Music

Trad/roots: Looking forward to the return of Temple Bar Tradfest and Armagh's William Kennedy Piping Festival

Robert McMillen looks forward to the post-Covid return of two much-anticipated festivals - the William Kennedy Piping Festival in Armagh next week, and Tradfest in Dublin's Temple Bar in January

The stage is set for the return of the Temple Bar Tradfest, with a great line-up of artists planned for January 2022
Robert McMillen

TO be honest, I had never considered that one of the big selling points of an Irish folk and trad festival would be the fact that venues were using hospital grade A disinfection systems.

We've come a long way from smoke-filled rooms, BO and bottles and half'uns.

Such is the post-Covid (fingers crossed) zeitgeist that the safety of artists and audiences from infection is now of paramount importance in the bruised and battered live gig industry, and that is certainly true of the Temple Bar Tradfest which is returning to its Dublin home next January after silence was imposed on it by the pandemic.

It's been a difficult time for the festival as the Tradfest chairman Martin Harte explains.

"We were one of the first music festivals of 2020 but we were also one of the last, which is weird, because we only just got out the doors in January - and then everything was cancelled," he says.

"So we ran a full festival, completely oblivious to the storm that was heading our way. Little did we know when we were bringing the curtains down on Tradfest in Kilmainham Gaol that Sunday back in 2020 that we wouldn't have a live event until 2022."

As you can imagine, an area which is famous worldwide for its vibrant nightlight was now a very, very eerie sight.

As Martin explained, Temple Bar would attract about 70,000 people a day.

"It's a very small space," he says. "Geographically, it's only 28 acres. That's about the size of a town park, really. We went from 70,000 people to nothing,

Shutters down, hoardings up, it was eerie beyond belief. What did we do? We panicked, as everyone did."

However, once that gave way to a little pragmatism, the ideas started coming.

Starved of the opportunity to hear live performers in places like Milwaukee, home to one of the largest traditional music festivals in the world, where they could book bands for Dublin, the Tradfest team knew they needed to stay in contact with their audience so they came up with a new concept for a show which they called Ireland and Music.

"Ireland and Music was a one-hour music special and it featured iconic Irish artists in iconic locations, for example, we filmed Clannad up in the Poison Glen in Donegal," explains Martin.

"We did Sharon Shannon with Denise Chaila on the Cliffs of Moher, the Hothouse Flowers performing in Temple Bar and so on, and that kept us in touch with our audiences."

(The show can still be seen on the TradFest website and possibly on the RTÉ player, while the good news is that there is another Ireland and Music TV show which will be broadcast later in the year.)

The TradFest Committee - being a very optimistic bunch - decided, to put together a festival for January 2021 with the live concerts featuring the likes of Dervish, Tolü Makay, Louise Mulcahy, Luka Bloom and Laoise Kelly going out online - concerts that sold around 15,000 tickets, according to Martin.

The concerts were then put together in a TV programme, which went out on RTÉ One.

But now however, with restrictions on live entertainment lifted - although people still need to be careful - Tradfest is again ready to get the capital's feet tapping with a stunning line-up of A-list trad talent.

While we have Kerry slides, Connemara Sean-nós singing, Clare concertinas and the Donegal fiddle style, Dublin is probably best-known for its ballad groups - which isn't to say that the capital doesn't have a fine traditional music pedigree with such greats as Tommy Potts, most members of the Chieftains, Leo Rowsome and Séamus Ennis and all these strands are alive and well and appearing at TradFest 22.

The ballad tradition is best represented by The Dublin Legends, featuring one of the last remaining members of the original Dubliners, Seán Cannon, and joining them onstage will be folk legend, Ralph McTell and Stockton's Wing.

But probably the biggest highlight of the whole festival will be, on the stage of the National Stadium, Altan, Dervish and Four Men and a Dog.

The energy from this gig could keep Dublin's electricity going for the next six months as anyone who has seen these bands play live will attest.

It promises to be a gig that goes down in the seanchas.

Another great night is in store with Women of Note which has been put together by Aoife Scott, daughter of Frances Black.

"That's going to end up a big line-up. So far we've confirmed Peggy Seeger and Wallace Bird but the list is growing and growing."

:: A full list of Tradfest 22 gigs – and the list is growing at a phenomenal rate – can be found at tradfest.tickets.ie. More information at tradfesttemplebar.com.

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AFTER a one-year pause, one of the longest-established international festivals of pipe-based music anywhere in the world is back.

The 27th William Kennedy Piping Festival takes place from November 18-21 at venues across Armagh City.

The festival, organised since 1994 by Armagh Pipers Club, will feature three principal concerts, concerts in schools, an immersive three-day Piping Academy and master classes in several instruments.

The 2021 Festival will not, however, be like the massive 80-artist events of recent years: it is scaled down to ensure, as far as possible, Covid-safe events, with a back-to-roots emphasis on Irish piping, but with a few outstanding international guests.

Featured artists include Mick O'Brien, Emer Mayock and Aoife Ní Bhriain performing as the Goodman Trio; uilleann pipers Pádraig McGovern, Louise Mulcahy and Cillian Vallely, and Tiarnán Ó Duinnchinn who will be performing in duet with harpist Laoise Kelly.

All six pipers will contribute to the Academy. From Asturias, the festival welcomes back gaita virtuoso José Manuel Tejedor, while French favourites Sébastien Lagrange and Quentin Millet make a long-awaited return.

Scotland is represented by Mike Katz of Battlefield Band fame, and Alana MacInnes from South Uist. Completing the line-up is the sublime vocalist Diane Cannon from the west Donegal Gaeltacht.

::Full details and ticket information from wkpf.org.

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