Music review: Orkney Folk Festival

Perfomance at the Orkney Folk Festival. Picture: Facebook

Perfomance at the Orkney Folk Festival. Picture: Facebook

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ALONGSIDE its purpose of bringing top international roots acts to local audiences, the Orkney Folk Festival is also an increasingly fruitful and impressive showcase for the islands’ rampantly flourishing home-grown music scene – as was gloriously encapsulated in this year’s humdinger of a Saturday night line-up.

The Transatlantic Gathering, at Stromness Town Hall, continued to build on the success of Orkney Folk: The Gathering, a specially-curated, all-Orcadian programme which premièred at the 2011 festival, and whose intervening history includes a live CD and a sellout Old Fruitmarket show at Celtic Connections last year.

Here, that original concept was cross-fertilised with the Transatlantic Sessions format, as guests from Canada and the US joined a large local cast for a fabulous feast of tunes and songs, traditional and contemporary, from either side of the Pond.

Leading the charge in a magnificent tumult of reels, Cape Breton fiddlers Dawn and Margie Beaton appeared almost beside themselves with delight – as was the audience, and as was fast-rising US folk star Aoife O’Donovan, singing an utterly delectable couple of duets with Orkney’s Jenny Keldie.

Among that delighted audience was Radio 2 Folk Show presenter Mark Radcliffe, and he was still patently a man inspired by the experience a couple of hours later, when he introduced the second act of Saturday’s late-night double bill, namely local heroes The Chair, celebrating ten years since their formation as an ad hoc local party band.

Despite a good half of their line-up working a double shift, having already played in the Transatlantic Gathering’s core “house band”, the ensuing festivities were as joyously uproarious as anyone could wish for – all the more so since the ever-intoxicating Shooglenifty had opened the show, building up the heady intensity of their set with masterful inexorability, abetted by a bewitching couple of appearances from guest vocalist Kaela Rowan. Check out Radcliffe’s programme this week for his edited festival highlights: one suspects the praise will be lavish indeed.

Among the other visiting acts, Norwegian/Swedish instrumental five-piece Sver caused perhaps the biggest buzz, matching exquisite virtuosity with exuberant playfulness and terrific rhythmic drive, while Irish trad veterans Dervish, fronted by the captivating Cathy Jordan, displayed all their enduring pure-drop qualities.

The brilliant, accordion-led Paddy Callaghan Trio flew the Glasgow-Irish flag with equal verve and lyricism – and all the while, beyond the actual concert programme, the sounds of Orkney’s famous festival sessions rang up and down Stromness’s main street from morning to night, a vibrant aural backdrop to another triumphant weekend.

Seen on 23-25.05.14

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