FolkWorld Issue 32 12/2006; Live Report by Walkin' T:-)M

Some Old Favourites and Some New
Tønder Festival, Denmark, 24-27 August 2006

Tønder 2005 wasn't that big of a success; speaking in economical terms. Even this year, only a couple of concerts were sold out. However, everyone concerned was bursting with energy to make it a terrific weekend. So the craic was mighty in the state of Denmark: 9 venues, 31 concerts, musicians from Scandinavia, Ireland and Britain, Canada and the USA.

Friday afternoon at the torvet, Tønder's town square, is the official opening of the festival (though there have already been a concert on Thursday night). Beoga (-> FW#31) has the honour to open the proceedings. With one fiddle, two accordions, piano and bodhran, the young Irish band plays instrumental music and some tunes with a swinging lilt to it. It transfers us into a jazz club somewhere inbetween Dublin and New Orleans. Immediately the Tønder magic is in the air. Unfortunatly, the lads and lasses in the audience are rather interested in the beer stalls than listening to fine music.

Lunasa, photo by Tom Keller Lunasa, photo by Tom Keller
Lunasa on stage: Kevin Crawford, Cillian Vallely, Sean Smyth, Paul Meehan, Trevor Hutchinson

Friday night in the big tent: Irish supergroup Lunasa (-> FW#5, FW#12, FW#21, FW#27, FW#28) plays some old favourites and some new sets from their recent album "Sé" (Gaelic for six, see CD review in this FW issue). Kevin Crawford on flutes, Cillian Vallely on uilleann pipes (-> FW#24), Sean Smyth on fiddle and Trevor Hutchinson on double bass perform dance tunes and airs with absolutely thrilling finesse. Kevin also grabs the bodhran, and introduces us to a tune called "The Last Pint," celebrating his ten year anniversary off the booze. (If that is true, Kevin must be a rare example of an Irish musician...) We critics are interested what happenend to the position of the guitar player, since former accompanist Donogh Hennessy left Lunasa for good to join his fiancée Pauline Scanlon (-> FW#30). New guitar player Paul Meehan (brother to flute player Martin Meehan, see CD review in this issue) is a more than qualified substitute. So the band is as gorgeous as ever.

Lunasa is followed on stage by Le Vent du Nord from Quebec (-> FW#29, FW#31). Trevor Hutchinson, photo by Tom Keller The four boys make an animated live band. We get the typical French-Canadian characteristics: resonse singing, accordion, fiddle, hurdy gurdy, piano, guitar, plus step dance and foot tapping. Done in a most powerful and lively way. So the Saw Doctors (-> FW#29) afterwards have to make an effort to keep pace. The band from Tuam in the west of Ireland plays their own peculiar brand of Irish music. "N17" is the Irish folk song of the last century, they say. Well, this is rock'n'roll, and they don't actually pretend doing something else. Besides from the balconies there are no seats, and yes, that was a good idea. The atmosphere is simply great. It could attract some younger people, since generally the Tønder audience have become quite grey-haired. As I leave, the party in tent 2 with Croft No. 5 (-> FW#20, FW#30) and the Peatbog Faeries (-> FW#8, FW#27) is still going. This brings me to the idea that, in the case of non-seated concerts, one should have only one ticket to freely attend both tents. (That is already the case with the ceilidh on Sunday.) What did the Saw Docs sing? What a day, oh what a day!

Saturday morning starts with heavy rain. Then the sun comes out, and a picturesque rainbow shimmers over the fields. The Danish Folk Council announces the launch of the music export initiative Danish Roots. In recent years, Danish artists had experienced a growing success both at home and abroad. To ensure this developments, the aim is to support eight Danish acts to establish themselves internationally. In the first term, the spearhead is supported for three years: Faroese singer Eivør, duo Haugaard & Høirup (-> FW#27) and Instinkt (-> FW#24). The following groups will be backed up for one year: Afenginn, Tumult (-> FW#31), Zar (-> FW#28), Henrik Jansberg (-> FW#30), and Kristine Heebøll's "Trio Mio" (-> FW#30). I guess we will see and hear more of it in the near future.

In the town there are buskers everywhere, at every other corner an Indian fake group with pan pipes and colourful dress Karl May would be proud of. The German band Malbrook (-> FW#28) plays at the stage in the town centre. Le Vent du Nord, photo by Tom Keller The band has been formed three years ago by mandola player Wolfgang Meyering. The music is a mix of Northern German music and song from East Frisia and Scandinavian traditions. Performed in a most experimental and exciting way. I once said that German folk musicians tend to play music the same way as the German football team plays football: no adventures and always on the safe side. Malbrook succeeded with a different approach. So eventually our football team changed its attitude as well. Thanks, Wolfgang!

To calm things down, I pay a visit to the Singer-Songwriter Circle. Emcee Bruce Guthro (these days the singer of Runrig -> FW#24) presents Anglo-American singer-songwriters such as Caroline Herring (-> FW#23), Darrell Scott (-> FW#28), Tim O'Brien (-> FW#11) and Arlo Guthrie (see CD review in the German section of this FW issue). Folk music songwriting still seems to be a address for political and social issues. Northern Englishman Jez Lowe (-> FW#26, FW#30) remarks that centuries ago the Danes crossed the sea, left a big impression, knew how to enjoy themselves. If those Vikings would come back today and see the world, they'd probably say: Excellent! Furthermore, Jez reminds us in a song of the Miami Showband that had been killed by a terrorist attack in the 1970s in Ireland. Scotsman-turned-Aussie Eric Bogle (-> FW#15, FW#19, FW#31) plays his anti-war classic "All the Fine Young Men":

They told all the fine young men of when this war is over    For many of those fine young men all the wars are over
There will be peace and the peace will last forever    They have found peace, it's the peace that lasts forever
In Flanders Field, at Lone Pine and Bersheeba    When the call comes again they will not answer
For king and country, for honour and duty    They're just forgotten bones lying far from their homes
The young men fought and cursed and wept and died    As forgotten as the cause for which they died
      Ah young men, can you see now why they lied

Gino Lupari, photo by Tom Keller Backstage Session, photo by Tom Keller
Four Men and a Dog: Gino Lupari in full flight and warming up backstage.

Saturday night: Four Men and a Dog exploded in the early 1990’s onto the Irish traditional music scene. The Dogs recorded several CDs and played numerous live shows with different line-ups until they gradually ran out of steam. Three years ago they had a tremendous coming back. Fiddler Cathal Hayden (-> FW#14), accordionist Donal Murphy and banjo player Gerry O'Connor (-> FW#30) deliver some fiery traditional dance tunes. Adrenaline is running high. Guitar player Kevin Doherty is singing some traditional-turned-rock'n'roll songs, baby loves to boogie, and Gino Lupari gives his party piece "Tipping It Up to Nancy". The presence of this comic god of the bodhran alone is worth to check the band out.

New York fiddler Eileen Ivers (-> FW#26) has collected a line-up of Irish, Latin and American musicians. The daughter of Irish ancestry presents us how several US immigrant traditions formed the multi-cultural Bronx. Dance all day, dance all night, the club number goes and the motto is. Ceilidh, photo by Tom Keller Eileen is dancing to an urban beat. She makes the fiddle sound like an electric guitar or a chain saw. Sometimes like a fiddle too. It starts with the Riverdance sound, taking it to the extreme, and ends up with a Blues Brothers extravaganza. Or is it a parody? A series of cheap tricks? Some folks get quite irritated and leave the building. The rest loves it. As I leave the festival area, Hayseed Dixie plays "Highway to Hell, Bill Monroe Version". I pay a short visit to another new achievement of the Tønder festival: in the club tent is a programme running from midnight to 3am in the morning with another three bands. Then I'm off.

On Sunday afternoon, the ceilidh is led by Ron Kavana (-> FW#13), and Brian McNeill (-> FW#10). The proceedings start with Irish and Scottish music. We get all the musicians performing at the festival, one after another, one by one. Unfortunatly, not as many collaborations as in former years. But among them Heel to Toe from the west of Ireland, a show of traditional Irish music and dance, featuring a dozen set and step dancers. They are followed on their heels by an Irish film crew who shoot a documentary about the musicians on their trip to the festival. Ron, Brian and Gino sing together in memory of old friends that once played Tønder, but are no longer with us. Then the Americans enter the stage. The Foghorn Stringband (see CD review in this FW issue) gathers around one microphone. Just as in the good ol' days.

The day before, Bruce Guthro announced his remedy to a writer's block: take your pants off, listen to Steve Earle records and dance. Eventually, he arrived for the grand finale: Steve Earle (-> FW#30). The country grunge rocker, who calls his art heavy metal bluegrass anyway, leads a second life as a bluegrass musician. And this is what we get tonight - the pure stuff. Steve recorded a traditional album with the Del McCoury Band once, this time he is joined by Tim O'Brien on mandolin und Darrell Scott on banjo. He has the rather curious habit of playing everything in 'G' in an open guitar tuning, and using the capodaster if it doesn't suit his vocal range. But that doesn't mean he is a mean guitar player. Far off.

And the rain came down, Steve Earle once sang. Yes, it did. But that wouldn't spoil the great atmosphere of the Tønder festival. Here we are again. The circle's unbroken. Tønder's alive and kicking. In all its glory.

Festival Homepage:

Tønder Festivals at FolkWorld: 2005, 2004a, 2004b, 2003a, 2003b, 2003c, 2002a, 2002b, 2002c, 2001a, 2001b, 2000, 1999a, 1999b, 1998

Photo Credit: (1) - (3) Lunasa; (4) Le Vent du Nord; (5) - (6) Four Men and a Dog; (7) Ceilidh (by Walkin' Tom).

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