Three festivals every week for a year. MARK GRAHAMgets folked in Cork
I HATE CORK. I may be overstating my feelings somewhat, but I just hope that some Cork people will read that statement and refuse to go any further. I’m extremely reluctant to admit that I like the place or anything in it. The last thing the shower down there need is anyone else lending some elbow grease to the pump that’s attached to their sense-of-self-importance balloon. Unlike offal, humility is not something you’ll find in plentiful supply in the Rebel County. Asking a Cork person to expound upon the virtues of their homeplace would be like ringing a doorbell on a freight container jam-packed with Furbies; the tedious warlblings, whistlings and prattlings would create the aural equivalent of an Infinity Engine. I need to choose my words very carefully here lest we reach tipping point and the proxy capital coup kicks off.
No shock, then, that while at a song competition that was part of the Cork Folk Festival, I heard a lad sing a choon of his own design about how wonderful the place and the people are. Less surprising still when he was awarded top prize. They like having their pride of place stroked.
I was expecting a full-on acoustic attack from acolytes armed with autoharps, but the range and variety of tunes being offered up was surprising. Declan O’Rourke informed the crowd on Saturday night that it was the first time he’d ever played a folk festival and he was looking forward to the freedom to inflict his most obscure songs on the crowd. Declan told us that people struggle to categorise his music, so it was like he was coming out of the closet and it was about folking time (I’m paraphrasing there).
The rabid folkiness that tempted Pete Seeger to take an axe to Bob Dylan’s kettle lead wasn’t anywhere to be seen, heard or felt in Cork last weekend. In fact, when Mick Daly finished a wonderfully warm, appropriate and balanced set with a fluid and chilled interpretation of Tangled up in Blue, the mood was set perfectly for two music legends to take to the stage.
Dave Swarbrick was part of the driving force behind the über-influential English folk rockers Fairport Convention. Martin Carthy is an English folk institution. In recent years, Carthy joined Transglobal Underground to form the award winning electronic neo-folk experiment that was The Imagined Village. These dudes have more pedigree than the final day at Crufts. The two lads are getting on in years and Dave looks like he did his Leaving the year before God (you’d think he was being optimistic if he bought a bunch of green bananas), but they still have more chops than McCarthy’s Butchers in Kanturk. Hearing them play together was special. They might be a little musty but they’re still maestros.
Occasionally, I was a bit folked out of it. I don’t mind a few people dying in a song or the blood of the cruel oppressors being spilled, but I’m a bit uncomfortable listening to people singing sketchy ballads about their own dead relatives. A fella’s eyes turning back in his head like something from The Exorcist when he went up for high notes didn’t settle me down either. My complaints are few and far between, especially when it came to experiencing the Kilfenora Céilí Band playing on Grand Parade last Sunday.
The crowd that turned up to dance on the streets were happy-out, and the old hands showed the newbies how to navigate the steps. One of the things that endears Cork to me is the thread of rural life that runs through the core of the city. Cork has a very strong and comfortable sense of itself. I kinda like that, but for God’s sake, don’t tell them.
Safe travels, don’t die.