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Return to London set for poignant return

Anna Bradley Scott of Nóta, festival director Karen Ryan and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh of Altan playing at the 2019 festival. Picture: Anne Mullen

Return to London Town festival returns this weekend for its first in- person festival since 2019, and a festival that could include some poignant tributes to past legends.

The pandemic prevented the festival from going ahead as usual last year but determined, they went ahead with a  largely pre-recorded and streamed offering.

Originally named Return to Camden Town, the festival is now in its 23rd year.

Like in 2019, the festival will be based in Cricklewood and mainly at the Clayton Crown Hotel, with additional venues located close by either in Cricklewood or Kilburn.

Festival director Karen Ryan told The Irish World it is going to be a poignant reunion for lovers of Irish traditional music based here and in Ireland.

Karen said: “I’m starting to visualise it now.

“It’ going to be really great for people living in Ireland who haven’t experienced something like this in so long and it’s going to be a reunion with our own artists here in London.

“We’ve been open to some extent, Ireland is having to wait that big longer, but obviously not everyone’s managed to catch up with people at the usual Irish music sessions.

“But at some point in our hotel and the other venues in Cricklewood and Kilburn, they will come across their various friends.

“I think that’s going to be very, very special.

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A shot from last year’s socially distanced and digital festival.

“Pre-sales are looking extremely healthy.

“I’m seeing a lot of people whose names I don’t recognise. I think we’re reaching out to a new audience.

“It’s great to be able to host a major event in such a spacious venue as things are opening up.

“I think we’re going to have full houses and a really good atmosphere.”

Current and past members of the Chieftains and many students of Brendan Mulkere- who passed away last year when no live music or gathering was possible- on the bill.

Saturday night will be headlined by Matt Molloy and Sean Keane. Matt is a current member of the Chieftains while Sean is a former member.

Both provided music from the altar at Chieftains founder Paddy Moloney’s funeral last week.

Festival director Karen Ryan told The Irish World: “I would imagine it will be a chance to pay tribute.

“I think Paddy will be very much on their minds, thoughts and hearts.

“I suspect that they might very much make Saturday night their tribute to Paddy and all he’s done for Ireland, Irish music.

“He was such an amazing ambassador for the country but also for any gigging traditional Irish musician, none of us would be anything if it wasn’t for Paddy.

Paddy Moloney.

“Matt and Sean are aware of that and I’m so sure that they will do a tribute to him on Saturday night.”

Karen says there is likely to also be tributes to the renowned fiddle player who taught so many traditional musicians in London.

“Brendan Mulkere was such a massive figure on the London Irish scene. There are lots of his students who are playing various sessions.”

The festival will also see the launch of the album Will We Give it a Go? from London-born accordion player with Galway heritage, Andy Martyn.

Andy – who is well known as a member of bands, Le Chéile and the Ron Kavana Band – will perform in concert with long time musical friends including John Carty (London-born multi-instrumentalist and TG4 Musician of the Year 2003).

“John Carty himself and Andy Martyn are headlining on Friday night and I suspect very much that they will be bearing Brendan in mind when they are playing and paying tribute to him.”

In addition to the concerts, there will also be the usual instrumental workshops, sessions and céilí  including a ‘Céilí for All’ dedicated to the memory of the late London-based céilí dancing figure, Anton Coyle.

“We’ve got lots of different events apart from the concerts.

“We have got a really extensive session trail in the hotel, three venues in the hotel and we’ve got two pub venues in Cricklewood and two pub venues in Kilburn.

The Goodman Manuscripts Trio.

“We’re hosting 80 musicians and because it’s all walking distance or near enough, it feels like a rural Irish festival which is something we were really keen to do when we moved to Cricklewood, that you could just wander around and see who was playing where whereas before it was a bit more of a challenge because it was so spread out.

“And céilí s as well, one being dedicated to Anton Coyle on Sunday evening.

“We’ve got the best of the best giving workshops on Saturday and Sunday morning, instrumental workshops and singing workshops.

“We’re really fortunate we have got enough space between the Crown and Ashford Place who have been great partners for us to host all of those workshops.

“Again it’s that rural Irish feel of walking down the road if your workshop happens to be in another venue rather than anything more complicated.”

The four days of music will see a return to London for concertina player Jacqueline McCarthy, daughter of the late renowned Co. Clare multi-instrumentalist, Tommy McCarthy. Jacqueline was born in London and now lives in Co. Galway. She will be joined by her husband, the Waterford piper and Honorary President of Na Piobairí Uilleann, Tommy Keane.

Another London- Irish musician returning to the city is the Roscommon based flute player Mick Mulvey who will be performing with Liverpool pianist, Pete Quinn.

There will also be an album launch for The Goodman Manuscripts Trio, featuring Aoife Ní Bhríain (fiddle, concertina), Emer Mayock (uilleann pipes, flute, whistle) and Mick O’Brien (uilleann pipes, flute, whistle).

Releasing her second harp solo album Lady on the Island in 2021 is the Limerick multi-instrumentalist, and TG4 Young Musician of the Year 2006, Michelle Mulcahy.

Michelle Mulcahy

Another Limerick native who will be performing at London’s annual festival for the first time, is accordion player, teacher and De Dannan member, Derek Hickey.

The popular London-based act The Wilderness Yet will also feature. The trio comprises Rosie Hodgson and Philippe Barnes (both members of CrossHarbour), plus Galway’s Rowan Piggott.

International touring Armagh flute and whistle player, Eimear McGeown and highly regarded Roscommon fiddler James Carty have been a popular duo on the London scene in recent years. They will be accompanied by Danish multi-instrumentalist, and member of Mórga, Jonas Fromseier.

Legendary banjo player Mick O’Connor will be joined by regular ICC tutor and renowned multi-instrumentalist Tad Sargent (CrossHarbour), and fellow ICC tutor and well respected Derry fiddler, Michael Sweeney.

Return to London Town runs Friday 22- Monday 25 October.

For more information, click here.

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