Issue 2 12/97
It is Sunday, 31st August, 1 am. The doors to the Visemøllen 'After Hours' concert have just opened and a crowd of enthusiastic music lovers rush in to get the best seats. The concert that follows is something special - the young Irish trad band Danù in full flight.
These six young men have tremendous skills on their instruments; they do not just rush through fast tunes, but they also take the time to play beautifully slowly. Danù features Daire Bracken on Fiddle, Tom Doorley on Flute and Eammon Doorley on Bouzouki, Donnchadh Gough on Uilleann Pipes and Bodhrán, Benny McCarthy on accordion, Timmy Murray on Guitar and finally the magnificent traditional singer Cárthach Mac Craith. This night they started their session with a set of reels followed by a set of barndances. Afterwards it was time for a song of Cárthach, being a most beautiful version of The Dawning of The Day in Séan Nós style. The audience was divided into three parts: Some were totally driven away by the music, some were too drunk to appreciate the music and the rest was sometimes nearly falling asleep - and this crowd brought a great atmosphere into the small and beautiful mill building. After three more sets of tunes it was time for short beer break. The second half offered further beautiful songs and cracking tunes; for a few they were joined by special guests Donal Clancy (Guitar) and Leonard Barry (Uilleann Pipes). The concert finally ended at 3.15 am - but just because of the venue. Even after two encores the audience did not want to let the band go, and if the MC had not told them to finish playing, Danù would have played at least until day light. The Festival directly invited them back for next year.
These were the first hours of the Irish based Sunday of Tønder Festival '97. We decided to review just that one day out of the full and high profile programme of this Festival. Of course there was plenty more, including thrilling sets of Scots-rockers Wolfstone, the Scottish-Australian master of Songwriting Eric Bogle and the 'Canadians are coming' set with J.P. Cormier & Company, the Barra MacNeils, the crazy Franco-Canadian Folk Comedians Barachois with high quality music and more.
For many musicians and fans Tønder Festival is the best Festival in the world. The organisation is brilliant because of 1.400 volunteers helping every year to make this Festival happen. The success of the Festival is unbelievable; this year, 19.200 of the 26.300 tickets on sale were already bought on the first day of advance sales. This year's 34 groups and soloists performed in 23 concerts at seven venues. Though Tønder is such a big Festival, the atmosphere at the Festival site is always very friendly and personally. It is a Festival not to be missed.
Traditionally one of the highlights of Tønder Festival are the Ceilidhs on Sunday afternoon. While this year the Ceilidh in tent II was focused on Canadian and Scottish folk music, tent I was based on Irish bands, quite a gathering of some of the best of Irish musicians. First on was Liam O'Flynn with his Given Note Band; he played two sets of tunes on the Pipes and a haunting slow air on Tin Whistle dedicated to Festival director Carsten Panduro. Then this afternoon's master of ceremonies Donal Lunny entered the stage, and he gathered quite an impressive bunch of talents around him - nearly the whole Donal Lunny Band, Sharon Shannon, Liam O'Flynn, Danù and half of Scottish folk rock band Capercaillie.
Capercaillie has developed its very own style out of Gaelic traditions of the Outer Hebrides. They play traditional tunes based on Fiddle, Whistle and accordion, backed by two percussionists and a Bass player, and Irishman Manus Lunny on Bouzouki. Their singer, Karen Matheson, has a crystal clear voice and sings songs from traditional mouth music over Gaelic love songs to poppy English songs. This afternoon, Capercaillie played a set of Mouth Music, some tunes and two Gaelic songs. For the last one they were joined by the talents of Gerry Banjo O'Connor, Donal Lunny, Simon Bradley (Fiddler of Asturian band Llan de Cubel) and Richard Wood, a young Fiddler from Prince Edward Island, Canada. His performance is always electrifying, he runs and jumps up and down on the stage while playing Fiddle, and sometimes he even leaves the stage to Fiddle inmidst the audience. He was backed in his set by the Lunny brothers Manus and Donal - quite an experience.
Afterwards, there were sets from Four Men & A Dog, the brilliant Eleanor Shanley trio and again young Irish band Danù.
Llan de Cubel are six musicians from Asturia (Northern Spain) playing traditional music based on the Asturian Pipes; in Asturia, there are strong Celtic traditions, and this band is an excellent representant of this culture. Last on was the Donal Lunny Band, with their set leading into a big session with Capercaillie, Danù, Leonard Barry on Uilleann Pipes and Rod Sinclair on triangle. Three impressive hours were passed.
In the evening the Grande Tønder Finale was celebrated. After an appearance of John Sebastian & The J Band with Blues, Skiffle and Jugband music, another Irish music highlight followed: Cherish the Ladies, first ever appearing in Denmark. And they loved it - as Joanie Madden says, "Tønder is the best festival we attended ever." The first set of this great Irish-American band already showed their whole range of music, starting off with Aoife Clancy (daughter of Bobby Clancy) singing an a capella version of Fear a Bhata followed by a beautiful slow tune and finished with stomping reels, with their four step dancers coming onto stage and the audience going wild. The audience - ca. 2400 people - loved Cherish The Ladies, and their appearance was followed by raving standing ovations.
The final band to appear was The Donal Lunny Band, with special guests Sharon Shannon and singer Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill. This band brings through their stage appearance and their music a new coolish image to Irish music. It is a pleasure to watch the musicians on stage: As frontliners two beautiful blond women - Nollaig Casey and Mairead Nesbitt - moving gracefully to their Fiddle playing, on their right another beautiful young lady in person of accordionist Sharon Shannon. On the one side of the women Mr. Lunny himself with his Bouzouki or Bodhrán, on the other side a young man playing Uilleann Pipes and Whistle, John McSherry. The backline with a drummer, a percussionist, a bass and a keyboard player providing the groovy sound of the band. The Donal Lunny Band - that is modern Irish trance music rooted in Irish traditions and very danceable. During their set, they were joined twice by Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill who contributed each time two songs. The encore - the song Siul á Ruín - left the audience in trance, while the stage now became really crowded for the Finale. All musicians of the Festival who were still there and sober enough - maybe 50 musicians or more - walked onto stage, and all the audience stood up to join them in the festival's classic final song, Will The Circle Be Unbroken. Another Tønder Festival had passed.
We asked the festival's director Carsten Panduro why in his opinion there are no folk festivals of such a size in Ireland or Scotland though folk music there has a much more important part in society. "It's strange. Maybe it is impossible to organise such a big folk Festival in Ireland. A few years ago Frankie Gavin had the idea to start a similar Festival in Ireland. He wanted to copy this Festival and bring it to Galway. We were already quite seriously talking about organising it, either the weekend before or after Tønder, so that we could exchange musicians. But the idea has died because - who should organise it?"
So you still have to come to Tønder to enjoy this Festival. Tønder Festival takes place always the last weekend of August; the programme is available from the end of June and ticket sales start on the first Saturday of August. Tønder Festival lives at Postboks 113, DK-6270 Tønder, Denmark, Tel +45-74-724610.
Photo credits and comments:
This review was written for the Irish Music Magazine and appeared there in the december issue.
There is another live review of Tønder Festival, that one from a piper's perspective...
Infos for a future festival available at: Homepage of the festival
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