Feast of Fiddles @ Town Hall, 5th April 2010


They call it Feast of Fiddles but it was much more than that. Feast of Fiddles showcases seven excellent fiddle players, all with years of experience in top UK folk bands and a high standard of musical skill (Phil Beer – Show of Hands; Gary Blakeley – Band of Two; Ian Cutler – Bully Wee; Tom Leary – Tanna; Chris Leslie – Fairport Convention; Peter Knight – Steeleye Span; Brian McNeil – ex-Battlefield Band), and backs them with a five piece rock based backing band (Hugh Crabtree – accordion; Dave Harding – bass; Dave Mattacks – drums; John Underwood – guitar; Martin Vincent – guitar). Although they all spend most of the year with their own bands, they get together each year for a couple of weeks of touring — this year was their 17th.

The result was a very enjoyable evening. The Town Hall was about 3/4 full downstairs plus a few rows up in the balcony. The band came on and launched into a version of the 1962 Tornadoes song ‘Telstar’, moving seamlessly into the traditional reel ‘The Fairy Dance’. This mixing of genres set the tone for the evening – the band moved from traditional folk dance tunes to covers of Aerosmith, via some really fine songs composed by members of the band. It was an imaginative programme, well paced, with sufficient variety to hold the audience from beginning to end. Some numbers involved the whole band; others showcased individual members, each of them worth a whole evening in their own right.


Part of the pleasure was watching the band’s evident enjoyment of the music and each other. The fact that they only work together occasionally seems to keep the whole thing fresh — the atmosphere was one of disciplined exuberance, twelve guys obviously pleased to have the chance to make music together but also very sharp and controlled quality.

‘Sharpe Goes Walkabout’ stood out as one of my personal favourites, starting with Peter Knight on solo violin and then gradually building up into a rich and layered sound. Phil Beer, who had promised/threatened to sing a different song each night of the tour sang a Birmingham song whose name I didn’t catch, slow and mournful, about singing ‘all the sad songs again’. ‘Acadian Driftwood’, sung by the whole group, was another highlight, as was ‘Bring the Lassie Hame’, a stunning song by Brian McNeil which told the story of how his father, a Sapper in the Army, and his mother, an interpreter for the British Occupation forces, met and married in Austria during the war. McNeil is, of course, one of Scotland’s most significant songwriters; I’ve heard him on record but never live before and I was impressed and pleased to have this chance.


The Green Man/Giant’s Parade set made me notice how good the drummer was. It’s a complex set of tunes with a variety of time signatures and complicated rhythms and Dave Mattacks was excellent.


The sound mixing was impeccable — not an easy task with so many different instruments (many of the band played a number of instruments other than their main ones at points during the evening) and with the constant shifting of combinations of musicians. The lighting was less delightful — mostly a fairly static reddish light which wasn’t too bad if a bid samey, but occasionally segueing into an odd orange that wasn’t exactly flattering! But that was a minor niggle — generally it was a great evening, the atmosphere a bit like going round to your mates who are getting together for a music session …. that is, if your mates are top quality nationally known musicians!

Review & Photos — Betty Hagglund

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