IRISH & BRETON FOLK MUSIC at Casa Lourdes Sessions

Jean-Michel Veillon and Yvon Riou playing at Lourdeskerk in Scheveningen.

With the best will in the world, despite its magnificent Kurhaus and its miles of wide never-ending sandy beaches and undulating dunes, Scheveningen could not be described as beautiful. Its myriad higgledy-piggledy high-rise apartment and hotel blocks randomly plonked alongside the tramlines and lack of greenery do not make you want to linger in the streets of the town too long.

However, and a very large however, there is a very vibrant cultural scene in Scheveningen duevery largely to one man, Alessandro Bruti. Sandro, as he is known, was born in Holland to an Italian father and, in addition to his Casa Bruti and Dramtune soirées, organises events for the Lourdeskerk, an amazing church with the most eccentric centrepiece situated right behind the Circus Theatre.

Last night was the first Casa Lourdes Session and presented Sandro’s two main loves – music and Italian food. He is also passionate about Scotch whiskey but would not be drawn on which of the three was his real favourite.

The huge hall, with its splendid wooden vaulted roof, was laid out bistro style with tables and chairs with a large stage at one end. We were to be wined, dined and entertained by some wonderful Celtic folk music from Ireland and Brittany. Sandro had prepared a fine Italian buffet with anti-pasta and a tasty soup to sustain us through the long evening. Suitably fortified, we were ready for the music.

The original ancient Celts travelled up through Brittany, Cornwall, through Ireland and, giving England a wide berth (well, wouldn’t you?), arrived in Scotland taking with them their language, culture and music.

The first set was by an Irish instrumental duo, accordionist David Munnelly and Joseph McNulty on violin. The very personable pair took great pains to connect with the audience, often with a touch of the old Irish, blarney, and each tune was explained and introduced. There were rousing reels and melancholic airs, all played with amazing virtuosity and passion. There were some familiar tunes and many had the audience clapping along on the beat.

Despite Mr McNullty’s astounding fiddle playing it was his skill on the bodhrán that, for me, was the high-spot of the evening. The Irish percussion instrument has changed a lot over the years, both in design and playing style. They use to be like a very large tambourine without the little bells and the rhythms played on them fairly simple and predictable. But over the past forty-odd years the instrument has become more compact, with a much deeper wooden frame and a much smaller diameter – it has become almost like the Indian tabla. The sounds that came from this small drum played with one little stick were amazing.

Following the Irish set it was time for more refreshment, with coffee and some delicious panforte after which we were ready for the second part of the show – two Frenchmen from Brittany, Jean-Michel Veillon on flute and Yvon Riou on guitar.

The music of the evening’s two acts had a lot in common but the style and presentation were very different. Messrs Veillon and Riou were a much more sophisticated pair and their music much less soulful, less guttural. Some of the tunes played on Jean-Michel’s selection of flutes were almost jazzy at times and always played with undeniable virtuosity. Again, each tune was announced and its story told. Interesting and entertaining though both duo’s chat was, I couldn’t help but feeling there was a little too much of it – I want to hear the music, not a story about it. But that’s the thing with folk music, there is always a lot of history attached and a tale to tell.

After another short interval it was then time for the final set in which the four musicians got together for an invigorating folky jam session.

This was a long evening, starting at six and finishing shortly before eleven, but I think Sandro Bruti may well have hit upon a winning formula in a very comfortable, friendly and acoustically fine venue. I shall look forward to future events at Lourdeskerk and elsewhere in seaside Scheveningen.   Michael Hasted    9th November 2019

Photo by and © Astrid Burchardt