The 22nd Return to London Town Festival (formerly known as Return to Camden Town), London’s renowned festival of Irish music and dance, took place at the weekend with a programme of socially distanced concerts as well as socially distanced and streamed musical instrument workshops. The concerts and workshops also being streamed made the festival a global event for the first time.
Taking to the stage at the socially distanced, Covid safe venue Cadogan Hall on Saturday night festival director Karen Ryan, also of the London Lasses, said: “This year has been an unusual one and we’ve been remaining flexible with our plan since January and changing depending on how the government guidelines dictated but we’re just delighted to be able to be here and to deliver things in a socially distanced and safe way and through streaming to those who are choosing to stay at home so that we can have a nice, shared cultural experience together.”
The festival kicked off on Friday night with a ‘Trad Cinema’ concert recorded at the Dock in Carrick-on -Shannon which screened at the socially distanced, Covid safe venue BFI IMAX Waterloo.
MC John Carty introduced a show that featured the well known Sligo band Dervish as well as Noreen O’Sullivan, Sean and Frankie Gavin (De Dannan) as well as Gatehouse.
Gatehouse launched the festival when they alternated between jigs and reels and songs led by vocalist Rachel Garvey. Before they would finish they would play a slow reel called Jack Rose which had special sentimental value for Rachel as her bandmates played it for her as she walked down the aisle last year.
The stream also included some chats with the performers where Gatehouse guitar and concertina player Jacinta McEvoy spoke about how having the gig at Return to London had given the group something to work towards and look forwards to as playing live has been off the agenda for much of the year due to the pandemic.
John would then introduce the musical family of Noreen O’Sullivan, Sean and Frankie Gavin, brothers and sister, who are held in high regard in the trad music world. Frankie is well known from the group De Dannan.
Early on in the set, Frankie would pay tribute to the ‘late and great Brendan Mulkere’, the renowned fiddle player and Irish music teacher who passed away in August.
The night’s entertainment would be brought to a close by Dervish. Chatting beforehand singer Cathy Jordan said he had not realised how much she had missed music until she had started rehearsing. This was a sentiment echoed by many performers throughout the festival.
The band performed many tracks from their latest album The Great Irish Songbook such as The Rocky Road to Dublin and The Galway Shawl.
The band would finish their show with a tribute to Irish composer Percy French who was from Roscommon but buried in the UK by singing his Eileen Oge.
The London Lasses and Pete Quinn kicked off the show for the second night of entertainment at Cadogan Hall.
The London Lasses brought in some of their former members for the gig to take the place of members who couldn’t play at the weekend due to being caught and stuck overseas by the pandemic.
John and James Carty were next to take to the stage to launch their album The Wavy Bow which was completely recorded and brought together during lockdown.
John Carty would be back on MC duty to introduce his personal friends that he had grown up with, Le Cheile when he pointed out that the band who would bring the night and festival’s live music to a close have been going since 1974, long before the likes of the Sex Pistols and the Clash and stayed going long after.
Organiser Karen Ryan joined them onstage for the final number of the night which closed the performance out with great applause.