Some people may think it is a good idea to house a folk music festival in a museum, along with other artefacts showing life in ages past. I do not think the organisers of Uddevalla Folk Music Festival harbour such thoughts. Instead I think they have chosen the museum in the town because of its suitability for such an event. With a small concert hall, holding up to about 200 people, one more proper stage and spaces for people to play together outside the official festival programme, it is a great place to hold a festival in.
Uddevalla is a coastal town in West Sweden, halfway between Gothenburg and Norway, and their festival is into its fourth year (I think). It is rather a small festival, compared to British standards. Just one Friday evening, a full Saturday and a church service with folk music included on the Sunday. And it is as much as a gathering of folk musicians as a festival aimed at listeners. My wife and I just travelled down some 40 miles for the Saturday evening. Our main concern was the two Scottish acts doing concert performances, Eddie Reader and Lau. But we started off by watching the World Wide Orchestra, some 20+ youngsters in their late teens playing music from all over the world with great enthusiasm. The Orchestra was the result of a four day course in world music, and it was an amazing experience considering that the members had only met four the first time on the Wednesday the same week. But then of course we are biased. The saxophone player in the group is our son.
Eddie Reader started late because of the organisers taking 15 minutes to rearrange the small stage. Accompanied by Boo Hewardine on guitar and Allan Kelly on accordion, she did not care about time limits. To keep the schedule she had 40 minutes, she performed for 85, including the encore.
Not that anyone cared, except maybe those outside queuing up for the next concert that was delayed 30 minutes because of this. Ms Reader was in great form. With a voice to die for, a good grasp of her guitar and two lovely backing musicians she had all of us in the palm of her hand, including a lot of Robert Burns-songs in her set. She breathes new life into old chestnuts as “Charlie Is My Darling,” “My Love” and “Auld Lang Syne.” When she does the ballads time stops. And it all seems so casual, so in the spur of the moment. I think Mr Kelly had a set list, but I do not think they followed it. Both he and Mr Hewerdine seemed quite surprised when Reader announced some of the songs. But she gets away with it. With a voice like that, such charm and a love for music you will get away with anything. And she is funny as well. “This is the last one, unless we do the thing where you clap your hands a lot and we come back and do another one.” And yes, she sang “Perfect,” a song from her music business days. But according to her you should never use the words music and business in the same sentence.
Then came proof of how small a world we live in. You should always find a new favourite group or artist when you visit a festival. Four years ago I found Flax in Bloom, four Danes playing Irish music at the Skagen Festival (see my review from that one). It is a great shame that they still have not recorded an album, though their singer Sussie Nielsen has made two of which the last one is a gem.
This time I found Habbadàm, two Danes and one Swede playing music from the small Danish island Bornholm, an island close to the southeast of Sweden, which has a mixture of Swedish and Danish culture since it has belonged to Sweden at times. And guess what, the fiddler of the group is Ditte Fromseier-Mortensen, who also plays in Flax in Blooom. She was apparently born on the island and has dug deep into the vast collections of fiddle tunes from it. Her fellow band members are Hanna Wiskari on soprano saxophone and Sigurd Hockings on guitar. They make up a marvellous trio with the saxophone giving them a distinctive sound of their own, and a marvellous interplay between them. They play Danish tunes, but with the same attack as some of the best Irish groups and they really got the house rocking.
There is an album on the way in the autumn. Watch out for it. If they can capture their live performances on CD it will be something special. Meanwhile Ditte Fromseier-Mortensen’s album “Anything Strange?” is a great consolation. But there she only plays Irish music.
To end off the evening we had a new Scottish trio, Lau, with an album on the way in January. Each of the members has previously gained his reputation elsewhere. They are Aidan O’ Rourke on fiddle, Martin Green on accordion and Kris Drever on guitars and vocals.
For a new group they were very advanced in their interplay. And they have high ambitions. They mostly play their own tunes, but they surpass the simple notion of just knocking a few tunes together into a set. They play highly arranged suites of tunes, with all three instruments playing on an equal basis. Drever is much more than just the guitar player accompanying the others.
I think Lau’s approach is more like a classical composer putting together a suite or like the progressive groups of the 1970s, like Yes and Genesis (and no, that is not trying to insult Lau, quite the opposite). These guys are really serious about their music, and they aim at audiences sitting down to listen, not at people wanting some music to their drinking or people wanting to dance. Try dancing to them and you might break a leg or two. And if you ever had an idea of what folk musicians should look like Lau will certainly challenge that idea. As you realise we had a lovely evening. Four good acts, and one I have not mentioned since they are so very Swedish in a non folky way, in five hours. What more can you ask for? I will certainly be back next year.