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The Feast of Fiddles group in action; image courtesy of Martin Oldham

The Feast of Fiddles group in action; image courtesy of Martin Oldham

Feast of Fiddles 2019 tour hits Hastings!

To celebrate their silver jubilee, the Feast of Fiddles, ‘Britain’s fiddling supergroup’ (as described by Radio 2’s Mark Radcliffe) are embarking on a UK tour and will make a stop in Hastings, this Saturday 30 March at St Mary in the Castle. HOT’s Jordan Dixon spoke to the group’s founder Hugh Crabtree to learn more about them.

25 spring tours, 24 festivals and seven albums. An impressive resume for a group that was born for just a special one-off concert. The Feast of Fiddles were merely an appetiser when in 1993 Hugh Crabtree, a singer, melodeon player and surprisingly not a fiddle player, wondered if he could persuade half a dozen of the UK’s finest fiddle players to perform in front of his barn dance band Whittaker’s Patent Remedy.

On Valentine’s Day 1994, Hugh had managed to recruit the best fiddle players the UK had to offer and the group were set to perform at the Nettlebed Folk Club. One could only imagine the success that was to follow as the group discussed their repertoires and put together a rough set list within the club’s car park. From rehearsing all afternoon, to taking to the stage for the first time, the group were an instant hit amongst the viewing and knowledgeable club members.

Their one-off concert would morph into yearly performances at the club, before taking on four more dates. Hugh’s vision became a captivating show of massive dynamic range and wide-ranging fiddling playing styles. But despite the demand and positive feedback, the group insisted on performing only once per year. To date, their spring tour and the odd festival are the only time audiences can witness their talents. In Hugh’s words, “Catch [us] when you can!”.

The group performing during their 2009 tour; image courtesy of Jacqueline France

The group performing during their 2009 tour; image courtesy of Jacqueline France

Current line-up

The band currently consists of fiddlers Peter Knight, Chris Leslie, Brian McNeill, Ian Cutler, Tom Leary and Garry Blakeley, who each perform their range of fiddle-playing styles to the rock back-line of guitars, keyboards, sax and accordion; held together by legendary drummer Dave Mattacks, as well as the behind-the-scenes efforts of Hugh, who also serves as the night’s compere.

“There are six different stories about each fiddle player’s background and how they got into playing”, says Hugh.

While many perform throughout the year with their own bands, others have day jobs. Some members of the group have performed alongside the likes of the Rolling Stones, Sir Elton John and Sir Paul McCartney. Brian McNeill has previously published two novels and Ian Cutler was only 19 when he played the violin in the 1972 cult film The Wicker Man.

A young Ian Cutler performing in The Wicker Man.

A young Ian Cutler performing in The Wicker Man.

In spite of their group’s success, the art of fiddle-playing is surely a new sound to many. When asked about how the group’s performances draw in new listeners and sceptics, Hugh stated, “Two things are consistently said to us during our tour:

1) “I was dragged along by my friends and I never thought I’d like it but thanks goodness I came because I’ve loved it!”

2a) “My son/daughter wanted to learn to play the fiddle having seen you.”

2b) “My son/daughter had given up on his/her fiddle playing so I brought him/her to see you. He/she has been really inspired to have another go”.

Entertaining the sceptics

He concluded, “I think Feast of Fiddles makes fiddle music, traditional music and performing music very accessible and clearly great fun. If there’s one thing I take pride in from this band it’s our ability to entertain the sceptics”.

After 25 years, I asked what are the group’s aspirations beyond their current tour, and whether they were looking to break through internationally. “The band is getting on a bit and the busy diaries of the full-time professionals means global domination is not on the agenda,” Hugh stated.

“We’d love to perform in the States and at one of the established folk festivals in Europe, but we mostly just love doing our annual spring tour together and any festivals that come along,” he continued. “Any organisers or programmers reading this, you know where to find us!”

For now you can catch the Feast of Fiddles in action this Saturday 30 March at St Mary in the Castle, showtime 7.30pm. 

Only balcony seats are available. Tickets cost £23.50. Book here.

To learn more about the group and its members, you can visit their website or find them on Facebook.


Posted 20:46 Thursday, Mar 28, 2019 In: Music & Sound

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