Interview with William Hammond, Cork Folk Festival

tweety stuff @ronanfromcork

first published in @The Evening Echo 2014-10-2

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The Cork Folk Festival celebrates their 35th birthday this year and as William Hammond, of the festival organisers, explained to Ronan Leonard, that milestone has led to a lot of reflection upon their history, “when you sit down and design a festival, you try and remember what the goals were on the first day and that we are just a continuation of the people who started the festival. We try to present the best of local musicians, Irish traditional music and international folk music.”

With that in mind on Wednesday 1 October in L’Atitude on Union Quay, Jimmy Crowley will present ‘A Night of Cork Songs’; the opening event of the festival is a deliberate nod to their past, William continued “Jimmy Crowley would be an example of that continuation, in the first year of the Cork Folk Festival in that exact same bar (it was called Heaphys at the time, and went on to be The Lobby Bar, and also an Crubín) he held a session called ‘The Songs Of Cork’. To commemorate the 35 years that have passed since then we decided to re-enact that night, we hope to have Sean O’Sé and some of the other singers who took part that night as well.”

Other elements of the Cork Folk Festival have also been revived, “another thing that was really popular in the early years of the festival was having song contests, both traditional and contemporary. Noel Brazil had won the competition a few times, most notably with his classic song ‘Ellis Island’ which went on to be covered by Mary Black. We named the competition in memory of him when we brought it back two years ago. It certainly gives a platform to new songs for instance Mick Lynch, formerly of Stump and now performing as Don For Chickens has won it – he always has great songs. Those contemporary songs really do set a marker on where things are at that particular moment. It serves another purpose too, usually when the festival is over all I’m left with is bills but it’s great to have songs and tunes to remember the events by!”

Friday evening will feature an event that William is really looking forward to, “there will be an Irish song concert called ‘Stór Mo Chroi’ with some of the finest singers of Irish songs, such as Karen Casey, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh (of Danu), Lumiere (the vocal duo of Pauline Scanlon and Eilis Ní Cinnede) and of course John Spillane. It’s a beautiful exploration of Irish traditional songs, they sing solo and together in different combinations, a whole two hours of top music.”

The festival has always striven to keep the programme as family friendly and accessible so there are plenty of free day time events to partake in and the jewel in that crown has to be the Ceili Mor in Cork City Hall on Sunday, an event that William is particularly looking forward to “there will be sets from many traditional Irish styles; West Kerry, Sliabh Lucre and Ballvourney and lots of other local dances which I’ll be calling throughout. It’ll be a lovely occasion in a great hall; it has a sprung floor so it’s perfect for set dancing. This year we have got two of our favourite traditional musicians Steve Cooney and Seamus Begley. When they first started playing together 30ish years ago they were like superstars. They used to play as a duo in the Folk Festival many years ago, once in an Sraid Bhaile which was underneath Sir Henrys, so there would be set dancing downstairs while there were raves upstairs!”

The family connection that permeates through all facets of folk music reaches a new level in this edition of the festival as William mentioned, “interestingly enough at the Ceili Mór there will be an accordion player by the name of Bryan O’Leary, who recently won the TG4 Graddam Ceoil Young Musician Of The Year award, whose grandfather was Johnny O’Leary, the very famous box player who received the TG4 Graddam Ceoil Lifetime Achievement award in 2003. Johnny’s daughter (and Bryan’s aunt) Ellen always played alongside Johnny so we have a third generation player this year, with each one having played at the Cork Folk Festival over the years.”

On Saturday night the Cork School Of Music will host a rare performance by the music group Mozaik, William gave the background on the band, “it all comes from an idea put together by Andy Irvine, he has always been exploring Eastern Music so after being in groups like Planxty, Sweeneys Men and Patrick Street he has pursued this sound. Donal Lunny and himself have been in many musical collaborations and they brought in Bruce Molsky, an American fiddle, guitar and banjo master; Nikola Parov, a Hungarian multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer and Rens Van Der Zalm, a Dutch guitarist, but who also plays the fiddle, mandolin, keyboards, accordion and whistle! A whole bunch of stringed musicians playing some of the best music you’ll ever hear, and the of course the only logical Cork string band to open that show is the Lee Valley String Band”

William also commented a new part of the Folk Festival trail, “While it was very sad to see The Pavilion close as it had become a central part of the Cork Folk Festival in recent years, The Oliver Plunkett has stepped in to host some gigs such as Eddi Reader who will be playing with The Alan Kelly Gang on Thursday, and Dick Gaughan who is there on the Saturday afternoon. Both Eddi and Dick are Scots who were campaigning very hard for a Yes vote in the recent Independence Referendum so it will be interesting what they have to say about it during their concerts. They are probably a bit disappointed still so we’ll make sure the festival gives them a lift!”

The Cork Folk Festival runs from Wednesday 1 to Sunday 5 October.
Details on all the concerts in the programme or how to enter either song writing competition can be found at http://www.corkfolkfestival.com

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