Trad/roots: Here comes the spring – in the form of Imbolc, Tradfest and CQAF

Feeling the winter blues? Fear not, as you can shake them off at one of the fantastic trad-folk festivals taking place at a location near you in the coming weeks – take Imbolc, Tradfest and the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, for three

Jarlath Henderson performs with the Ulster Orchestra at Derry's Imbolc festival
Robert McMillen

PEOPLE normally look askance at you when you tell them that the Celtic spring begins on February 1, the feast of St Brigid. We know that the end of January and early February are no different to the weeks that have preceded them – dark, damp and frankly, Baltic.

However, it seems that traditional music is still in tune with the Celtic calender as this time of year sees, rising out of the frozen mist comes such a variety of festivals, gigs and concerts that it could be proscribed for as a cure for Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The spirit of Imbolc, the ancient Irish festival that welcomed spring and the return of life to the fallow land, is alive and well and living in Derry. The Imbolc festival, centred around Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin and the Glassworks in Gt James Street, is Janus-like in that it celebrates the great traditional music of the past and present while giving a platform to how today’s young and not-so-young talent is bringing that tradition into the 21st century.

I love Imbolc’s motto – Tradition and Beyond – which I think is represented by the likes of Jarlath Henderson who has taken very old folk songs and arranged them with traditional instruments and electronica, creating some of the most dramatic and moving songs you will ever hear. The effects, my friends, are stunning.

However, for the Derry gig, Jarlath is joined by the Ulster Orchestra in what definitely could be gig of the year, especially with the inclusion of Niall Hanna, the young singer from Derrytresk who has released his first album, entitled Autumn Winds, as part of his Young Musicians’ Platform Award, a development programme for exceptional young musicians, offered by BBC NI in collaboration with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

But there is great music running through all eight days of Imbolc, Sunday January 28 to Sunday February 4, involving 192 Performers taking part in 36 events at 20 locations, and many of my favourite bands included, I’m delighted to say.

Beoga has been on everyone’s lips since they teamed up with Ed Sheeran and they will doubtlessly fill the Glassworks on February 3 as befits a band as talented and creative and exciting as the Antrim/Limerick outfit and it’s great to see a band like Navá on the filling as well.

Navá are exploring the relationship between the ancient musical cultures of Ireland and Persia. The band is comprised of members of folk/bluegrass band Pine Marten: Simon Guy, Paddy Kiernan and Niall Hughes, and Iranian born brothers Shahab and Shayan Coohe.

Tim Edey is brilliant on his own but at Imbolc he’ll be sharing the stage with Four Men and a Dog, a band guaranteed to bring a smile to the lips and a spring to the step when they appear at the Glassworks on February 4.

As well as the better-known bands, there are also treats in store with the likes of Codetta, Eilidh Patterson, Andreas Tophøj agus Rune Barslund as well as a show called Sklonište, which tells the story of the siege of Sarajevo during which 13,952 people were killed. The show, by Cork-born contemporary composer Ailís Ní Ríain, mixes music and video.

Alongside concerts, the festival also has an extensive programme of music and dance workshops including sean-nós and two hands dance workshops, songwriting workshops, guitar and melodeon masterclasses led by Tim Edey, and a weekend-long Band Camp for young traditional musicians.

:: You can get all the info about these and everything else about the festival from

JANUARY is typically a month spent recovering from Christmas, with few plans and even less money in your pocket – but it doesn't have to be so glum. TradFest, Dublin's annual toe-tapping musical extravaganza returns in the New Year with a resolution to help you banish those January blues at affordable prices.

TradFest 2018 is Ireland's largest festival of traditional, folk and roots music is also getting a spring in it step takes place from Wednesday to Sunday January 24-28, with a wealth of talent to showcase including: Judy Collins, Alan Stivell, Martha Wainwright; Big Country; Shirley Collins; Steve Wickham, Wallis Bird and The 4 of Us.

For trad fans, there's a Trad Gala Night featuring Téada, Blazin’ Fiddles & Frankie Gavin, Maighread & Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill, Andy Irvine & Donal Lunny, the Jarlath Henderson Band and This is How We Fly. And that's just for starters. As usual, venues will include many historical and iconic buildings including City Hall, Dublin Castle, House Of Lords, St Michan’s Church, St Patrick’s Cathedral, St Werburgh’s Church, Whelans and Rathfarnham Castle.

It really is a sign of the changing times that festival organisers are keen to show that they are (finally) giving female performers some recognition after decades of neglect.

TradFest 2018 is quick to point out that it will see the majority of all it headline concerts dominated by female performers, including legends such as Judy Collins, Martha Wainwright, Maighread and Triona Ni Dhomhnaill, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Shelby Lynn, Alison Moorer, Wallis Bird, Moya Brennan, Shirley Collins, Michelle & Louise Mulcahy, Laoise Kelly, Kaia Kater, The Sound of the Sirens, Ciara Sidine, Karrie & Ailbhe Reddy, Leslie Dowdall and all-female group Radiant Arcadia, while Aoife Scott will lead a exclusive all female singing circle, featuring female performers from the worlds of trad and folk.

:: For more information on our entire line-up and to book tickets can be booked at

HOWEVER, if you are lucky enough to live in the teeming metropolis known as Belfast, then you don't have to go very far for your trad delights.

The Out to Lunch festival which is already up and running has a number of great gigs coming up with Nuala Kennedy blending old and contemporary tunes and songs in Irish and English at an afternoon gig (3pm) in the Black Box this Sunday; Bernadette Morris is is launching a new EP of her own original material.

Where the Heart Is, on January 18 upstairs in the Duke of York; Music In The Glen are an exciting new trio featuring Brendan Mulholland (flute) and founding Réalta members Conor Lamb (uilleann pipes, whistles) and Deirdre Galway (guitar) and you can hear what they sound like on Sunday January 21 at 2pm in the Black Box; live legends Lau will be celebrating the release of their greatest hits albuam Decade at the Black Box on Wednesday January 24 at 8pm while if you prefer your trad with a Gallic tinge, then Le Vent du Nord from Quebec will definitely float your boat on Thursday 15.

Finally, for anyone who saw the documentary, The Ballad of Shirley Collins, the great doyenne of English folk music will be enjoying her 83rd year on Mother Earth with a gig on Friday January 26.

:: Details of all the above at

Feels like spring already, doesn’t it?!

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