Wetherby Festival review

Maire Ni Chathasaigh and Chris Newman - The Bridge Inn, Walshford October 18.

Britain's traditional music scene is exciting, and constantly evolving, and Wetherby Festival played host to several high-profile folk musicians for its 30th year celebrations.

Tonight's sell-out performance in the intimate, relaxed setting of The Bridge Inn was by two outstanding Yorkshire-based musicians; harpist Maire Ni Chathasaigh, originally from Cork, and English acoustic guitarist Chris Newman.

These musicians tour extensively, and both teach at England's renowned folk degree course at Newcastle University, helping to ensure that a whole new generation of music students is being turned on to the tradition.


Maire is an inspirational figure for many harpists today. She plays clarsach and electro-acoustic harp, and tonight she played her Breton-made Camac electro-acoustic harp. Her playing was pristine, poised, and exquisite throughout.

Maire enthralled her audience with modern pieces, often with an element of jazz, historic pieces from as early as the 17th century, and folk tunes, each with their own little story, from her own and her father's childhood. Chris is a finger style acoustic guitarist in the same league as John Renbourn, and he justly deserves his accolade as "one of the UK's most staggering and influential guitarists."

He performs with breathtaking flourish and precision, and tonight played a hand built mahogany & rosewood acoustic guitar (with mother of pearl inlay) made for him by New Zealand luthier Davy Stuart.


Both instruments resonated throughout the room beautifully. The audience held its collective breath as Maire performed an exquisite Gaelic piece, "Am Buahaillin Ban" and a wonderful composition by blind 17th century Irish harpist Turlough O'Carolan. Lively jigs and hornpipes, including 'The Chestnut Tree' were played at breakneck speed and with evident relish by both musicians, ensuring a wonderfully balanced set.

And who could have guessed that Celtic harps were moody? Maire explained to her appreciative audience how the change in room temperature affected the sound. The diverse range of music played by this duo this evening illustrated exactly why the harp has such a firm place in Irish history, and how beautifully it combines with the acoustic guitar in this intimate acoustic setting.

Tonight's audience enjoyed a stunning evening of music by a duo highly skilled in their craft. Watch out – they may be back!