Festival Jottings: By Carole Garland.
This festival should be renamed Ben Hur by Sea. It is HUGE! And every inch of useable space is made to work. It is also beautifully run with a vast army of vol- unteers, and its Green Credentials seem to be well earned. Dave de Santi and Russell Hannah,are to be congratulated on steering another very good festival to star with all the others they have done. It is such a winning combination.
Everyone you speak to will have had a different festival so these are personal highlights only. If your favourite misses a mention, that’s entirely understandable.
Overall there was more Klezmer than you could poke a stick at, but the LONDON KLEZMER QUARTET are a class act in anyone’s language.My pick of the other ensembles would be the UNDERSCORE ORCHESTRA – a high degree of musicality plus a lot of fun. It was a good Middle European sound.
I wasn’t prepared for JOHN JOHN FESTIVAL billed as Japan’s premier Irish band. Two blokes, guitar and drum with a diminutive Japanese girl fiddler between them. There was a weird oriental cast on it, particularly when she sang, but Lordy! how they could play!! Her fiddle bow was in shreds at the end of one set. The crowd, who came to mock, remained, with ovations enough to please anyone. The guitarist couldn’t stop grinning and the Percussionist looked suitably smug. They were an ornament to the festival joining in everything and being very involved.
On that same evening DOM FLEMONS from USA, a returning artist who was also on the programmed cover, delighted everyone, being amusing, original, and terribly talented. GLENN SKUTHORPE (Redfern Now) did an interesting set but was not well served by the sound set up. A second hearing in the Diamond Marquee gave a very different result, and had tremendous huge tone in his voice, and something of Kev Carmody in his phrasing. As a total contrast DAVE DE HUGARD’S folk presentation was restrained and thoughtful. He has done so much to promote Collected music in Australia, and he is held in tremendous respect. It was a small but select gathering.
SARAH HUMPHREYS is an up-and-coming star with a lovely voice, but was rather wasted on a bunch of hot and apathetic kids. Later, the grownups appreciated her more. ANDY IRVINE is looking his age these days, and for me, failed to connect. However a colleague had a different, and better, experience. Not that Andy could ever do a bad set, and sang many of the songs from his Abocurragh CD. which is a beaut.
ZE BEEZ; Bless them – they were wonderful. (my skin went cold when I think how nearly I did NOT book them for Newcastle) we are going to LOVE them. 14th Feb. in the Dungeon at Adamstown. Over two nights their presentation Don’t Mention The Wall, brought to life the events leading up to, and including, the fall of the Berlin Wall. Of the two girls one of them grew up in East Berlin, and appeared in her Pioneer scholastic uniform which ALMOST fitted, the other grew up in the West and had a unique perspective on the events of those times. I loved the indoctrination treatises for the East Berlinners, set to music, all interwoven with real events, people, film clips, photos and maps, on an overhead projector, all with a uniquely Berlin feel.
The first night was full up in that hall, but by the second it was beyond capacity, with people down the passageways and all round the walls. There were laughs aplenty, but also many a tear as it was, at times, intensely moving.
KAVISHA MAZZELLA , with her brother who lives in Umina, were delightful with those wistful Italian songs, featured on her Ritournella CD. Also with the ladies; FUNKIER THAN ALICE were very listenable though rather predictable dressed in black corset-type things, frills and top hats, or frou frou stuff a la Cabaret style.
The sessions were good but never long enough. In that same room, however, I heard the Woolly Yarn Competition, and our own Allan Wright, a previous winner, did himself proud (but unplaced this time)
I have to compliment the organisers. As well as the festival itself, in all its exhaustive detail, they all came on deck for the FIDDLERS FRENZY.
AFENNGIN, KLEZMORIM, JOHN JOHN FESTIVAL, WHITETOP PIONEERS and others, all did a 15 min spot of their own, then all the fiddlers came back, forming mobs of five or six, stiffened by a De Santi, a Wongawillian, or a Con Artist. The whole amazing spectrum then entertained us for 20 mins or so. WONGAWILLI then finished off with as good a set as I ever heard them do. Graham’s gorgeous voice waltzed us into a finale with this old song. ( It might be my finale too as I have to stop somewhere)
And when they dance their dresses spin round.
They travel so light their feet ne’er touch the ground.
And the smile on their faces would win every crowd.
The lasses who dance til the morning.