FolkWorld Issue 37 11/2008; Live Report by Walkin' T:-)M


Tønder Festival
28 – 31 August 2008

There were fiddles galore. From the opening concert at Tønder's market place with young Scottish band Breabach and their five-string fiddle player Patsy Reid.

Also from Scotland Shooglenifty's Angus Grant [#31] and master-mind John McCusker [#26], who appeared with his new indie folk outfit featuring Kris Drever [#33] and Roddy Woomble; from Ireland Grada's two new fiddlers [#35]; from England the Oysterband's Ian Telfer [#29]; from Canada Sierra Noble, the Duhks' Tania Elizabeth and Ashley MacIsaac [#10], the latter joined on stage by Scots harpist Phamie Gow [#31], great great ... great great niece of the famous 18th century fiddler Niel Gow; from the US the Foghorn Stringband's and Caleb Klauder Band's Stephen Lind [#32].

Eventually, the Danish hosts Henrik Jansberg [#35] and Harald Haugaard [#36]. The all-female Seaquins project included fiddlers Ditte Fromseier Mortensen [#26], Kirstine Sand [#35], Kimberly Fraser, Kukka Lehto and Shona Mooney.

Last but not least, young Danish band Rubarb and their two fiddlers Asger Østerberg Eller and Miriam Monnet Kielberg, who performed in the Klubscene tent, the place being infamous for run-of-the-mill, rowdy-dowdy- booze folk pub music and the worst sound of the Tønder festival. Positive surprise! Let Rubarb hone their craft for a couple of years and develop some stage presence, and you'll really get something.

The ceilidh on Sunday afternoon was finished off with the Oysterband & Friends take on the Talking Heads' "We're on the Road to Nowhere." However, as the Duhks banjo player Leonard Podolak remarked: All roads eventually lead to Tønder ...

Tønder 1998-2007
Are You Ready to Dance?
Altan @ Tønder Festival, 30 August 2008

There were loads of fiddles at 2008's Tønder Festival, Scandinavian and Celtic, male and female, four- and five-string, whatever. Add Irish band Altan's twin fiddles of Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Ciaran Tourish and the group's 'heady blend of songs in English and Gaelic and gripping instrumentals.' At least, that was the promise of the Tønder program booklet, and they were right.

Altan, Tonder 2008

"All the ingredients for a successful traditional Irish group are here. All the musicians have deep roots in traditional music and song, with power and energy in their musical expression. And they are all good friends who enjoy each other's company and making music together. Plenty of good reasons why Altan international[ly] are among the most popular Irish groups today. An Altan concert is a heady blend of songs in English and Gaelic and gripping instrumentals." [TF program booklet]

Altan @ FolkWorld:
FW #2, #3, #8, #14, #22, #29, #31, #31

Icon Movie Is The Big Man Within, John Doherty's Reels

Icon Sound @

Altan's concert performance on Saturday night at the big tent started with some strathspeys (strathspeys are called highland in the band's Donegal home in the northwest of Ireland) and some reels. "The Humours of Westport", just from the start digging deep into Altan history, the set being recorded on the band's 1992 "Harvest Storm" album.

Altan consists of the two fiddlers Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Ciaran Tourish, accordion player Dermot Byrne, Ciaran Curran on bouzouki and Mark Kelly on guitar, plus (left-handed) bodhran player Jim Higgins. Mairéad is a fine singer too, as the band demonstrates with the second tune, a plaintive Gaelic ballad. I didn't recognized the song, it could be a new one, indeed, Altan's last album is already from 2005.

This last album, "Local Ground," is the source of the next set of reels, "Tilly Finn's," followed by another song, this time in English. "As I Roved Out" is a love song from the singing of County Fermanagh singer Paddy Tunney and a version of "Blackwaterside" which Altan also have recorded. The lyrics say that he will return and marry her when the fishes fly and seas run dry. Mark Kelly jokes that it was written before global warming became an issue.

Then there were some jigs thrown in for good measure; up to that point it seemed to me that Tønder was a reels only festival. The thought just occured to me, then Altan were at reels again with a selection of popular Donegal tune, featuring "Biddy from Muckross" and "Sean Maguire's". That Biddy in question used to lilt at dances when no fiddlers were available; Sean Maguire had been an influential fiddle player from Belfast, admired for his technical prowess.

The band is off for some pints or the bathroom or whatever, leaving Mairéad and Mark behind. "An Cailin Gaelach" is a Gaelic song of unrequited love from Tory Island off the Donegal coast [-> FW#34] with the English line pray, sir, and let me be! When Mark starts on the guitar, Mairéad cries out: that's too high, Mark, bring me down! So once again. However, the band is calming down just for a moment. Tim O'Brien [-> FW#11] joins the band on stage with his mandolin for a bluegrassy, middle-of-the-road version of Bob Dylan's "Girl of the North Country."

There were two more fast-paced sets, and some members of the audience would like to do more than just jiggling their feet. However, dancing is forbidden, according to the security personel, and they drag the dancers away from the corridor between stage and seating. The ordinary Dane is supposed to lift his beer glass and to clap his hands when he's told to, but don't move otherwise.

The following song is also very rhythmic (was it "Molly na gCuach Ní Chuilleanáin"?, a song of lost love where the man threatens to even give up drink to have his Molly back). Mairéad asks the audience: Are you ready to dance now? Some are! The revolution starts and the security staff is confused and does not know what to do. Very wisely, they decide to do nothing and just let it happen.

That's it. The first encore is another Gaelic song and, apart from Mark, Irish Stamp Altan the lads have a drink backstage again. But the whole band and Tim O'Brien come for a second encore. "Paddy's Trip to Scotland" is a nice bridge to the Eddie Reader concert afterwards. But to be honest, I would have traded Eddie for another couple of Altan tunes and songs.

It is reported that an Altan live album is in the pipeline, so if you don't make it to catch the band live, I strongly recommend to get a copy.

Photo Credits: (1) Altan (by Walkin' Tom, Tønder 2008).

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