Davy Knowles kicks off Yn Chruinnaght

Davy Knowles in action at St German's Cathedral in Peel

Davy Knowles in action at St German's Cathedral in Peel

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There was something a bit different and a bit special about the opening act of this year’s Yn Chruinnaght on Wednesday night.

And for both the performer and the festival organisers, it was something of a venture into the unknown.

Davy Knowles, the Chicago-based blues guitarist who was born and raised in Port St Mary, returned to the island to play a concert at St German’s Cathedral in Peel as part of the annual festival, which celebrates the Manx culture and the relationship between the Isle of Man and the other five Celtic countries (Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany).

And at first it seems an odd pairing, with a musician who is blues rock through and through taking on a starring role in such a festival rooted in traditional folk.

However, the world of folk and local roots music has obviously inspired Davy towards a new direction, which he displayed at the cathedral launch event.

Playing alongside some of the most instantly recognisable names in Manx traditional music – namely David Kilgallon, Katie Lawrence, Ruth Keggin and Adam Rhodes – Davy showcased a wealth of new material influenced by both his own blues roots and Manx and Gaelic music.

Starting off with a couple of folk tunes, played in his own fluid style, he introduced his band for the night and played a set of original songs, and even a new traditional folk tune of his own, Drinking Dragon, named after the landmark on the south of the Calf of Man.

Played alongside David and Adam, and featuring what may be the first ever screaming lead guitar solo played on a mandolin, this gave an idea at the mix of influences and styles on show.

The end result sounded more from the deep south of America than the deep south of Port St Mary, with more than a nod towards the great American country folk players such as Steve Earle.

But that is no bad thing at all. Certainly, the packed crowd jammed into the cathedral gave their vocal approval.

A final word has to go to the children of Ballacottier School Choir. They joined in with Davy for a beautiful version of his now-traditional final song, Roll Awa. I think they made their choir leader very, very proud!

Other songs, namely the autobiographical Island Bound and the Americana of The Ballad Of Dee And Delta, gave a tantalising glimpse into an exciting project he is working on, also entitled Island Bound.

And while the mixing of blues and folk influences may not be an original concept, it was great to see Manx folk music being led down other paths.

The Yn Chruinnaght festival continues at a range of venues tonight and over the weekend.

To find out who is playing where and when, and for ticket details, see the event website at www.ynchruinnaght.

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