Ready For a Long Winter

Inspired by a journey; with FourWinds in our sails, from Glastonberry Pub to the Irish Embassy.

Text by Helen Borodina,

Photos by: Olga Tarasova, Artem Thegreat, Angelina Kotelnikova, Helen Borodina, John Harrison, The Irish Embassy

When I arrive at Glastonberry pub at soundcheck time on the last Saturday of October, I’m met by Fyodor Voskresensky, the organiser of Samhain Festivals since 2003 and singer for the folk-rock band Tintal. We don’t have the time to chat as my mission is to interview Four Winds – the Festival’s special guests from Ireland – so we arrange a telephone interview three days later. “Didn’t you think it was amazing how differently Samhain played out at Glastonberry Pub, at the Central House of Artists and at the Irish Embassy?” – he asks me then. I remember Ambassador McDaid‘s speech before the band played at the Halloween/Samhain reception at the Irish Embassy, when he talked about the holiday’s cultural significance over the years, how the festival started out in Ireland and influenced the creation of what we call Halloween the world over. I was  amazed. Yes, this was a transformational Celtic journey into winter.

 When I finally talk to Fyodor who holds a degree in management, but has been following his calling, namely, music, for almost twenty years, he explained that Samhain in Russia – originally, a Gaelic ‘feis’ – a festival of winter’s coming, has a very special meaning. “Of all the different interpretations of its etymology, we choose ‘gathering.’ People who share a love of the Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Breton cultures meet before a long winter. This tradition took root here because the right seeds fell on the right soil, proving that everything real, everything soulful continues, while everything artificial dies. This festival is a celebration of freedom that shows us, symbolically, a cycle of birth and death, the difference between the real and the fake. There are no ‘local’ and ‘foreign’ holidays or music; they’re either real, or not. Samhain is our way of expressing our creativity in an honest way. We don’t all know each other, but everyone who wants to join the celebration, is welcome. We will carry the flame of the festival through the winter, until we meet again in spring, on St Patrick’s Day in mid-March.”

A few hours before the Samhain Festival at Glastonberry Pub kicks off, Fyodor introduces me to Alexey Popov, owner of Veresk Productions, a folk dance foundation, known for its sean-nós (old style Irish step) dancing, and Tom Delany and Robbie Walsh of Four Winds. While the venue was still quiet, we talked over a drink.

Four Winds had just completed a tour of Australia. It’s their first time in Russia, and they were here only for five days. But Robbie, the drummer, and Tom, who plays the Irish elbow bagpipe, said that everyone in the band really loved the experience – even though it was a bit cold – and would like to be back with a tour to a few Russian cities.  “Actually, Alexey got in touch with us two years ago, but for different reasons, it hasn’t worked out until now”, – the band told me. “The Irish Embassy has shown us great support in making this possible,” Alexey added.

I’m curious to know what music they grew up with, what they listen to, where they play, if they’ve heard any Russian folk music, and what the secret to the popularity of Irish music all over the world is. They oblige me, explaining that the Irish are “very likable as a nation.”

“The music we play is very honest. It could be written by one of your neighbours. It means a lot for the people who play it. There’s something in the rhythm of Irish music that hits people. It’s a primal thing.”

They come from different parts of Ireland with different musical traditions. Knowing each other long before they got together as a band, they wanted a name that would fit their vision and background:

“When we came across the name, ‘Four Winds’, we thought it would fit us, give us a cool image: we were four different people, four different instruments and approaches. We liked the idea of the wind, because the wind is strong, and our music is really powerful…”

Originally, Four Winds are: Daoiri Farrell (vocals and bouzouki), Robbie Walsh (bodhrán, percussion, backing vocals), Tom Delany (uilleann pipes, whistles, backing vocals) and Caroline Keane (concertina, whistles, backing vocals). There was a change of one wind for the Russian tour, with Luke Ward as lead singer and bouzouki player.

“I grew up in a family with traditional Irish music, and also artists like Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones. I’m a folky 1970-s guy,” Tom explains, sipping his beer.

“I listened to all possible kinds of music as a child,” Robbie adds. “I was very open-minded.”

“How does it change you as a person when you travel to all the different countries?”  I ask.

“You come to understand that people are different everywhere, you grow more tolerant,”- says Tom. “You have no problem communicating in any environment. You understand that everyone has a different way about them and see that there’s no right or wrong. Even if you don’t speak the local language, it’s never a problem. You learn to communicate in other ways…”

“And there’s always someone who’ll take you under their wing,” says Robbie.

“We’re lucky that Irish music is so popular, but we think every country should promote its folk culture. We know that Russia is very rich in culture, and would like to hear some Russian folk music,” – they say, and ask for recommendation for souvenirs for when they do their tourist shopping.

Later, the Samhain is loud and crowded, with a medieval fantasy market of souvenirs and jewellery, a pub and two stages with bands and dancers so brilliant that, in all honesty, each deserves a mention. I wish I had had a chance to chat to all of them. Tintal, Four Winds, Harley McQuinn, Ars Longa, Teuffelstanz, Last Shilling, Land of Legends, Eikumena, Chenresi, Captain O’Mar, Argemonia, Teire School, Carey Academy, Shady Glen and Veresk made the festival bright and special.

I was lucky to talk to Sergey Alferov of Shady Glen, a dance school whose activities I’ve been watching throughout the years. At Samhain, he did dance workshops for the audience. The school teach all forms of Scottish dancing (SCD, Highland, Scottish soft-shoe step and Cape Breton step dancing), Welsh Folk dancing and Welsh clogging.

“We’ve planned a series of Ceilidh dance workshops for Russian kids and adults studying English at EF Education First, to take place in November-December 2017. We’re likely to throw a party to celebrate St. Andrew’s Day at the end of November-beginning of December. In the new year, we’ll celebrate Burns Night and hold a Highland dance competition,” Sergey says.

The Four Winds concert with Veresk and two other dance schools, at the Central House of Artists, – part of the Tretyakov Gallery and a famous venue for folk and rock music, located on the Museon Territory at Krymsky Val, attracted an audience of over 300.

Everyone who bought a CD wanted it autographed, and took a picture with the band. And, right before their night flight back to Dublin, the band gave a special concert for Ambassador McDaid and his guests. Like they had done at their two previous shows, they talked about their instruments and their music. When they played jigs, the audience could hardly keep to their seats. When we met at Glastonberry, I asked them about their favourite type of venues to play. Having seen them play in three different kinds of settings, from a reckless festival to an official embassy reception, I was once again reminded that it’s never about the place; it’s always about the music, and the ever-present curiosity we as humans have for the world we live in, and the love of  good company.






Four Winds “The Flags of Dublin”

Tintal (organizer) “Pipe’s not dead”

Alexey Popov (Veresk; another organizer) Irish sean nos – old-style step.

Land of Legends (Zemlya Legend)

Shady Glen

Please feel free to comment, and contact me for recommendations of Russian folk/folk-rock bands and events, as well as Irish and Scottish dance schools in Moscow.

By the way, Shady Glen, Veresk, Carey Academy and Teire School offer a free dance class for those who are thinking of trying it out.