Tradfest and Northern Streams promise springtime folk bonanza for Edinburgh

With two major celebrations of traditional music taking place in the capital over the next few weeks, folk fans are in for a treat, writes Jim Gilchrist

“Where are the songs of spring?” demanded Keats, perversely while versifying about autumn. Well, in Edinburgh at least there’s seasonal music and song a-plenty as the capital’s annual Tradfest enlivens venues from 3-13 May.

The festival, programmed by the ever-enterprising Soundhouse Organisation, with funding from the National Lottery through Creative Scotland and the William Grant Foundation, is bookended by two major concerts. Opening night at the Queen’s Hall features the Skye-based Gaelic electronica outfit Valtos, with support from the Highland trio Assynt and Lewis singer-songwriter Josie Duncan, while the closing concert on the 13th brings Gaelic song ambassador Julie Fowlis to the Assembly Rooms with Laura Wilkie and Ian Carr.

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In between, the festival programme is a rich one, with the opening weekend alone also featuring the Nordic Fiddler’s Bloc trio of Kevin Henderson, Olav Luksengård Mjelva and Anders Hall, English singer and guitarist Martin Simpson and harpist Rachel Newton, all at the Traverse.

Valtos PIC: Martyn DanielValtos PIC: Martyn Daniel
Valtos PIC: Martyn Daniel

A special Tradfest commission, Everyone’s Welcome to Edinburgh, celebrates songs that have emerged from Auld Reekie. Performed by fiddler Robbie Greig, singer Hannah Rarity, guitarist Jenn Butterworth, percussionist Signy Jakobsdottir and bassist Duncan Lyall, it’s at the Traverse on the 6th.

Other notable Traverse events during the course of the festival include the twin-fiddle Simon Bradley Trio, Northumbrian alt-folk singer Frankie Archer, piano and concertina fireworks from Simon Thoumire and Dave Milligan and the powerful Highland band Dàimh. Skipping across genres are the jazz-folk fusion of Norman&Corrie, a new electro-trad vocal quartet Birdvox, as well as recently formed Triptic trio of violinist (and Grit Orchestra founder) Greg Lawson, bassist Mario Caribe and Phil Alexander on accordion and piano.

International visitors include Canadian fiddle quartet The Fretless, with singer Madeleine Roger and the Swedish-Californian fiddle duo of Lena Johnsson and Brittany Haas.

The Scottish Storytelling Centre, meanwhile has a full Tradfest programme of its own, including musician and storyteller Marion Kenny and singer-songwriter and fiddle Mairi Campbell hosting Journey to the Isles: Marjory Kennedy Fraser, inspired by the renowned folk collector.

Spoken word events at the Storytelling Centre include Rickle O’ Stanes, an evocation of Scotland’s land and its history from Shona Cowie, Neil Sutcliffe and Liam Hurley, and John Hinshelwood’s interpretations of Emily Dickson’s poetry.

Add to all this the Folk Film Gathering marking its tenth anniversary at the Storytelling Centre and Cameo cinema, with screenings including the Scottish premiere of Songlines, celebrating the songs and singers of the Irish traveller community, and a new soundtrack by Scottish musician Luke Sutherland for the Ukrainian silent masterpiece Earth. There’s also a rare showing of Mike Alexander’s ground-breaking As An Eilean (From An Island) from 1993, one of the first Gaelic language feature films, with live Gaelic songs performed by Wilma Kennedy, as well as a screening of the newly digitised Down Home TV films from the 1980s, exploring the links between Scottish and US music, with a live set from their lynchpin, fiddle star Aly Bain.

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Tradfest courses and workshops feature some notable tutors, while the festival’s annual Rebellious Truth lecture at the Traverse on the 12th sees revered singer Archie Fisher reflect on his seven-decade career.

And if all this wasn’t enough, as you read this, the Northern Streams festival of Nordic and Scottish music, song and dance is in full fling, from 26-28 April at Edinburgh’s Pleasance. Organised by the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland, it presents Scottish-based artists with backgrounds in Shetland and across Scandinavia.

Performers include the Irish-Scottish Gaelic duo of Brian Ó hHeadra and Fionnag NicChoinnich and family, Jelephant Band members Erin Mungall-Baldvinsdottir, Evie Alberti, Becka Gauld and Ben Shanks with repertoire ranging from Gaelic to Saami, and the duo of guitarist Miguel Girão and pianist Amy Laurenson, 2023 Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year.

Whatever weather May might throw at us, the songs of spring will be prolific.

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