Scottish culture on show in TradFest 2014

Rachel Newton of the Emily Portman Trio will be performing at TradFest
Rachel Newton of the Emily Portman Trio will be performing at TradFest
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THERE is nothing that shouts summer more in Edinburgh than a freshly printed festival programme – if not the occasional burst of much longed-for sunshine.

Glimmering through this week’s cloudy weather is the line-up for TradFest 2014, the city’s two-week celebration of Scottish culture, which will begin on Tuesday to herald the start of the season.

This is only the event’s second year, but for anyone leafing through the hefty brochure it is an impressive read, with music, song, dance, storytelling, talks and more being held in 46 venues across the Capital – with around 90 acts, from home and abroad, involved.

“One of the big things about it is celebrating Edinburgh as a place of traditional and folk arts. That’s quite a big aspect in that the events have specific connections with Edinburgh in some way,” says organiser Donald Smith, director of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival.

“We are trying to give people that sense of a window into different aspects of the folk arts and an opportunity to actually go along and find out the background as well as hearing some of the talent. People are doing quite radical things with these traditions.”

Among the highlights of the festival are Newfoundland’s leading folk band, The Dardanelles (Tuesday, Pleasance Cabaret Bar, 8pm); the multi-instrumental group, The Old Dance School (Friday, May 9, also at the Pleasance Cabaret Bar, 8pm); and Rachel Newton of the Emily Portman Trio (Wednesday, May 7, Scottish Storytelling Centre, 7.30pm) who will take a lively look at tales and ballads of changelings who travel between the fairy realm and everyday life.

The Porty Music Train (Sunday, May 4, Portobello Promenade, 3pm) where the public is invited to form a street band by the beach for free; the May Day Parade (Saturday, May 3, Johnston Terrace to Pleasance Theatre, noon); and the Scottish Piping Concert (Sunday, May 4, Teviot Row House, 7.30pm) are also ones to note – among the many.

The festival, organised by Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland (TRACS) with the Scottish Storytelling Centre, on the Royal Mile, as its hub, has included a family-friendly strand to its 2014 programme as well as plenty of free events. These include the Dawn Rising (Thursday, May 1, Arthur’s Seat, 5am) which involves a guided walk and storytelling on the Holyrood attraction, as well as Cafe Ceilidh (Tuesday, May 6, Scottish Storytelling Centre, 2pm) for an afternoon of traditional song – and a dance or two.

This year’s line-up is also inspired by key events taking place in Scotland in 2014, including the Commonwealth Games, Year of Homecoming and the Independence referendum.

Among the highlights is Caledonian Dreaming (Wednesday, May 7, Blackwell’s Bookshop, 6.30pm) where Gerry Hassan will examine the state of contemporary Scotland. Arts of Independence (Wednesday, also at Blackwell’s Bookshop, 6.30pm) will see Alan Riach and Alexander Moffat take a look at the arts, arguably the key to Scotland’s distinctive national identity.

“There’s an interesting connection with the whole indy debate running through the festival and that’s not because we are taking sides in the whole referendum debate, but it’s because the folk arts have always been political,” says Donald Smith.

The festival organiser also emphasises the importance of May Day celebrations to the festival, revealing that TradFest – which saw around 9000 people enjoy it last year – has been organised to include other key events on the Edinburgh calendar, such as the Beltane Fire Festival and the May Day Parade.

“We are reviving important traditions that are part of the culture and people of Edinburgh,” says Mr Smith.

This year’s Beltane Fire Festival (Wednesday, Calton Hill, 9pm) is expected to drawn in the masses once more as the May Queen and her Green Man process with their Court, gathering their energies to light the sacred Bel Fire.

“We will be bringing the city to life. It’s [TradFest] strongly supported by traditional artists and groups and they really have provided the backbone to it so it’s a very nice, collective effort,” Mr Smith says.

“There are lots of opportunities for people to come and participate and pick their events. Whether it’s folk music or storytelling there’s something for everyone.”

Paddy Bort, chairman of the Edinburgh Folk Festival and organiser of the Capital’s Wee Folk Club, at the Royal Oak in Infirmary Street, is among those in the Capital excited about TradFest 2014 and all it has to offer to music fans in particular.

“I still think Edinburgh is the capital of Celtic music,” he says, speaking about the decline of the Edinburgh International Folk Festival in the 1990s.

“We have always seen Edinburgh – even more than Germany, Berlin or Dublin – as a centre for Celtic folk music and I think to pull that into a festival is fantastic.

“It’s a very attractive event that brings people into town and gives people in Edinburgh something special, too.”

The festival is being funded by Creative Scotland, Event Scotland’s Year of the Homecoming and Edinburgh City Council.

TradFest 2014 takes place from Tuesday, April 29 to Sunday, May 11. For full listings and ticket information visit www.tracscotland.org/festivals/tradfest.