvian Choir Elve, Mo Hat Mo Geansaí and Supertonic Orchestra, who play mostly traditional Polish music...
One of the impressive things about the festival is the extent to which different venues have been drawn into its ambit. Declan O’Rourke – who has been moving in a decidedly folkier direction in recent times – gives what’s billed as a Special Guest performance at Saint Werburgh’s Church on the evening of Sunday Jamuary 27th.
The Irish Stock Exchange, somewhat ironically one assumes, plays host to Othered Voices (Tuesday 22 and Wednesday 23). “Who speaks and who sings the protest song for the out of work or redundant bank worker?” the programme notes ask. “Where are the emerging anthems of challenge? Who sings the melody of discontent? Who writes the ballad of austerity and meagre times?”
As of now, there are no performers listed for this one, so it’ll be fascinating to find out what the answers will be – just as it will be to discuss the essential question: what is trad?
Elsewhere this fortnight, Norma Waterson, Martin Carthy and The Unthanks headline Drogheda’s Singing Gathering, a coming together of traditional artists from across the globe February 8 – 10. The focus is on acapella and harmony singing and the festival is part of The Gathering tourist initiative. The public is invited to participate in informal and intimate singing sessions. Concerts will be held in such unique sites as the entrance to Newgrange and storied Millmount tower. Details: droichead.com