The Gathering:
A Celebration of
Traditional Irish Music & Arts,
Leeds, Yorkshire, England
(10-13 November 2005)

Leeds Irish Music Project gave a huge boost to Irish music and culture in this Yorkshire city last month, launching an excellent new arts festival called "The Gathering." A wide variety of events was arranged over four days in various venues around the north of the city.

Leeds has a thriving arts scene generally, but this influx of Irish music and culture was particularly welcome. Headingley, the hub of the activity, could have been an Irish west coast town rather than a Yorkshire suburb.

Greg Mulholland, Member of Parliament for Leeds North West, launched the event to a large audience of arts, Irish and voluntary sector groups at the West Park Centre. Guest speakers included Amanda Bane of the Irish Embassy, Claire Biggs of Artforms (Education Leeds), Alistair Anderson, director of Folkworks and Seamus McGarry (Dion Committee, Ireland Fund of Great Britain Committee). The launch evening ended with a play "It's a Cultural Thing ... Or is It?" -- with a fine performance by Michael Collins, better known for his role in the Irish soap Glenroe.

Headlining on Friday night was Michael McGoldrick's Band. McGoldrick performed an excellent set of traditional and modern tunes (though not nearly enough were from his new album Wired) to a large crowd at the Long Bar, Headingley Stadium. The bar is in fact so long and spacious (it runs the length of the cricket pitch) that getting the sound right seemed to present a few problems. However, everyone enjoyed the gloriously infectious music. Tim Edey was inspiring on acoustic guitar, and it was good to see James Mackintosh at the drum kit. McGoldrick was on excellent form, whilst Dezi Donnelly excelled on fiddle, his improvisation breathtaking. Parvinder Bharat looked the epitome of cool playing tablas, sitting cross-legged on a tabletop to the right of the stage.

On Saturday, musicians from as far afield as London, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Roscommon and Sligo hosted two traditional sessions in the Trio and Skyrack bars in Headingley. Leeds' regular session supporters were, of course, much in attendance, but many attendees felt that the world of traditional Irish music was being opened up to a new audience. Saturday ended with an intimate concert in St. Michael's Parish Hall -- local festival musicians provided support to upcoming London-based band E-LAN (Damien Mullane, Sam Proctor, Dan Griffin and Michael Lempelius) who played a fabulous set of traditional tunes, generating whoops and foot tapping amongst the impressed crowd.

Sunday heralded a poetry event in the Dare Cafe, with readings by the Lucht Focail and Wicked Words Poetry Groups -- local musicians accompanied some of the readings. Lively sessions featuring musicians from Leeds Comhaltas Coeltoiri Eireann took place during Sunday afternoon, followed by a screening of the film Pavee Lackeen at the Cottage Road Cinema in Headingley. With a mainly non-professional cast, the film charts the rhythms and realities of traveler life in Ireland. After the film, the New Inn on the corner soon filled up as word of a session by accordionist Karen Tweed spread about.

The Gathering was a resounding success in bringing Irish music and arts to Leeds' Irish communities, but the real bonus is that a whole new audience has been introduced to a vibrant tradition. Plans are already well underway for next year's festival, which will run over two weekends. The Gathering is a most welcome addition to Yorkshire's traditional music calendar.

by Debbie Koritsas
21 January 2006

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