Tradfest 2.0 looks to Celtic Connections for inspiration

Lankum PIC: Miguel Ruiz
Lankum PIC: Miguel Ruiz
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Appropriate, perhaps, that this season of renewal sees Tradfest re-emerging in refreshed form. At the turn of the year, however, the future of Edinburgh’s spring celebration of the traditional arts was looking decidedly wintry.

Funding to TRACS (Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland) had been halved and it seemed that, of the two festivals the organisation was running, the annual Scottish Storytelling Festival – the only event of its kind in the country – would be preserved at the cost of Tradfest. The situation, however, was remedied by the concert-promoting Soundhouse organisation, which stepped in to run the festival.

As a result, Tradfest, originally launched in 2013, returns at the end of this month, with hopes that it will go from strength to strength and boasting an impressive roster of folk and roots music concerts in the Queen’s Hall, the Traverse bar and the Scottish Storytelling Centre, as well as pub sessions, ceilidhs, book launches and a folk-related film festival.

At last month’s programme launch at the Traverse Theatre, Soundhouse founder and the festival’s programmer Douglas Robertson was in optimistic form, suggesting that, if Glasgow can attract audiences in their thousands with its mammoth winter festival, Celtic Connections, why shouldn’t Edinburgh with a spring event? “Celtic Connections is a great festival that has grown exponentially. I think there’s huge potential for Tradfest: we just have to make this year work,” says Robertson, an industriously committed promoter of folk, jazz and wider acoustic music,

He and Soundhouse aren’t coming to Tradfest entirely cold, having programmed concerts in the past as part of the festival under the aegis of TRACS. At the press launch, Donald Smith, director of the Scottish Storytelling Centre and a moving force behind the original Tradfest, welcomed the restored festival: “Soundhouse are champions of Edinburgh’s music scene, and with partners such as the Scottish Storytelling Centre and Queen’s Hall on board, this festival of folk arts looks set to go from strength to strength.”

With funding from Creative Scotland and the City of Edinburgh Tattoo Culture Fund, the Tradfest programme – featuring what Robertson describes as “a dream team” of musicians – kicks off in style with a Queen’s Hall concert headlined by the cutting edge Irish band Lankum, with award-winning young piper Brìghde Chaimbeul in support. Highlights of the ensuing ten days include a celebration of women tradition bearers, “What a Voice,” featuring Kathleen MacInnes, Fiona Hunter and Kaela Rowan; the Scandinavian strings and Northumbrian pipes of Baltic Crossing; and Canadian string heroes The Fretless, while singer Heidi Talbot presents the Swedish band Väsen along with French harpist , fiddler and pianist Floriane Blancke and Fair Isle’s Inge Thomson.

Other home-grown acts include the harp-saxophone fusion of Savourna Stevenson and Steve Kettley, and an Usher Hall celebration of Gaelic spiritual music, “Gloir,” in memory of the late John MacLeod, a champion of Gaelic culture, while a high-energy double bill sees the trio Talisk joined by fiddler Adam Sutherland – the latter having provided a lively taste of things to come, playing at the Tradfest press launch.

The reformatted festival sees some of the former Tradfest’s broader traditional arts elements of dance and storytelling diminished for the moment, but the programme does feature two book launches, one of a new Scots poetry collection, Scotia Extremis, the other of Stones of the Ancestors, a lavishly illustrated collaboration between author Stewart McHardy and photographer Douglas Scott, exploring Scotland’s ancient monuments.

A Folk Film Gathering at the Filmhouse will include a screening

of a famous Norwegian silent film, Laila, with a live score by Rona

Wilkie and Marit Fält, and harpist Rachel Newton giving a mini-concert at a screening of the Gaelic masterpiece Seachd: The Inaccessible Pinnacle.

In the meantime, Robertson hopes to see the reinvigorated festival expand in the future, and points to “music’s ability to unite people,” in these divided times. n

Tradfest runs from 26 April to 6 May. For full programme details see https://edinburghtradfest.com