Folk Amongst the Mills and Stone – Hebden Bridge Folk Roots Festival 2017

Hello fellow folk enthusiast.

It is true that everybody has heard of Cambridge Folk Festival, and Cropredy Festival, and why not? After all, they are big festivals with International renown and very good lineups.

Certainly fun times are had (I would love to get myself to one of the ones in Ibiza/Portgual)  but there still is indeed room for a different type of scene too now that festival season is upon us!

Hebden Bridge Folk Roots fits the bill as something different. It’s picturesque, full of crafts and nestled amongst rolling nature and inspiration and come festival season it is packing to the brim with musicians and artists in local pubs and venues waiting to entertain.

It is over now, but have a read of some of the people we saw (with sample video) and see if you would you might not be missing out on next year!

Hebden Bridge is picturesque and I have fond memories of the region as I used to live in nearby Huddersfield. Artistic yet surprisingly not aloof in the slightest, it is is good to see a place where so many of the trades here have opened up to host musicians. Some of the artists are from local regions (such as Plant and Taylor, Plumhall) but there are more nationally recognised acts too like O’Hooley and Tidow and Jess Morgan.

Hebden Bridge Folk Roots is a wonderful festival showcasing an array of talented musicians and performers (several who are local). It is all so good-natured, it feels like the people and businesses of Hebden Bridge have opened their doors and their hearts visitors in this weekend of artistic wonder. The place itself is great; I love the greenery and the atmosphere, and that there’s a lot of places to get good gin and food while you listen to someone you have been wanting to see in the flesh.

It’s not just folk and food though. There was also a good helping of storytelling events, family friendly events, and dance workshops that appeal across the board. From everything that takes place, I only see a small sample; so apologies for people missed out of this post.

What caught the eye? What acts am I taking away from this West Yorkshire painting of a place with it’s stream, trees and beautiful cut stone buildings?

Read on and you will see, there are a lot of bands and artists I was ready to hear but others that surprised and have now entered my musical radar.

 Bric-A-Brac/Bella Gaffney

Playing  in one of the main venues (the Birchcliffe Centre) the group Bric-a-Brac take the stage and showcase a potent blend of interesting original work and energetic interpretations of some folk classics. Being the highest capacity venue, it was good to go there (and take the regular, free minibus up the incredibly steep slope to the venue) and an honour to hear a future face of folk

Bric-a-Brac’s (along with member. Bella Gaffney’s solo) sets were astonishingly playful and fun, and quite polished. Singing some great songs rooted in history and wonder, I feel they are a group to keep an eye on for the future. They sing a number of tracks including “Queen of the Witch Elm”, a song about a mysterious skeleton found in a tree and the group’s musing on it’s origin. The ballad has a bouncing narrative that lends huge mystery to the topic of the song and their collection of instruments join together in a really pleasing way. “Staffordshire Man” is a classic West Midlands number which the band present in a bright and sightly way. The addition of the whistle gives it a more contemporary character (especially compared to the Jon Raven version) and with it’s blended male and female vocals it sounds great. It sounds less like it is dwelling in somewhere like the grounds of the Black Country Museum and instead brings the feeling of nature meeting industry in the middle, not unlike the historical town of Hebden Bridge itself. It is still pretty folky and even with these lighter touches is a great song. “Middle of Nowhere” about a “dodgy B&B” is an equally fun that showcased fiddle, whistle and guitar together. I love the addition of the electric bass guitar, it gives the band even more depth and Heather Sirrel clearly relishes the role as it rolls out wave after wave of gravelly, rock goodness.

From the bands I had not heard of all seen before, Bric-a-Brac top my list at Hebden for their choice of instruments, combined sound and historical themes. They even sung a song about a family living in a cave in Kinver, a place down the road from my hometown. Their different regional influences add flavour to the mix, for myself they are a great young ambassador for the commitment of young folk with a slight Midlands edge. http://www.bricabracmusic.co.uk/

Of course there is also Bella Gaffney’s solo set. When she is not playing guitars and adding some cool vocals to Bric-a-Brac, she is playing her own music really well indeed. What stands out from Bella’s set is the amount of range that she gets out of the acoustic guitar. Thoroughly practised and tied up in a folky way to Bradford, she is to Bradford what Lucy Ward is to Derby, a singer and performer who could be a face for the region. A lovely set which as you listen to you realise there is something distinctly non-run-of-the-mill about her, check out the sample. http://bellagaffney.weebly.com/

Klonk!

We also catch a bit of the “Klonk!” set. A klezmer group with more electric instruments than I’ve seen one room before, they go to work quickly getting the audience on their feet. Playing in “The Trades Club”, a kind of musical enclave which feels like a place where musical history is made must be great because the room is setup so as much dancing can take place as possible. I spot one older man was so pumped he was moving (and falling) before the music even started. Klezmer music gets the heart pounding, it seems true and it’s rhythms are the strong thread wound throughout all modern music. It certainly appeals to the soul and the body and Klonk!’s music is energetic, gypsy-jazz that short-circuits your compulsion to sit and shakes your quiet sensibilities to the core. Highly recommended the speed that they play is breath-taking, a treat in every way; they also take on the “James Bond Theme” and “Rage Against the Machine”. Their website is here- http://www.klonk.co.uk/

Jess Morgan and the Light Band

Recognised roots singer Jess Morgan also treads the stage and performs a loaded pistol of tracks from her recent album “Edison Gloriette” An emotive, and licquorice voice she brings the beating heart of the subject matter to the surface. “A Hundred Years Old” sees Morgan showcasing some solid strumming and a pained, humble and sensitive portrayal of a woman in a kind of limbo  between how her hearts feels and how she should act, maybe in the latter stages of a relationship. “Don’t meet your heroes” has a fascinating kind of stepped melody and delivery that is like the steely stare on a wise face; she doesn’t take any nonsense in this song. “In Brooklyn” is a favourite. With the child-like imagination fully interacting with the urban, and the idea of one or two lives mixed up in that time and place seemed to find a way is captured without obviously referencing New York. I mean there is seemingly talk of the carousel in Central Park, and I can picture the library in Brooklyn but it is like an insider’s recollection; it takes me back to my own trips there with it’s kind of drenching sun and nostalgia. It is good to see her at last. http://www.jessmorgan.co.uk/

O’Hooley and Tidow

They were nominated for the Radio 2 Folk Awards this year. No, they did not win but this injustice did not deflate their affable, impeccably warm show at Hebden Bridge. It would be an understatement to say they did not disappoint.

With a bright halo of showmanship and a springy step of enthusiasm, O’Hooley and Tidow’s begin their set with one of my favourites, “The Cut” and my enthusiasm did not stop there, it only went skyward.  The music is infused with a screaming piano cabaret that is glamourous from tip-to-toe and certainly an interesting bedfellow with their reverence for Yorkshire. We are treated to a number of their songs that take on the task of publically celebrating women and sharing some dashing personalities we would otherwise would not hear of. “Gentleman Jack” a raucsous number that was as bawdy as the character herself. With lyrics such as, “Their husbands are coming, you’d better start running For nobody likes a Jack-the-Lass” you’ve got to admire the duo’s penchance for bringing exceptional characters through their song be it scounderels or saints. It is kind of a folky alternative to similarly themed song “Doctor James” by Gilmore & Roberts which hopefully through time will be part of a larger body of songs rewriting history books. They also perform “Beryl”, about the multi-award winning cyclist (Beryl Burton) who from the 50’s onwards was pretty much unbeaten in a number of competitive categories but compared to her male sports counterparts was barely a footnote in history.

It was not all songs about amazing women though. There were also songs about beer. Murphy’s Saloon (a much less crude version than variations I have frequented) and their version of “All For My Grog” are well received with the effective and jaunty melody in a bit of a squeeze box interlude from their limited edition work “summat’s brewin'” about English drinking. The tour of their music continues with a song written for their wedding “Big, small love” from Kathryn Williams as well as sad elephant song “Blanket”, and national identity seeking “Made in England”. A bit like a pickle tray in a curry house there is a lot to choose from yet it all goes with the evening (of poppadoms?)

A rich, comprehensive set of many of their hits you feel there are no songs left out at all. Just the two performers, their instruments and the curtains drawn close, the scene is set for a showstopping headline act. http://ohooleyandtidow.com/

Other Bands

The Mather Robinson Band played a quite retro folk sounding set that didn’t hold back, Rod Clements brought some quiet nuance to the afternoon with songs such as “the ghost in blue suede shoes” and popular “Meet me on the corner”.

Fine guitar work from Plant and Taylor is pretty entrancing and other duo, Plumhall are quite affecting in their highlight- a rendition of “Cold Harbour” from their upcoming album.

 

Other Stuff 

Storytelling

I love a good story, the creepier the better. Thankfully this wish was taken care of during the afternoon on Saturday at the Festival.

 

There is not too much to say about the Ghost Walk at the festival, except that it was great. Ursula Holden-Gill took a small crowd through the streets and bustle of Hebden Bridge centre, and despite the traffic and large number of people about, it still proved an intimate and interesting way to spend the time as modernity melted away. Great for the family, her stories are quite ghastly in places but there were are some (slightly) lighter references to Robin Hood and much of Hebden Bridge’s quite sordid past. Fully in character she entertained all, there is something rather special about seeing so many younger children paying attention and being taken in by the horror stories of yesteryear. I recommend whether during festival season or not, Holden-Gill spins a good yarn and thankfully errs on the side of the fantastical with her stories. The best female storyteller we have seen to date. http://www.ursulaholdengill.com/

 

A mild interlude to the strings of musical gigs, sessions and storytelling taking place, even the streets themselves could not fully contain the full extent of talent on display. Even me, a bit of a Morris sceptic enjoyed quite a bit of dance in the centre (400 Roses were tops for me with their alt-morris look and fantastic coloured and braided hair), but that was not all. How long it has been since I’ve seen a one-man band I cannot say, but this combination of music and dance is something else. A head-turner and one of the most popular displays.

 

It is a fun weekend, an enormous array of musicians and a relaxed yet professional festival there seems something quite timeless about the place.

Lots of love going this way, I recommend taking the quieter path next year and seeing what the fuss is about here.

Keep an eye on the website for next year’s festival where there are “Super Early Bird” Tickets already https://www.hebdenfolkroots.org/

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