Archive for March, 2022

St Patrick’s Day 2022: Concert in Luxembourg

St Patrick’s Day in its 2022 version had absolutely to be special, coming after two years without celebrations, Covid oblige. Luxembourg , home to a substantial Irish community, was no exception, mounting a whole series of events and, notably, an exceptional concert of Irish music courtesy of the Syrkus  cultural centre in the locality of Roodt-sur-Syre near the German border.

March 17th’s event featured two Irish folk ensembles, opening with rising stars Na Leanai and continuing with the Kilkennys, established performers in the line of the Clancy Brothers or the Dubliners. Both had been booked to play Roodt two years ago, only to face a last-minute cancellation. For Na Leanai this was their first gig anywhere since 2020, a moving occasion indeed.

Hailing from County Down and all related, Na Leanai are: sisters Sorcha Turnbull (vocals, whistles, bodhran or Irish drums) and Eimear Keane (vocals); Fra Sands (vocals, guitar, keyboards); and Ryanne Sands (the group’s regular violinist but currently on maternity leave and replaced on this occasion by Cajun-style fiddler Annie). The combination of male and female voices and the various instrumental timbres all blend perfectly.   

The Kilkennys are an all-male four-piece, vocalists and instrumentalists all: Davey Cashin, Tommy Mackey, Robbie Campion and Mick Martin. Their multi-instrumentalism, encompassing guitars, mandolin, banjo, whistles, uillean pipes and bodhran, makes for a rich and rewarding sound.

Na Leanai’s set took in traditional numbers and folk standards including Lakes of Ponchartrain and a fine a capella performance of She Moved Through the Fair with Eimear on vocal, as well as their own anthemic compositions such as Bring’Em All In and Daughters and Sons, and a rendering of the Italian partisan classic Bella Ciao, re-dedicated in the current climate of war and violence to those now resisting in Europe.

The Kilkennys kicked off with a rousing version of The Wild Rover, perhaps the best-known of all Irish songs, and went on to embrace a range of folk evergreens including Arthur McBride, Only Our Rivers Run Free, Rocky Road to Dublin, and, in a superb encore, the unforgettable Wild Mountain Thyme (aka Will Ye Go, Lassie?).

Both performances overflowed with vital energy and musicianly enthusiasm: it would be hard to prefer one over the other, and indeed the Kilkennys’ encores saw the return to the stage of members of Na Leanai to join them! Irish music is a collaborative pursuit, and this already special evening had its charm intensified in the musicians’ shared homage to the spirit of a Saint Patrick’s Day that was different from the rest!


And a quick note for followers of Bob Dylan: two of the songs played, ‘Arthur McBride’ and ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’, have been the object of official recordings by the master himself (the latter several times). Indeed, the Kilkennys announced their rendering of ‘McBride’ as following the classic version by Paul Brady, which is also that used by Dylan in his cover version. Dylan has also performed ‘Lakes of Ponchartrain’ live.



The legendary UK folk-rock group Fairport Convention need no introduction to lovers of folk or neo-folk music, with a rolling membership over decades including some of the most important names in that world, among them the late great female vocalist Sandy Denny and the still prolific Richard Thompson. Fairport’s album of 1969, Liege and Lief, is often considered to be folk-rock’s finest moment. The origins of the group’s somewhat arcane name have been charted in the past, but the last word is perhaps yet to be said.

It is known that in the mid-1960s an early avatar of the group used to rehearse in a largish house located in the Fortis Green district of the north London borough of Haringey, built around 1900 and going under the name of Fairport House, or just plain Fairport. It belonged to the family of founder member Simon Nicol but was later converted into bedsits, one of the tenants being another group member, Ashley Hutchings. Fairport House was thus umbilically connected with the emerging group, to which its name became attached –  the place where the budding folk-rock musicians convened as … Fairport Convention. The story is narrated by Patrick Humphries in Strange Affair, his 1996 biography of Richard Thompson: Humphries tells the tale of how the name Fairport Convention was coined by a friend of Simon Nicol’s. But why was the house called Fairport in the first place? On that, Strange Affair is silent.

I would not have taken the matter further had it not been that recently I began reading (and have now finished) The Antiquary, a novel published in 1816 by none other than Scotland’s national novelist, Sir Walter Scott (Penguin Classics edition, 1998). This, Scott’s third novel, is set in and around an imaginary Scottish small town and seaport, believed to have been based on Arbroath in Angus – but in the novel called … Fairport!

Could this fictional place lie behind the naming (by the original owner?) of the house that gave its appellation to Fairport Convention? It is far from impossible: houses have been named before now after novels or elements in novels. In French-speaking countries no-one would be surprised to find apartment blocks named after characters from Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. In Scotland, Edinburgh’s Waverley station and the Heart of Midlothian football club both share their names with novels by Scott.

A connection with Walter Scott would make sense as part of the ambiance around Fairport Convention’s music. Scott’s seminal collection of traditional ballads from 1801, Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, included material like ‘Tam Lin’ or the celebrated ‘Sir Patrick Spens’ that getting on for two centuries later would be recorded by Fairport. Richard Thompson, meanwhile, tells us in his recent memoir Beeswing that as a child he read three of Scott’s novels, Waverley, Rob Roy and Ivanhoe. We do not know if he also read The Antiquary or if he would have recognised the link when he entered the portals of Fairport, but the connection can at least provide an interesting literary-musical intertext.

Meanwhile I would be interested to know if anyone has tracked down more data on this!

Note : For Patrick Humphries’ account of the group’s formation and naming and the Fairport house and name, see his Richard Thompson – Strange Affair : the Biography (London : Virgin Books, 1996), chapter 3 (pp. 34-47) ; for Richard Thompson on reading Scott, see his book Beeswing: Fairport, Folk Rock and Finding My Voice 1967-1975 (London : Faber and Faber, 2021), p. 98.

Note 2 (added 3 March 2022): I passed this piece to Patrick Humphries and am pleased to relate that a subsequent post on his Facebook page elicited replies from both Simon Nicol and Linda Thompson, Richard Thompson’s onetime spouse. Simon Nicol said that the house’s previous owner, a Dr Munro or Monroe, was Scottish, a fact certainly interesting with regard to my speculation!