Concert Review – Feast of Fiddles

Concert Review – Feast of Fiddles – Lichfield Cathedral –April 11th 2013

Reviewed by: Ben Macnair

With a set list that took in everything from jazz funk, classical, Celtic folk, and sixties television themes, and musicians that included some of the finest folk fiddle players on the live music circuit, Feast of Fiddles provided an unsurpassable evening of entertainment when they appeared at Lichfield Cathedral. In a risky move that paid off, Lichfield Arts moved the popular group from the Guildhall to the Cathedral, a setting which proved a perfect acoustic setting for the 13 musicians who appeared.

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The rhythm section of guitarists John Underwood and Martin Vincent, Bassist Dave Harding, Melodeon player and group leader Hugh Crabtree, Drummer Dave Mattacks, and saxophonist and keyboard player Alan Whetton started the concert with the Average White Band’s ‘Pick up the Pieces’ before the six fiddlers took to the stage, to play ensemble versions of ‘McBride’s’ and ‘The Chapel Bell Set’. Garry Blakely led the first solo set, with the song ‘Sons of the Soil’ which featured some fine harmony singing, and ‘The Tartan Slippers’ which provided a violin duet, before the whistle of Chris Leslie was added to the simple, but dynamically charged arrangement.

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Ian Cutler provided a number of moods with a solo violin rendition of ‘Banks of the Suir’ before leading the band in a reading of Aaron Copeland’s ‘Hoedown’, which owed more to the version by Emerson Lake and Palmer than the original.

The first set culminated in the title track from their latest release ‘Rise above it’ and a humorous take on the music to ‘The Magnificent Seven’, which featured tight ensemble playing from all of the fiddlers, and the rhythm section.

The second half kept up the high standard of musicianship with another famous theme ‘Thunderbirds are go’ whilst ‘Tempo’s Waltz’, a slow piece from Finland was a feature piece for Saxophonist Alan Whetton, and ‘Battle of the Somme’ was a touching ballad that included a moody and melodic guitar solo, and had elements of progressive rock within its chord progression.

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A different mood was provided by Fairport Convention’s Chris Leslie, who along with a stripped down backing of acoustic guitar and bass played ‘Minor Swing’ a piece from the repertoire of Stephane Grapelli and Django Reinhardt. The tune contained many jazz phrases, but also contained some nods to the work of Nicolo Paganini.

Peter Knight left the audience spell bound with the quality of his playing and narrative song writing skills during ‘From a Lullaby’s Kiss’ and Brian McNeill gave a brave, unplugged partly improvised piece that played with the acoustic setting that the Cathedral provided, in terms of its natural echo.
The final two pieces of the set were songs, which one again featured some fine ensemble playing. ‘Ivor the Knight’ was folk rock at its best, whilst ‘Geronimo’s Caddilac’ was a country/rock song with hints of bluegrass and Appalachian music.

The encore consisted of a number of traditional reels and jigs, before a show-stealing version of Mark Knopfler’s ‘Going Home’, which featured the saxophone of Allan Whetton playing the part made famous by Michael Brecker on the original, and was a perfect way for the band to finish their set. The standing ovation at the end of the concert was testament to the quality of the musicians, the venue, and the work that Lichfield Arts continue to do.

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