The 19th William Kennedy Piping Festival opens on Wednesday 14th with a concert in The Four Seasons Hotel, Monaghan featuring the uilleann pipers from the Armagh Pipers club and the world renowned National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland. This concert is part of a new project by the Armagh Pipers Club entitled ‘The Pipers Bridge’ taken from the name of a road halfway between Armagh City and Monaghan town. The Pipers Bridge project flags up both the long association between the Armagh Pipers Club and Monaghan and the crucial role played by piping in building cultural bridges not only in Ireland but all over the world where pipes are played.
There will be another concert in Armagh on Thursday 15th in the Marketplace Theatre featuring the same line up. The NYPBoS will deliver two school concerts as well in Armagh plus an outdoor lunchtime concert on Thursday 15th outside the Marketplace Theatre whose amphitheatre-like steps overlooking Market Street have in recent years featured groups as diverse as the Breton Bagad Cap Caval and last year the Galician group Lume de Biqueira.
The Scottish connection continues throughout this year’s festival with the innovative group Seudan featuring at the ‘Hooley in the Theatre’ piping extravaganza on Friday 16th in The Marketplace Theatre. This 5 hour feast of music is only in its third year but the concept has pushed its way to the heart of the festival. Taking place on three different stages within the Theatre this is a ‘festival within a festival’. Someone has described it as an outdoor festival held indoors!
This year the programme features 14 different groups ranging from the newest and youngest Armagh Pipers Club group Cúig right up to internationally renowned groups like Buille with Karan Casey and piper Jarlath Henderson and At First Light led by uilleann piper John McSherry.
The well-known Scottish piper Rory Campbell of Deaf Shepherd fame will be making a rare appearance as a solo piper during the night.
Here you’ll also hear a great new band Réalta who are launching their first CD featuring two great young uilleann pipers Conor Lamb and Aaron O’Hagan with guitarist/vocalist Deirdre Galway from County Antrim. The BBC Young Folk Musician of the Year winning band Ioscaid will also be playing during the night. Armagh Pipers Club Big Band who played at Piping Live this year will also be performing. Other groups with Armagh Pipers Club members playing on the night are Cúig and Síoda.
France is very important in the evolution of piping throughout Europe and indeed in some ways has been a cradle of piping over the centuries producing some 14 or 15 different types of bagpipes from the 16th/17th century musette the favourite of the French aristocracy to the biniou and bombard of Britanny now the iconic symbol of Breton culture. Eric Montbel has spent his life studying French piping traditions and his group Topanga revolves around the various pipes he plays accompanied by his wife Laurence Charrier on harmonium and accordionist Bruno Le Tron. Topanga will feature in both the Friday night ‘Hooley in the Theatre’ and the Saturday night concert in St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral. This year there has been an important link established with Arts in Action based in Galway University and this has resulted in an invitation for Topanga to play at their venue The Cube for a lunchtime concert on Friday 16thNovember.
Northumberland, as the great piper Kathryn Tickell describes it, lies between England to the South and Scotland to the North. Northumberland boasts a rich cultural legacy of music and song and over the years has developed its own small pipes from a relatively simple open-ended chanter to the modern closed chanter with anything up to 17 or 18 keys giving it a huge range of notes. Its quiet bubbly tones have a great appeal and in the hands of the top players can produce music of staggering complexity. Andy May is the leading piper of his generation and with his father’s help has made great technical advances in pipe making. This added to his extraordinary technical skill makes him a very much sought after performer. The William Kennedy Piping Festival is delighted to have back in Armagh once again.
Seudan which literally means ‘jewels’ is the new name of the group Na Tri Seudan founded by Hamish Moore many years ago and now under the direction of his son Fin, piper, pipe maker and dancer. The concept behind Na Tri Seudan is the bringing together of the Gaelic language, dance and piping. Hamish based his pipes on the famous ‘Black pipes of Kintail’ whose main feature was the lower pitch chanter in ‘A’. This of course makes it compatible with modern day concert pitch instruments like uilleann pipes, fiddles, flutes and so on. The distinguished piper and singer Allan MacDonald is the singer with Seudan and plays small pipes to accompany his singing. Fin Moore performs Scottish step dancing which still survives in Cape Breton and which is increasingly exciting a young generation of dancers in Scotland.
The group Buille has been at the cutting edge of contemporary Irish music for a long time now and their two recordings so far largely feature original music composed by Niall Vallely for concertina with some collaborative interaction with his brother Caoimhin on piano. For this year’s festival they will be joined by piper extraordinaire Jarlath Henderson who learned his piping in Armagh from a very young age and has continued his development in Scotland playing with another great young piper from the highland tradition Ross Ainslie. The group is completed by Scottish guitarist Ross Martin who plays with super-group Daimh. The renowned singer Karan Casey also joins the group this year for what looks set to be a highlight of the festival.
AT FIRST LIGHT
At First Light is a very welcome addition to this year’s line-up featuring two great uilleann pipers John McSherry and Francie McIlduff. When you add in fiddler and composer/arranger Donal O’Connor you have something really special. At First Light have been spreading their music gospel all over Europe in recent years and already have a huge following. All the players are outstanding in their own right with recordings to prove it and together they produce their own unique trademark sound.
MICK O’BRIEN TRIO
The Mick O’Brien trio comprising Mick on uilleann pipes, Aoife Ní Briain playing fiddle and Emer Mayock on flute will perform music from their new CD based on the Canon Goodman collection. Canon Goodman was a minister in the Kerry Gaeltacht in the 19th Century where he made a unique collection of music from a local piper William Kennedy as well as transcribing the songs associated with many great airs. So appropriately enough the trio will perform some of this music at the Saturday night concert in the Church of Ireland Cathedral.
THE UILLEANN PIPES
The uilleann pipes are at the heart of the Armagh Pipers Club and the William Kennedy Piping Festival and each year the uilleann pipes concert is eagerly awaited. This year the line-up comprises six great pipers - Ronan Browne, Mick O’Brien, Jarlath Henderson, Brian McNamara, Tiarnan O Duinnchinn and Mikie Smyth. These six pipers will also be the tutors for the 1st William Kennedy Academy of Uilleann piping which runs from Friday through to Sunday with a programme of master-classes, workshops, lectures and recitals. There are a limited number of subsided places available as well as a couple of bursaries for this residential event.
Two of this year’s Gradam Ceoil recipients Nell Ní Chróinín Sean Nos singer and uilleann piper Caoimhin Ó Fearghall will be performing at the Oiche Cheoil on Saturday 17th. Joining them on the night will be Macha the Armagh Pipers Club bi-lingual Gaelic singing group with their repertoire of Scottish and Irish Gaelic song.
‘KING OF TORY’
This year’s Art exhibition features the work of Patsy Dan Rogers ‘King of Tory Island’. Patsy is the last surviving member of the original group of Tory Island painters organised by English painter Derek Hill many years ago. Patsy paints his native island with the fresh eyes of the ‘primitive painter’ but his work is extremely sophisticated and much sought after. Patsy also plays accordion and will no doubt play a few tunes at the exhibition launch on Thursday 15th at 6pm in the Marketplace Art Gallery. Also there will be a launch of a photographic exhibition featuring work by three Armagh photographers Paul Eliasberg, Vincent Loughran and Edgar Brown who have covered the festival for the last 10 or more years.
The 19th William Kennedy Festival has been supported this year by Armagh City and District Council, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, An Comhairle Ealaion, Foras na Gaeilge, Colmcille as well as by in-kind support from Armagh City Hotel and Donnelly Motors.
19th William Kennedy Piping Festival: