2024 Swaledale Festival declared runaway success

Swaledale Festival - Ganda Boys with Echo Vocal Photo: Gray Walker - Scenicview Gallery Studio.

Over a packed fortnight in late May and early June, Swaledale Festival burst over the northern Dales, filling its chapels, churches and halls with classical, folk, world and jazz music, as well as film, theatre, comedy, talks and participatory workshops.

Polish saxophone quartet The WHOOP Group gave their first UK concert in Grinton church.

A dose of re-invention came from Baroque Alchemy in which Piers Adams and Lyndy Mayle reimagined Baroque music with dozens of recorders and a synth keyboard, resulting in a sound world in which traditional met electronic.

“The most stunning live concert I think I’ve ever been to,” said audience-member Alison Tupman.

“Gorgeous, innovative and fun. I’m blown away!”

Ugandan singers Denis Mugagga and Daniel Sewagudde, aka The Ganda Boys, performed a fun concert of soulful vocals and storytelling that delivered a powerful message. They were joined in the second half by the young choral group Echo Vocal Ensemble for Tweyanze!, a joyful mix of Ugandan folk music and British choral traditions.

Musical globe-trotting continued with AKA Trio, the result of 12 years of friendship between Italian guitarist Antonio Forcione, Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita, and Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adewale, who took us on a journey through Europe, Africa and South America in a life-affirming and unforgettable performance.

Mathilde Milwidsky returned to the Festival with her talented trio, delighting listeners with her virtuosic violin playing which included a solo piece by Ysaye that prompted one audience member to remark that she was surprised the violin didn’t catch fire!

On the eve of the 80th anniversary of the D-day landings, top cellist Raphael Wallfisch’s all-star quartet performed Olivier Messiaen’s deeply moving Quartet for the End of Time, which was composed and first performed in a WWII German prisoner of war camp.

There was an outstanding performance of Mozart, Richard Strauss and Tchaikovsky from the much-celebrated Brodsky Quartet with three special guests, and a superb concert by the Villiers Quartet, which included the world premiere of Alexander Goehr’s Sixth String Quartet ‘Onedering’.

Former BBC Young Musician of the Year, clarinettist Emma Johnson, and her Orchestra for the Environment performed rousing music by Puccini, Vaughan Williams and Tchaikovsky, as well as Emma’s own composition Tree of Life – a plea to address the climate crisis which comprised four movements linked by clarinet cadenzas mimicking bird song, and was accompanied by a projected montage of abstract images by artist Edward Hutchison.

Folk duo the Carrivick Sisters were amongst other artists who touched on the climate emergency. Their song Already Gone, inspired by extinct plants and animals, was performed alongside American-Bluegrass and music based on legends from their native South Devon.

There was foot-tapping a-plenty during the concert by Arthur Coates and Kerran Cotterell, who brought fast-strumming fingers, deft fiddle bowing and colourful socks to the Congregational Church in Reeth.

Jazz featured strongly in this year’s line-up, with a performance by the master of solo jazz guitar Martin Taylor, a concert of music composed by Dudley Moore played by the Chris Ingham Trio, and a performance by the meditative piano/saxophone duo of pianist John Law and saxophonist Jon Lloyd.

Local brass band concerts by Muker Silver Band, Reeth Brass Band and Leyburn Band were all sell-outs.

Aside from all this world-class music, there were five inspiring art exhibitions featuring work by local Dales artists, a superb theatre piece about composers Robert and Clara Schumann, and two contrasting film screenings – one about sustainable farming in England, and the other a tale about refugees made by a talented Iraqi film-maker.

Comedian Rich Hall had the audience at Tennants in Leyburn in hysterics with his rapid-fire banter and impromptu songs referencing local place names, combine harvesters and the Wensleydale Railway.

Keen walkers explored the area’s unique landscape in nine guided walks, and workshop participants tried their hand at stonewalling, ‘ink and stick’ art, poetry-writing, foraging and folksinging.

Swaledale Festival’s annual ‘Reeth Lecture’ (in Reeth, of course!) was given by author Colin Hall and broadcaster ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris on the subject of the compositions The Beatles gave away to other performers.

Behind the scenes, the Festival took outstanding musicians into four schools and four care homes to perform for pupils and residents, and arranged a singing workshop and concert in a prison that was hugely appreciated by inmates and staff. Tom Pattison, music teacher at Settlebeck School, said: “We were treated to an amazing morning of music from percussion wizard Delia Smith and harmonica star Will Pound that both students and staff thoroughly enjoyed. The level of musicianship was incredible. They showed a genuine passion for their craft and it was a privilege to have them perform and inspire our students. Thank you to the team at Swaledale Festival for organising this.”

Artistic Director Malcolm Creese said: “Sincere thanks to all the performers, audience members, supporters, staff and volunteers who made the 2024 festival such a runaway success.”

Swaledale Festival 2025 will run from 24 May to 7 June.