Edinburgh’s first Tradfest heralded the early dawn of summer this weekend, embracing all the folk arts in a variety of celebrations for Mayday. It also marks the beginning of the wave of festivals that will sweep across Scotland, flowing through the summer months, gently ebbing out into the autumn.
Encompassing all that is bold and beautiful about Tradfest, The Scottish Storytelling Centre played host to Andy Cannon – arguably Scotland’s greatest children’s storyteller – who reintroduced an ancient Scottish tradition with one of the most enduring legends of the English-speaking world.
The story of Robin Hood can be traced back through many hundreds of years and throughout this time has been retold, reinvented and re-enacted, creating in the process a timeless symbol of freedom and justice, of good conquering evil: a man of the people. But not, apparently, a man for all seasons.
For Robin Hood, we learnt today, has long been associated specifically with the celebrations and games of Mayday and has a tradition of being performed at this time of year here in Edinburgh, that dates back to 1498.
By 1560, the officials were apparently so fed up with the annual, rabble-rousing pilgrimage from down south that they refused to let them in but, in a lawless and heroic move worthy of Robin himself, the people of Edinburgh locked the councillors up and let the story-tellers in. Another victory for the peasants against the tyranny of the ruling class!
Joking aside, the right to tell stories, face to face, is a fight worth taking on and Andy Cannon is just the man to lead this particular revolution. Armed, as always, with only the bare essentials in relation to props and costumes, within minutes he had won over every one of the, admittedly meagre, audience.
On being informed that the traditional May Festival should be treated like a traditional panto, there was no-one unwilling to boo, cheer and chant. Never one to overlook the needs of his core audience, like a General he conducted the eager and gleeful participation of the young ones, masterfully bringing them back to order when necessary to further the plot.
It’s been nearly two years since Andy Cannon entertained children (and adults!) at the Traverse Theatre on the last Saturday of every month. Two long years, with only occasional, rare sightings. Soon after he left, Edinburgh officials closed Leith Waterworld and poured mountains of money into the holes they created all over the city for the promise of ‘trams’.
In my daughter’s mind these sad events are intrinsically connected. And in a similarly simple and child-like way I can’t help thinking, wouldn’t Edinburgh be a better place if this new Tradfest resurrected another old legend and locked the councillors up and let the storytellers in – this time for good?