Cork, Ballyshannon, Navan (Spirit of), now Doolin. But when did Dublin last have a folk festival? There was one in the mid 70s around The Meeting Place pub? (The bands playing at it in 1975, as far as I can tell, included Clannad, De Dannan and the Bothy Band.) The last one was, it seems, in 1978, organised by Eilis Moore along with the likes of Nuala O’Connor.
If you were to pick the perfect person to be organising such an event nowadays, to make it live up to that precedent, to guarantee the best possible music to re-establish Dublin’s folk music reputation, you probably wouldn’t find someone more ideal than Conor Byrne, Eilis’s son. And that’s exactly what we have now in the Liffey Banks Festival: a local Dublin event for people who appreciate native talent, organised by the person who brought us the County Sessions and the Liffey Banks Sessions and who has steered the Frankie Kennedy school for years and is now doing the same for Doolin.
Byrne did not say: “We’re in the middle of a folk movement, larger and more significant than the sixties revival. The music is of a higher quality than before and the audiences more knowledgeable – as a result of which bands can no longer get away with coarsely cranking out belligerent ballads or churning out grandstanding sets of jigs and reels.”
This was actually Bill Graham writing in Hot Press in 1977, would you believe? But I think Conor would be saying something similar about the music he hears all around these days and the audiences that seek it out: he knows the quality has to be high for such an event to work for the spoilt-for-choice audiences of today.
Starting small and building from a strong base, Conor has opted for just the one day this year (next Sunday, 18 May), but look at who is playing for that day:
The Whileaways, Moxie, Alan Doherty’s new group, ALDOC and New Road (featuring Conor on flute http://tradreview.com/2014/02/26/a-belt-of-something-beautiful-new-road-at-whelans/), plus a few other acoustic performances.
And the beauty of it is that it’s all happening in the one venue: Whelan’s of Wexford Street, where there will be food stalls on the day.
The event starts at 6pm and tickets are €15 (€13 student concession). And hopefully it will be only the start of something bigger in future years.
ALDOC (Alan Doherty, Gerry Paul and others)
“This record is a build up of dreams that have been banging on in my head for years. I have always wanted to make a record of Irish flute with modern sounds and time and music were on my side after I moved to Germany. I’ve also always been fascinated with sound effects and wanted to create musical soundscapes with the flute and chanting combined. It was easier than I thought as I was away from everything and everyone I knew. After years of asking myself if I will ever do a record of my own music, the time has finally come.” Alan Doherty
The Whileaways (Noriana Kennedy, Nicola Joyce and Noelie Mc Donnell)
“Most certainly imbued with the sounds of their respective travels on both sides of the Atlantic, this debut brings something fresh to the familiar. More than that, it is beautifully original, in a way that doesn’t allow it to sit complacently in the Americana box.”
Moxie (Cillian Doheny, Jos Kelly, Darren Roche, Ted Kelly and Paddy Hazelton)
“Irish trad with many beautiful twists and turns…Rocking tunes, fresh, gorgeous arrangements, stunning harmonies and class playing from top to bottom…this band is not afraid to step outside the box and explore all musical possibilities.” Winifred Horan of Solas.
New Road (Rick Epping, Andy Morrow, Christy Moore, Leonard Barry, Conor Byrne, Seamie O’Dowd)
“a power in the playing that comes from a deliberate desire to celebrate the tunes, a deep love in the musicians for the music that makes them want to communicate with listeners, cracking the music open like a water melon for others to enjoy. The energy levels on display in those very physical efforts were magnificent, hardly a slack moment, and held together very consciously and diligently by Leonard in the centre.” Me.