Return to London Town festival goes global

Anna Bradley Scott of Nóta, festival director Karen Ryan and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh of Altan playing at last year’s festival. Picture: Anne Mullen

The Return to London Town trad music festival will return this week as a blended offering of socially distanced concerts, socially distanced and streamed musical instrument workshops. The concerts will also be streamed making the festival a global event for the first time in this, its 22nd year.

Festival director Karen Ryan told The Irish World: “We’re really excited to be able to have a shared cultural experience in a safe way.

“Of course it’s going to be very different to any previous festival but I think it’s going to be food for the soul for anyone who feels able to come out and join us and for anyone who is not able to come out and join us they can enjoy everything in the comfort of their own home.

“The streaming side of things is brand new for us. We always had the streaming in place because a lot of our regular audience are shielding and we want to make sure that they feel a part of what we’re putting on this year.

“The virtual workshops will be via zoom and we can see that it’s not just the Londoners who are signing up to that. We’ve got someone from Hong Kong, someone from Japan, someone from the states. That’s the bonus of having to do things differently. Now we’ve got a wider reach for the first time outside of London for people to take part without even travelling.

“I think a lot of people are looking forward to touching base with the music community, not physically obviously but feeling the atmosphere of being in the same space with people who love the music and are just really pleased to be there.”

Much of last year’s festivities took place at the Clayton Crown Hotel in Cricklewood but when restrictions ruled out returning there Karen and her team started to think about alternatives.

“We were determined it would take place in some form. We’ve been remaining flexible which has been quite a lot of work. It’s almost as though we’ve designed six different festivals and eventually getting to this stage and realised what it is possible to deliver. We’re really pleased.

“We were fortunate that our funders Culture Ireland gave us permission to repurpose funding that would have been for bringing the Irish artists over for tech and venue hire. We first approached Cadogan Hall and we were lucky that they had availability and then we thought, ‘Well let’s go big, let’s do the trad cinema screening in the biggest screen in the UK’. And they had availability at the BFI IMAX. That’s very exciting.

“There are really, really stringent safety measures in place in the three venues that we’re using for the socially distanced events.”

The festival runs 23- 25 October and begins with a ‘Trad Cinema’ concert screening at the socially distanced, Covid safe venue BFI IMAX Waterloo. The screening will feature the well known Sligo band Dervish as well as Noreen O’Sullivan, Sean and Frankie Gavin (De Dannan) as well as Gatehouse.

The festival will continue on the Saturday with zoom instrumental workshops before live performances at the socially distanced, Covid safe venue Cadogan Hall. Performers to feature include John and James Carty who launch their album The Wavy Bow, The London Lasses and Pete Quinn and Le Cheile as well as Terence O’Flaherty.

Sunday will see socially distanced instrumental workshops taking place at Ashford Place.

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