Bowerbird Triskel Christchurch, Cork

Is there a broadly acceptable definition of folk? In titling their event Bowerbird: Modern Folk & Beyond, the curators of this musical showcase flag it as an exploration of the folk tradition in 2012.

One thing is for sure: ever since Dylan went electric people have had strongly held convictions on what constitutes folk music.

Sam Amidon took to the stage playing his fiddle in a scratchy, atonal fashion, causing certain grey-haired gentlemen in the audience to begin sharing incredulous looks with each other. But there were fleeting moments of great potential in his set.

Friday night also saw Bowerbird co-curator Adrian Crowley and London harpist Serafina Steer take the stage. A Choice Music Award Winner he may be, but putting Crowley, and Amidon and Steer, on a bill purporting to explore notions of folk — which has Andy Irvine (inset) as the headliner — is like presenting an evening’s entertainment at the Roman Coliseum featuring sundry Christians and a selection of big cats and titling it Modern Predators and Beyond. You get the picture.

In his understated manner, Irvine delivered a peerless performance. Alternating between guitar, bouzouki and mandolin, he proved not only a gifted musician but also a rare teller of tales. The sublime ‘Brackagh Hill’ set the tone, but vivid pictures were also painted in the humorous reminiscences of the scene around O’Donoghue’s pub in the 1960s .

As the second night unfolded it became clear that the definition of folk was tenuous at best.

Under his Human Don’t Be Angry guise, former Arab Strap guitarist Malcolm Middleton is more indebted to bedsit indie than anything that emerged from Greenwich Village in the 1960s. He treated the audience to some beautiful ambient-tinged soundscapes before the great Martin Carthy regaled the audience with snippets of British folk history and some truly modern guitar playing.

The former Arab Strap frontman and lyricist Aidan Moffat has reinvented himself under the musical direction of Bill Wells, a musician who is steeped in jazz. Their alliance has struck pure gold in the shape of last year’s Everything’s Getting Older album. Backed by a subtle arrangement of double bass, trumpet and Wells on piano, Moffat shared his tales of love, life and death. but most especially his preoccupations on the carnal. It was a stunning end to an intriguing two nights.

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