FolkWorld Live Review by Eugene Graham; 09/2002

Tønder 2002: Old and new Celtic and Danish music
Personal minutes from five days of the prestigious festival

Here we were again, another scorching month of August and another Tønder festival. On the way over from Copenhagen the signs became evident as the music enthusiasts loaded down with rucksacks, tents and sleeping bags filled the train. This years festival was dominated by the spirit of renewal. There were young bands from Ireland, Scotland, Canada and not least Denmark, rubbing shoulders with the Dubliners, the Mc Calmans, Donovan and Norma Waterson and they left their mark on the concerts and especially the sessions.The Danish input has never been greater with Zar, Instinct and all the students from the Carl Nielsen Academy of Music in Odense making a great impact.

Day 1. Thursday:

Croft No. 5; photo by Eugene GrahamCroft No. 5 a really young band from the highlands of Scotland started the ball rolling in the big tent.As usual for the Thursday folk rock concerts most of the seating was left out so that there was plenty of room for leaping about.Driven on by the funk-soul rythms of Paul Jennings on drums and particularly Somhairle Mac Donald on bass, Adam Sutherland, fiddle and Misha Somerville flute pogoed around the stage but one could always hear their traditional musical background shining through. This is a band with an image that helps attract the younger rock audience to folk music. (photo on the left: Croft No. 5)

Runrig one of the darling bands of the festival over the last ten years came on next with their unmistakable romantic highlands folk rock. Four years ago Bruce Guthro from Canada made his debut as replacement for the incredibly popular lead singer Donnie Munro and in the intervening years has forged himself a similar role. As he said, "I`m not a new boy anymore".Runrig have an amazing grip on their audience in Tønder. The bulk of the crowd could sing along with all the songs unaided and I wondered how many times does a band have to play in the same place for this to be possible? The newer material from their latest studio recording, The Stamping Ground was also received with raptuous applause from the loyal fans.

Meanwhile more and more musicians were filtering in to the festival site and congregating in the teriffic backstage bars which are a hallmark of this event. Thursday was a foretaste for what was to come.

Day 2. Friday:

Alan & John Kelly, photo by Eugene GrahamEven before the official festival opening down in Tønder town there was an interesting press reception at 12.00 where the CD "Banjoman" was launched. This is a tribute to the the great American banjo player Derroll Adams featuring a wide variety of artists including Dolly Parton, Billy Connolly Arlo Guthrie, Donavon and Ramblin`Jack Elliot. On Sunday night there would be an all star concert in memory of one of Tønder festival`s most prominent profiles from the early years.

Friday evening approached and the usual Tønder dilemma, which concerts to go to?! I love the atmosphere inside the big tents so I plumped for The Alan Kelly Mosaic Band in Tent 1 to start with. I have been an admirer of Alan´s since his work in the Michael Mc Goldrick big band and his debut CD Out of the Blue from 1997. John Kelly, Alan`s brother, on flute led into the first three reels and set the tone for the rest of the gig. Arrangements varied from the the experimental to the traditional and included some of the tunes he and his brother have just released on a CD called "Fourmilehouse".This band has so many star performers and features the very jazzy playing of Richie Buckly on sax and Daniel Healy on trumpet, not to mention that former showband guitar hero Arty Mc Glynn. Arty is one of the all time originals of Irish music from the last twenty years and one baroque piece of his sticks in the mind.When Alan and the seven members of his band finished the crowd was buzzing as the stage crew rushed around doing their usual rapid changeover. (Photo on the right: Alan and John Kelly)

Dervish; photo by Eugene GrahamNext came Dervish the by now legendery Sligo group led by the charismatic singer Cathy Jordan. Apart from Cathy herself Dervish`s trademark is their rhythm section of bazouki, mandola and guitar supplemented by bodhrán or bones.The tunes fairly hum along interspersed with songs of quality. Early on Cathy sang "The banks of the old Idaho" and explained that last year Dervish had celebrated their tenth year together. With her very individualistic sense of dress and ebulliant personality, not to mention her wonderful penetrating voice, she remains one of the great lead singers on the Irish scene.Where others experiment Dervish prefer to hone their edge and stick to a fast sweet rendition of jigs and reels.This is a reflection of their background in Sligo one of the great sources of the Irish music tradition. (Photo on the left: Dervish)

Next I caught part of the Waifs` set over in Tent 2. Here was a bit of light relief from the intensity of the two previous gigs. The Waifs play a kind of Australian rock-a-billy country music. Their acoustic guitar based sound coupled with the the vocal harmonies of Donna and Vikki Simpson appeals across the board. To their own songs they add some well known Bob Dylan numbers and in their charming way they captivate the audience. After their first Tønder appearance last year they were in such demand that they performed twice in the big tents this time round.

The last concert in tent 2 was given by Blou a Cape Breton band who mix a good deal of cajun music into their traditional repetoire. Powered by the muscular delivery of Patrice Boulianne on accordian they entertained the crowd as only Canadian bands can with lots of anecdotes and stories of where they found their tunes. This was the ideal way to finish off Friday night and we all were impressed by the versatility of Dillon Robicheau who switched with ease from guitar to mandolin or banjo. And he could sing as well!

Day 3. Saturday:

Saturday in Tønder is a day full of music. The main events start at 1.00 but on the outside stage at Haggis Bar near the main festival site live music started at 11.00. The recently formed duo of Michael Rose on piano and Ditte Mortensen on fiddle calls itself Contradiction and they have developed a niche of celtic-inspired music..Some of the tunes are familiar but the approach manages to be formal yet playful and this was stylishly compliamented by the playing of guest bag piper Stig Bang Mortensen. After this refreshing entré we filtered back up to the festival site for the first main course of the afternon.

Sine Lahm of Zar; photo by Eugene GrahamThe afternoon was dedicated to the new generation of Danish musicians combined with some Scottish and Canadian acts. Zar opened proceedings in Tent two with a brilliant interpretation of Danish folk music.Here is a band which adds humour and "lift" to music which has long lain dormant. Hearing them reminded me what the Chieftains and later the Bothy Band did for Irish music arrangements in the `70s During their set they changed direction into some latin influenced tunes and had in Sine Lahm a singer of sublime beauty and talent.During her husky version of the well known Danish song "Jeg går i tusind tanker" you could hear a pin drop.Rasmus Zeeberg on guitar, also known for his work with Copenhagen based group Flax in Bloom, Chrispopher Davis Maack, fiddle and Steffen Søgård Sørensen, contrabass and fiddle are the three original members of this group and were to be found in the middle of the ongoing sessions until late Sunday night. (Photo on the right: Sine Lahm of Zar)

Emily Smith, one of Scotlands brightest young singers and accordianists, and Fiddlers Bid from Shetland showed what a renaissance is taking place at the moment in traditional Scottish music. Last year half of the latter were left fog bound at home and didn`t make it to Tønder but this year they made up for it.Then it was left to the young musicians from the Carl Nielsen Academy of Music in Odense to show us what they could do and they took us through a variety of musical influences, including, apart from new arrangements of old Danish tunes, Swedish unaccompanied songs and klesmer music popular in Scandinavia in the 1800`s. When the music programme was first made public many people wondered what this new generation would be capable of. The answer loud and clear was music of great depth and variety. We have a lot to look forward to at coming festivals

North Cregg, photo by Eugene GrahamFor my first concert of the eveing I cycled down to Tønder Gymnasium to hear North Cregg with their distinctive "Sliabh Luachra" sound Their style has a lot to do with box player Christy Leahy who slowly but surely is being regarded in Ireland as a maestro on his instrument..Butressed by his brother Martin on snare drum and on occasion two pianos, Christy led through selections of slides, reels and polkas. A polka can mean many things to many men but in counties Cork and Kerry (in Ireland) a polka is a ripping dance form. Jason O`Driscoll, guitar, and Paul Meehan on banjo and mandolin had them rattling along with Christy`s sometimes snarling accordian.Fiona Kelleher from west Cork has a fragile but sensitive voice and her songs were in contrast to the otherwise furious pace set by the lads.The last few jigs included Michael Mc Goldrick`s Number 2 and the suitably chosen Thunderhead (Tønderhead!!) which led into the wild ragtime finale where Ciaran Coughlin really vamped and pounded his piano. After a break they were off down to the Visemøllen to host the late night sessions. (Photo on the left: North Cregg)

Then it was back on the bike and up to Tent 1 again to hear John Mc Cusker and Friends. Here we had a veritable "supergroup" consisting of John himself on fiddle and bazouki, John Joe Kelly on bodhrán, Iain Mc Donald on highland pipes and flute, Andy Cutting on melodian, Ian Carr on guiter, Kris Drever on guitar and vocals and last but not least possibly the most sought after name in traditional music today, Michael Mc Goldrick on flute, whistles and uileann pipes. The sheer virtuosity of the playing and the tightness of the arrangements was stunning as each piece of music unfolded. First one, the the other would take up a solo. Its hard to prise one tune from the other so consistent was the quality. All this was interspersed some songs from that incorrigable festival prowler Tim O`Brien who seems to be able, and very willing, to fit in anywhere musical instruments are played.This was a concert of wonderful music the like of which we rarely get to hear. At the end I had to remind myself that the evening was not over yet. But how to follow that?!

But yes there was another concert to follow.Cherish the Ladies came on to give us a taste of the American way of presenting music. Even though their line up has changed over the years Cherish the Ladies continue to entertain with a varied repetoire and that nowadays populer combination of music and dance.The audience responded and there was plenty of leaping about out on the wings.

Day 4. Sunday:

Tim O Brian & Cathy Jordan; photo by Eugene GrahamSunday afternoon in Tønder means Ceilidh time.This is not a ceilidh in the sense that we all dance to traditional Irish music, but we are offered little glimpses of bands we have missed in their main concerts and then at the end loads of musicians come up and play together. In Tent 2 we had Dervish, the Duhks from Canada, North Cregg, Blou, Tim O`Brien, John Mc Cusker and Friends, Swåp, an English - Swedish quartet consisting of Karen Tweed on accordian, Ian Carr guitar, and Ola Bäckström and Carina Normansson on fiddles, Rory Mc Leod & Aimee Leonard, Waterson-Carthy and Donald Black. Our host was Ron Kavana.It was great to hear a few songs from the incomparable Norma Waterson, a woman who infuses such emotion into every song she sings. Then we had the very witty Rory Mc Leod on guitar and trombone backed by his partner Aimee Leonard on bodhrán and his son Sonny aged four playing the spoons! These Sunday afternoons have a carnival athmosphere and as Tim O`Brien finished yet another song from the bottomless pit of his American bluegrass - country tradition he turned and asked "Where else would one rather be?" He then rambled first into Cotton Eyed Joe to be followed by Irene Goodnight with at least thirty musicians joining him. (photo on the right: Cathy Jordan with Tim O'Brian)

From the moment the ceilidh finished sessions broke out around the festival site and particularly back stage. Once again I had a chance to listen to some performers I had missed. Seamus Begley is a colossus on the accordian and he and Karen Tweed got settled down in one corner and started playing. A few hours later they were still at it and had been joined by an array of instruments including Michael McGoldrick this time playing a snare drum he had borrowed from Martin Leahy of North Cregg! In another bar the young Danes got together and showed what they could do.There was hardly time for a sandwich before the grand finale. (Photos below: Session with Zar; session with Michael McGoldrick and Seamus Begley)

The final concert was a marathon. It was in two parts, the first being an all star tribute to Deroll Adams featuring Ramblin` Jack Elliot, Arlo Guthrie, Donovan, blues guitarist Hans Theessink, songwriter Allan Taylor, Youra Marcus from Belgium and legendary bass player Danny Thompson. One great song after the other rolled out before the break. Then on came the Dubliners still celebrating their 40 years in showbusiness. Sadly lacking the ill Jim Mc Cann they had however welcomed back their former front man with the gravel voice Ronnie Drew and they proceeded to give the hugely loyal last night audience exactly what they wanted. Barny Mc Kenna`s voice might be a bit shakey when he introduces the tunes but there was no mistaking his banjo solos and such classics as The Wild Rover had us swaying and singing along. And so it was almost over and we watched the musicians who had entertained us so much over the previous four days file on to fill up the stage and sing the traditional parting song of the Tønder festival - Will the Circle be Unbroken? Of course it won`t. As we trooped off to even more sessions those leaving were already making arrangements to meet up again next year the last weekend in August.

Photo Credit: All photos by Eugene Graham

More reports of the Tønder Festival 2002 in German:
Gammel Dansk und junge Kelten (by Tom Keller), and Singer/Songwriter Legenden und neuere Gesichter (by Gerald Trebaticky)

Reports of Tønder Festivals of recent years:
, 2001b, 2000, 1999a, 1999b, 1998

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© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 9/2002

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