FolkWorld Live Review 10/99:

Stonehaven Folk Festival 99

The best of Scottish music...

By Michael & Christian Moll

Stonehaven; photo by The Mollis On a Saturday morning in mid-July we arrived in the beautiful wee harbour town Stonehaven on the Scottish East Coast, after having crossed Calais-Dover at dusk and the Scottish border at dawn. Quite crazy, you might think - driving a whole night through. But if you have the Stonehaven Folk Festival as destination, you just need to get of it as much as possible.

This year it was the eleventh festival, and the programme was full of highlights of the creme of Scottish folk music and beyond. Coming to Stonehaven Folk Festival is always a bit like going to a party of some good friends - even if you are there for the first time. The welcome is always splendid, and the charming atmosphere of the town directly catches the guests.

While having missed the Friday night with a ceilidh following some concert acts, we came just in time for the (dry!) open air concert at the town square with some of the festival artists and local talent appearing. At the same time the original Danny Kyle sing along took place in a pub - but a sing along would be too tiring after the night drive...

Anam at Celtic Connections 99; photo by The Mollis Saturday evening saw a terrific and well balanced programme, having everything from powerful music, folk slapstick and beauty. Starting the night were Anam, proving that with their new line-up they have become one of the definite Celtic top bands. They presented some songs in Scottish Gaileadh sung by Fiona, and some in Irish Gailge sung by Brian, then some magnificent tunes with a very full sound, with influences from all the Celtic regions. Their stage presence has these day a very vibrant approach, with a wild fiddling beautiful girl, Anna Wendy, in the centre, then on both sides of Wendy the other two girls, Fiona on the bodhran and vocals and Treasa on the accordion, and finally on both edges the boys of Anam, Brian on guitar and vocals and Neil on bouzouki.

It might be difficult to follow such a top band - but if you present something totally different with focus on fun and slapstick, then nae bother. And if you are the Old Rope String Band, then you will never have problems to follow any act. The Old Rope Strings made as usual the whole audience laughing tears with their crazy extravaganca of acrobatics, jokes, slapstick and music. Once again the thought: Can anybody follow up this crazy top act? Old Rope String Band at Stonehaven FF; photo by The Mollis

And once again, if it is different and superb enough - no problem. And if you now hear the names of Alasdair Fraser and Tony McManus, you know that the audience was carried away by the mastership and virtuosity of two of the world's best instrumentalists (fiddle/guitar).

Sunday is always in Stonehaven during the festival the day when folks would go in the late morning to the open air swimming pool. It has some special reason - there is the unique Aqua Ceilidh going on. A band playing on the banks of the pool, and in the water all the crazy dancers dancing the likes of Splashing White Seargent and co. Later on there is the also unique Arthur Argo Memory Conert with pure A cappella singing. This year, there was another thing to do on Sunday - go out and wtach the Highland Games in town which is always a funny experience.

Mad Pudding in session; photo by The Mollis The Sunday evening concert could nearly match with the Saturday one. Starting with one of the seldom appearances of Northern Irish band Oige (which is still a young band - although they have been around for maybe a decade!) with a special line-up, because one of the boys couldn't make it. Then there was Canadian folk rock band Mad Pudding with some dancy great trad and contemporary music. Finishing the night were Andy M Stewart and Gerry O'Beirne. Those two were quite surprised when they heard that the three gigs in a row that weekend were Friday in Scotland, Saturday in Austria and Sunday in Scotland. Still they made it to give a relaxed finale to the festival.

Also memorable was the brill late night session afterwards. You could choose between three different sessions - two of them based on singing, the other one bringing together the musical talent of Mad Pudding and Oige.

Going away from the session down to the tent was not an easy desicion - especially as it was now raining outside.... Maybe finally some word on the camp site - it was free (!), on perfect grass land, and only very few attended. If you had built up your tent in the middle of the field, than you would have had bad luck - because in the weekend, the field was used as cricket and soccer field...

A great festival to come back!

Photo Credit: All Photos by The Mollis
(1) Stonehaven Harbour
(2) Anam at Celtic Connections 99
(3) The Old Rope String Band in Stonehaven
(4) Mad Pudding at the Stonehaven Late Night Session

Stonehaven Folk Festival is always held at a weekend in mid July.
Further infos available from Pat Cruse

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