15 October 2015

Des Butler reports on Omagh and Bunratty

Pat and Ricky Kelleher with John Nyhan at Bunratty

Thanks to Des Butler and his wife Pat, who attend many bluegrass events all round Ireland each year, for this report on our newest bluegrass festival, at Bunratty, Co. Clare (9-11 Oct.) and our second oldest bluegrass festival, at Omagh, Co. Tyrone (4-6 Sept.). Veterans of the earliest Omagh festivals will remember the big space heaters that tried to warm concert audiences in the main marquee. Des reports the trying conditions at Omagh this year, where

... not alone do you have to watch and listen to artists around the park all afternoon standing out in all weathers, but the night-time concerts took place on a stage the front of which was exposed to the elements and the audience crammed together, on their own seating, under an overhead covering with all sides also exposed. Pat and myself sat on our own chairs in very cramped conditions wearing very heavy winter jackets zipped up to the neck.

The Claire Lynch Band, who were top billing for the Saturday night concert, had Claire herself performing in a hooded overcoat, albeit with the hood down, throughout her set. Is it any wonder I overheard comments from members of the audience on leaving the park that it was a weak performance from her and her band? The organisers in Omagh should realise that this festival takes place in autumn in Northern Ireland, not summer in the Carolinas. After sixteen years attending the Omagh festival I think we may draw a line under future attendance - and I haven't even mentioned the electric band that appeared to play some form of rock music, not a bluegrass note or chord in their head.

[BIB editor's note: The BIB has also received separate reports from musicians who performed at Omagh this year and appear to have enjoyed it more than ever. Other views are welcome; note the comment on this post by Colin Henry, and Des's response, below]

The New Breadwinners
However, on to better things. I returned from Bunratty Bluegrass Festival on Monday. What a great weekend of bluegrass and old-time music we all experienced over the entire weekend. The Friday night concert comprised almost entirely of some first-class old-timey music performed by the Corn Potato String Band, Maple Tree Circus, and Leonard Pollock & Mat Gordon. The Saturday night concert we were treated to some excellent solid bluegrass from the Grove Band and the New Breadwinners. The Sunday night concert, which was free, we enjoyed Oldtown Rounders and JigJam.


Old Town Rounders

Bluegrass was being played throughout the weekend with sessions at bar venues in the early and late afternoons also, with John Nyhan and Pat & Ricky Kelleher leading the fray, not forgetting Blueridge Review and the bands performing at the night-time concerts taking part as well. All kudos and gratitude to Brendan Walsh and John Nyhan for what was an extremely well organised, atmospheric, and thoroughly enjoyable weekend of music taking place in very suitable venues from the open-air performances in Bunratty Folk Park to the function rooms of various hostelries.

I would urge all bluegrass fans to support this fledgling festival, you won't be disappointed.
The Grove Band with Bill Forster (banjo): inside...

We had to ask Des to identify the band in these two photos, as Bill Forster on banjo was the only person we recognised. They are the Grove Band from Leeds in northern England, taking the name from 'The Grove' pub there, where their lead singer (the grey-haired guitarist, who also plays dobro) formed a bluegrass music club forty years ago, the landlord being very supportive of them and the club.

The two guitar players are father and son. All members are from Leeds; though as their regular mandolin player was indisposed, the mandolinist at Bunratty was from Newcastle. Des adds:

They don't seem to have cut a CD, none on sale anyway, as I would have certainly bought one as they gave great performances throughout the festival with great vocal harmonies and a solid, driving bluegrass sound. The guitar the lead singer is playing he claims he bought forty years ago, and he reckons it was at least twenty years old when he bought it. They are an excellent bluegrass band - one I would put among the best-sounding I've heard in the British Isles, with Bill Forster adding greatly to their performance. For what it's worth, I would recommend this band to any festival organiser; they are a winner.

... and out

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At 6:58 pm, Blogger Colin Henry said...

I had the great fortune to play in two different bands at Omagh this year and I have been attending Omagh since 1992. I know that funding constraints were an issue this time but I have to say that I thought the whole festival was as good as it always is. Yes there were changes but not such that were a detriment to the week end. I do agree that as regards the concert marquee things might have been difficult if the weather had been bad. Some extra thought may need to be given to that.

At 1:31 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no doubt that all the musicians enjoyed them selves as we enjoyed most of the music. My problem is that as patrons of the Folkpark we paid £70stg. between us, £130stg. last year, as any other patron did who bought weekend passes, and there was'nt enough seating to sit and enjoy the music or indeed a coffee or a bun bar you brought your own seat and at times one would be hard pressed to find a space for it at the concerts. Neither was there adequate protection from the elements even at the main concerts. I think that the entrance fee should entitle one to at least a modicum of comfort. I don't expect the Albert Hall just basic stuff. Des. Butler


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