With a set list that took in everything from jazz funk, classical, Celtic folk and sixties television themes, and some of the finest players on the live circuit, Feast of Fiddles provided an unsurpassable evening of entertainment.
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 area for the 13 musicians who appeared.
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/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 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.
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 – while Tempo’s Waltz, a slow piece from Finland, was a feature piece for saxophonist Alan Whetton,
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.
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 featured some nods to the work of Nicolo Paganini.
Peter Knight left the audience spellbound with the quality of his playing and narrative song writing skills during From a Lullaby’s Kiss, and Brian McNeill gave a brave, unplugged and 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 once again featured some fine ensemble playing.
Ivor the Knight was folk rock at its best, while Geronimo’s Cadillac 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.