FolkWorld Live Review 08/2003 by Michael Moll

Snape Proms with sun glasses
Lúnasa and Kate Rusby Band playing this prestigious festival

This year's theme throughout the programme brochure of the Snape Proms were sun glasses - as if the organisers had anticipated that August 2003 would become one of the sunniest and hottest Augusts on record! Amongst the high quality choice of music of all styles, the folk element was this year representent by two Celtic top acts - Lúnasa and Kate Rusby with her impressive band. Definitely another good reason to enjoy Suffolk at its best, in one of the most special concert halls of the region, located in a converted maltings building overlooking the marshes of a tidal river.

Snape Maltings, photo by The MollisAldeburgh and the Snape Maltings are mainly famous for classical music - the Aldeburgh Festival, held always in June, has been establish by well known classical musicians Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. The August programme is a slightly different story, as August is Proms season, which means for Snape a mix of classical, jazz, folk, world, poetry and more.

The Proms are something special - in all Prom concerts, the first few rows of chairs are removed, and the fans of "Promming" have the wonderful opportunity to sit on the ground instead of a chair. This means two things - on the one hand, less tickets can be sold, because sitting on the ground takes up more space than sitting on a chair. On the other hand, the "Prom" sit-on-the-ground tickets are sold for less than chaired seats. Why then bother? "Because the people love it!" is what the Aldeburgh Productions press officer gave me as a reason. For those who decide to sit on the ground, there is also the opportunity to rent a Prom seat - basically consisting barely of two wooden planks, which can be folded up to a chair without legs - and believe it or not, it is more comfortable than it sounds and looks like.
Well you can tell that we are in England....

Lúnasa were the first folk act appearing during this year's Prom season. Having seen them here the first time, I was impressed by this magnificent Irish band. Lúnasa's playing is very tight and full of innovative ideas. The musicians are obviously some of the very best that Ireland has on offer. Their approach is fresh and open minded - the music goes far beyond Irish traditional music, entering both other (mainly Celtic) traditions, and other music styles. Yet they always stay true to the roots of the music.

Lúnasa's range of instruments features fiddle (Séan Smyth), flute (Kevin Crawford), pipes (Cillian Vallely), and on the rhythm side, guitar (Donagh Hennessy) and bass (Trevor Hutchinson). They played a beautiful mix of breathtaking arrangements of traditional Irish tunes, ventured to Galicia, Canada, Brittany and Scotland, and presented also some of their own compositions. A band that can easily convince anybody of that open minded Irish music is the best thing since sliced bread. Lúnasa's latest album has just been released, after a legal battle between Lúnasa and their record company, as Séan told the audience - the record company had published the album without the band's agreement. Good news is that Lúnasa won the case.
This was a superb evening with one of the best Irish bands around.

Kate Rusby & John McCusker - Figures by Linda McCannA couple of weeks later, an English folk star with her all star band visited Snape - Kate Rusby. Kate has been professional singer since 10 years, and in those years she quickly built up a reputation as one of England's best loved folk singers. As if Kate alone was not reason enough to visit the concert, she directly brought along five of the best musicians of the British scene as her band. If you try to list all bands that these musicians have been involved in, you end up with a "who is who" of the UK music scene - Battlefield Band, Swåp, Flook, Blowzabella, Deacon Blue, to name but a few.

John McCusker, Kate's husband and long term Battlefield Band fiddler and multi instrumentalist, takes a definite lead in the arrangements of the music, letting at times shine his Battlefield Band days through in his unique style. Andy Cutting is a terrific melodeon player, and in the opinion of his band colleagues also a good chef. On the string side, there is Ian Carr, since recently resident in Sweden (and speaking a decent Swedish too!), with his distinctive guitar playing, and well known bassist Ewan Vernal. For this very concert, the Kate Rusby Band was joined by another superb musicians -Flook's Brian Finnegan on flutes.

Kate's popularity can probably be explained by the fact that, despite her fame, she has always stayed herself - a Yorkshire girl with a good sense of humour and a very personal style. It is easy to forget that you are in a large concert hall; Kate easily manages to create a very intimate atmosphere with her funny little anecdotes. She has also a hand for picking the right songs - most of them are traditional English, some she has composed herself. Her songs were very well arranged, with beautiful backing of her talented bunch of boys.

As much as I enjoyed every single song of this evening, I must say that I was a bit disappointed that the tremendous talent of the musicians with her was most of the time only used to back her singing. Only one set of tunes was included in the concert, where the boys had free scope to show their full talent; blowing the audience away with terrific playing. Apart from that, the music stayed most of the time in the background of the songs; only a very limited number of songs had a certain focus on the music. I loved the combination of John's and Brian's flute playing; and I could easily listen to Andy Cutting and his melodeon on his own a whole evening long.... But I suppose that is what I should expect of the Kate Rusby Band - if you want to hear more of the boys, there are the appearances of the John McCusker Band. That said, I really did enjoy the evening. As did the audience - demanding two encores, a rarity with folk concerts in Snape!

Snape Maltings, photo by The MollisI even discovered a link between the two concerts - and this link is gardening programmes! Gardening programmes enjoy a huge popularity in the UK, and it seems that both Lúnasa and Kate Rusby have a link to those. Lúnasa were asked by the BBC to provide a tune for a gardening programme (not the famous one with Alan Titchmarch though, as Séan admitted). Kate, meanwhile, dreams of Alan Titchmarch coming to do her garden. Maybe she should offer him a song for his show in exchange of him doing the garden for her?!

Both folk concerts were totally sold out - i.e. 800 tickets have been sold! It is a bit of a shame that there are only those two folk concerts per year in Snape - I am sure that also in winter, folk acts could easily pull the crowds in Snape!

It was another successful Snape Proms season - not only the folk concerts, but indeed most concert were sell-outs. I went to see also a couple of Jazz concerts, which were enjoyable indeed (The Hot Koalas and the Back to Basie Orchestra) - trying out those famous Prom seats.... If you ever happen to consider to visit beautiful Suffolk in your holidays - go for an August trip, and make sure to see one of the folk concerts in Snape. And when you are already there, why not also explore some great summer theatre in Aldeburgh.


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The picture of the figures of John McCusker and Kate Rusby is from Linda McCann's new folk calendar - see FolkWorld News, where you have the chance to win one of four copies of this calendar!
Photo Credit: Snape Maltings by The Mollis.

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