By Anne Geoghan
The 20th Anniversary of the Return to Camden Town festival delivered the expected cream of the crop of Irish traditional music.
The festival reaches out to pubs and clubs – Kings Place, Clayton Crown Cricklewood, Fiddlers Elbow in Kentish Town and several others – to celebrate shared tunes and the scene’s leading lights.
Festival Director Karen Ryan and her close-knit team extended a genuinely warm welcome throughout. At the end of each concert, a number of musicians and singers commented on the festival’s excellent organisation.
From Tuesday, starting with the Friel sisters at The Green Note, those with a love of the tradition could choose sessions in pubs, concerts or album launches.
For those wishing to perfect their skills and technique, Saturday and Sunday workshops started early, with the very best musicians on hand to share their expertise.
Workshops over, in the Hub – London Irish Centre’s foyer, a circle of musicians well versed in session etiquette – blended their tunes and talents to create a non-stop flow of music, with a number of All-Ireland winners dropping in and out during the afternoon.
The Tulla Ceili Band were on stage at Camden School for girls on Saturday night and performed again on Sunday for the Set-Dance ceili. Joe Cooley’s, The Cup of Tae and the Maid opened the score for the best set-dancing music, to the delight of energetic dancers.
London Irish Pensioners Choir directed by Sally Mulready opened Saturday night’s programme in the McNamara Hall. Next on stage, London based flute player Orlaith McAuliffe was joined by Dylan Carlos a sound fiddle player (from Roscommon), Daithí Gormley on accordion (Sligo) and Catherine McHugh (Galway).
This quartet played great music, at a steady and more “traditional” pace – not too fast. Orlaith played the Shaskeen to perfection.
Finally, Mairtín O’Connor on accordion, as innovative as ever, took a tune ”from the bogs of Connemara and dipped it gently in the swamps of Texas” to create a fusion of Irish and jazz. Cathal Hayden (ex-Four Men and a Dog) and Seamie O’Dowd accompanied Mairtín.
On Sunday, those who preferred a concert from a session chose the Presidential suite to hear The Dublin Lasses; Neansaí Ní Choisdealbha on flute, Tommy Mellet on accordion (both Connemara) and much-loved singer Terence O’Flaherty from Ennistymon.
Eleanor Shanley and her new band Garadice, tin whistle virtuoso Mary Bergin and Bedford born Mick Conneely on bouzouki, provided the Sunday night concert in memory of Jimmy Philbin.
Return to Camden Town is now two decades in and Irish Music and Dance London (IMDL) is evolving steadily. All bodes well for traditional music, song and dance in London and far beyond.