As I listen to the horrendously funny re-interpretation of the Lord of the Rings, as performed by Martin Pearson, and savor the vision of several people walking out on his rendition of ‘The Vati-Can Can‘ performed in the Catholic Lovat Chapel, I am thinking back on the wonderful weekend just gone in Yass. This is the 5th year that the Turning Wave festival has been held in our small town in New South Wales.
This year the guest from Ireland was the delightful and talented Lydia Warnock, here she is winning the all-Ireland Fiddle title in 2013. Lydia made some interesting comments at her opening Masterclass performance and also as part of the closing concert. The subtext of what she was saying very politely was that Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, while a fantastic way to introduce young children around the world to an Irish culture, which by the 1950’s was in decline after many years of overt or subtle attempts by the English to stamp it out, could come across somewhat stilted in its uniformity.
Lydia played with a passion and feeling for the music which she described as coming from the people in their 70s from her local area who taught her the music they had learnt by ear in sessions, rather than in a room of thirty other toddlers with fiddles. I’m not sure what the lesson is here, but Ireland is not the only place that a society has attempted to revive or cling to its own historic culture in a way that can strangle the life, or at least the diversity, from it. We witnessed something very similar during our visit to Kazakhstan, where attempts to revive the dress and song post soviet occupation sometimes came across as contrived. This is not a criticism of the attempt, because I see it as a heartrendingly tragic thing for people to be cut off from their culture of hundreds or thousands of years. Lydia also praised Comhaltas for what they have managed to achieve in Ireland.
Some highlights of the festival for me included listening to the Spanish flavoured Señor Cabrales, both at their formal concert in the beautifully restored Lovat Chapel and again in their Sunday morning pub session. Hearing musicians as talented as this play together is a rare experience.
This particular festival was important for me because one of the locals involved with the festival put in the effort to organise a showcase concert of local talent. I have written previously about the song I wrote to commemorate the Sisters of Mercy who came to Yass from Ireland. A local choir had asked me for a song with an Irish connection to the town and I arranged the song for choir (with the help of a member of another choir that I am in). It was a very moving experience to hear 30 voices singing the piece to the 100 people who had stayed around for the closing concert.
Extending myself further beyond the singer/songwriter mould, I was also part of a four-piece Cèilidh style group made up of a local schoolteacher (who performed the magic trick of picking up a concertina 9 months ago and then flying through a set of 9 jigs and reels), a seasoned Irish Flute and Whistle player (from Ireland, her accent lending us some credibility), one of the pillars of the Irish/Folk scene in Yass on Bodhrán and me doing 3-chord percussion on guitar. While getting through the sets without obvious mistakes in front of the audience was a great experience, what I enjoyed most was a 40-minute practice session at a local cafe beforehand. Another comment made by Lydia Warnock was that Irish music is for the community, played in dance halls and pubs, it was never something designed for a stage with a large audience watching on with serious faces and an awkward head-nod, leg jiggle or thigh-slap. Unfortunately our group will be disbanding before reaching the peak of its fame as our Bodhrán player is leaving for Cobargo. Hopefully the festival and the concert will trigger enough interest in the town to establish a more regular session.
The newly formed TRIOC were a delight to listen to, they don’t have their own album but Matthew Horsley, the piper in the group, has a great album Australian Waters, which has also been on my post-festival playlist. You can listen to what they have recorded on soundcloud.
The last highlight for me was sharing the stage with and meeting Lugh Damen as part of the Yass showcase concert. I am already a big fan of Damh the Bard and Wendy Rule and didn’t realise we had a pagan inspired singer/songwriter living so close to Yass. Lugh’s album, Faerytale, collaborating with fiddler Retaw Boyce, is one of the finest examples of this style of music I have heard.