They started out as a stupendously exciting Celtic-infused band – but the five musicians who make up Ímar are celebrating this week after winning not one, but TWO national awards. To top it all, they are headlining the main Saturday concert at the Tredegar House Folk Festival, which goes ahead on three days, May 11-13 – and the delighted festival committee are pulling out all the stops to make this a fantastic weekend to remember.
The chairman, Sue Oates, had already invited the Glasgow-based band to perform at the festival – however, they shot to fame by winning the Horizon Award in the prestigious Radio 2 Folk Awards, which hundreds of artists compete for every year.
The Radio 2 Folk Awards are the equivalent of The Mercury Awards in rock and pop music, with many categories including Folk Singers Of The Year, Best Album and Best Musician. The Horizon Award champions emerging artists who have really made an impact in the past year; the annual ceremony night, with many award winners performing, is held all over the UK and is a complete sell-out, with coveted tickets like gold-dust. This year, the Awards Night was held in the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland, compered by Radio 2;s The Folk Show presenter Mark Radcliffe and Scottish Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis.
And to cap it all, Anglo-Iranian concertina player, Ímar member and Glasgow native Mohsen Amini triumphed in the Radio 2 Musician Of The Year award. Mohsen, who is already a member of the Scottish award-winning Scottish trio Talisk, originally met with the other two Ímar members, bouzouki ace Adam Rhodes and fiddler Tomás Callister, through Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, the Irish traditional music network that tutors budding players throughout the British Isles and beyond, and stages the annual schedule of Fleadh (traditional Irish music) competitions.
Ímar already boasts a glittering line-up featuring current and former members of stellar Scottish, Welsh and Isle Of Man bands Mànran, RURA, Barrule, Talisk, Cara, Jamie Smith’s Mabon and The Lowground. Tomás and Adam already have strong South Wales musical connections. The progeny of musical households, they rank among today’s leading champions of the Manx music revival, both having taken part as children in the island’s traditional music and dance events. Adam was already at school when he co- formed the Manx band King Chiaullee, who performed in South Wales in the Cwlwm Celtaidd Festival at Porthcawl.
Adam was also an ex-member with South Wales-based band Mabon, led by accordion master and prolific composer Jamie Smith, who was born in the town of Bridgend and lived in the Gwent valley town of Risca; Tomás often deputised with Mabon, playing searing fiddle. A couple of years ago, Jamie and his Manx-born wife Gráinne relocated to The Isle of Man; he subsequently formed Barrule with Adam and Tomás, an inventive offshoot trio exploring Manx music, recording two stunning albums. Adam lives in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, where he studied music technology, and Tomás lives in the island of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides, home to the University of the Highlands and Islands’ traditional music courses.
“Tomás and Adam have done a lot of research into the Isle of Man’s music, and some of the tunes they’ve unearthed are really quite similar in style to the music from my area in Cork,” said Ryan Murphy, Imars Cork-born uilleann piper and flute and whistle player. “We’re blending these elements to sound like one, even though these tunes might not have been played together for hundreds of years. ;At the same time, we do want to reflect all the different backgrounds, including Scotland, and we also have tunes from Cork that haven’t been widely played further afield. We will probably bring in some of our own compositions too, as well as other contemporary tunes.”
Ímar was named after a ninth-century Celtic king who ruled Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man, and the five members came together in the celebrated Glasgow traditional session scene. They have already amassed nine All- Ireland and eight All-Britain top prizes and titles between them – Ryan is also a double winner of the prestigious Oireachtas contest, and Mohsen won a clutch of awards, including BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year in 2016. Bodhran player Adam Brown celebrated his Scottish band RURA’s crowning as Live Act Of The Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards.
Spectacularly-costumed Dutch dancers Ralda, who are based in Raalte in the eastern Netherlands, will be coming to the festival and will be bringing international and Dutch folklore to the stage, providing folk dance and live folk music. Beside Dutch dances, their repertoire consists of foreign dances from countries like Hungary, Armenia, Serbia, Israel, Mexico, Russia and China. Ralda also has a floating band of musicians who accompany the dancers during performances.
For this festival, players of the diatonic accordeon, the clarinet, the double bass and a guitar will be coming. Ralda’s busy schedule has taken them to South America, and this year they will be travelling abroad at least four to five times.
The London-based Bulgarian Rhythms Folk Dance Club are a group of connoisseurs of Bulgarian folk who dance at the Bulgarian Cultural Institute London, with head dancer Anelia Trayanova.
This year, the festival will be celebrating a wealth of local music; On Friday night, Newport Folk Club will be sponsoring brilliant Brynmawr-born songwriter Huw Williams, champion Eisteddfod clog-dancer, adventurous guitarist, bizarre storyteller, Welsh bagpiper, manager of Cool Cymru ambassadors Calan and erstwhile half of a duo with Tony Williams, who conquered the folk clubs and concerts of Britain before they called it a day.
However, he was a vital member of the Welsh super-group Crasdant for many years, and he maintained his prominent profile by tutoring and teaching clog- dancing at national workshops. Huw is supported by Newport-born songwriter Phil Millichip, who outlined the bleak and dangerous South Wales coal industry in his song ;If I Had A Son championed and recorded by the famous and well-loved singer and musician Vin Garbutt.
Young South Wales musicians Morfa, consisting of sixteen-year- old multl-instrumentalist Meg Eliza Cox, fiddler and champion step-dancer Osian Gruffudd and guitarist Rhys Morris will be appearing, and so will be wonderful banjoist and guitarist Chris Moreton and his double-bassist wife Wendy; national daily journalist and songwriter Paul Lloyd Nicholas and his band will be in concert.
Two of the musicians who curated the ambitious William Shakespeare project will be coming to the festival; Bristol-based Sam Kelly will be appearing with his trio, and the Daria Kulesh Quartet celebrate Daria’s Russian and Ingush heritage, with leading acoustic guitarist Tristan Seume, Belarusian pianist Marina Osman and expert hammered dulcimer player Kate Rouse.
Song creator Charlie Dore and her guitarist Julian Littman (of Steeleye Span) will be the icing on the cake, and local ceilidh band Juice will be whipping up the dancing crowd on Saturday night, with veteran caller Dave Parsons. On Friday night, The Calennig Big Band will be performing in the ceilidh tent, with Pat Smith calling, and through the weekend Velha Bataria, the 15-piece samba band from Gwent, will be playing to the crowds.
Many Welsh, Cornish, English and Irish dance teams – including Cornish dancers Hevva, the Bassaleg-based Gwerinwyr Gwent, The Men Of Sweyn’;s Ey, Clocs Canton, Cobblers Awl, Cardiff Morris, India Dance Wales, Cwmni Gwerin Pont-y- Pŵl, Dawnswyr Blaenafon, Isca Morris, Shoostring and Brandywine Appalachian – will give free afternoon displays, and Gwent CAMRA will organise a real Welsh ales, cider and perry bar.
MAIN PICTURE: Radio 2 Folk Show presenter Mark Radcliffe celebrates with Ímar: from left to right, Adam Rhodes, Mohsen Amini, Ryan Murphy, Mark Radcliffe, Tomás Callister and bodhrán player Adam Brown