Paul McKenna Band @ Tønder Festival, 25 - 28 August 2011.
One cannot say that Denmark is getting more friendly and welcome towards foreigners. The latest news had it that the Danish authorities started border controls again (which had already been disbanded in the Euro zone), though I didn't see any customs actually when I passed by.
Now here comes Scottish singer Paul McKenna, starting his concert with Lionel McClelland's song "Silent Majority", a message totally lost on the not-so-silent majority of the audience at the free opening concert on Tønder's marketplace. Folks are shouting and getting pissed in the midst of the afternoon, the guy behind the mixing desk is seemingly deaf and beyond control, and the Paul McKenna Band itself is exhausted from the summer heat.
It is fortunate that there is a multi-cultural oasis with the Tønder festival, so it didn't annoy me that much the rest of the weekend. Moreover, there was another chance for connoisseurs to really listen to and enjoy one of Scotland's hottest folk acts at the time being.
There is a lot of historical and political stuff in Paul McKenna's repertoire, which is not surprising for a folk artist in general but certainly for one of his generation. For example, he resurrected Ewan MacColl's "Terror Time," a ballad about the fright and cold of wintertime when there is no place to go - which is true for travelling people then and now. "John Riley," written by Tim O'Brien, himself being a regular at the Tønder festival, is digging deep in the Irish-American past; it is about the Irish St. Patrick's Battalion fighting on the Mexican side in the Mexican-American War of the 1840s. Paul's own song "Dreams of Darien" is opening an even less known chapter of history, the failed attempt by Scottish traders to establish a colony on the Isthmus of Panama.
Paul McKenna has something to say, though he delivers these and a couple of traditional Scottish and Irish songs with a smooth and silken voice, driven by David McNee (bouzouki), Seán Gray (flute), Ewan Baird (bodhrán) and a fiddler whose name I didn't get (replacing Ruairidh MacMillan) and their boundless energy and passion. The show I got to see at Tønder's Visemøllen represents a fresh approach on Scots traditional music. With their second album "Stem the tide" the Paul McKenna Band's spirit and delight in playing has been getting even bigger than before. It's cool, it's novel - but it's still trad and folk music as it used to be.
Photo Credits: (1) Tønder Logo (by Tønder Festival); (2) Paul McKenna (by Walkin' Tom).