Being (in probability), the most remote venue we have been to, outside of a music festival, we find the Wainsgate Chapel on the outskirts of Hebden Bridge really hits us in the face with it’s beautiful setting and stunning rural Yorkshire views. It is also our first post lockdown music gig in person (and our two year old daughter’s first ever gig) so there are equal parts of nervous expectation and blessed relief all round to seeing live music again. Some infant distractions aside, we are able to witness two beautifully performed 45 minute sets that blended into the old wooden eaves of the chapel in a delightful interplay of new and old.
This joyous embrace of old and new is witnessed in the first act. Carol Hodge sings and walks down from the church pulpit like navigating a smoke-filled staircase in a classy jazz bar. Known as the seven fingered songwriter, Carol Hodges plays a set with a voice and songs full of passion and delightful inner turmoil. Performing a set of songs that resonate with the theme of moving on from difficult situations, we find these insights are a perfect match for the beautiful, honest and from the heart lyrics. A singer-songwriter with several accolades, she has in recent months released her third album, “The Crippling Space Between”.
Stand out numbers include, “Fallibility”, a great addition to the set as one of those painfully honest Dear John letters in song form. Slightly less thrashing than the recorded version, it seeps an almost early 90s girl group earnestness (before it got swallowed up by “girl power”) that clatters with the sounds of soft metal and heavy rock. Hodge also impresses with, “Along for the Ride”, the wistful and optimistic piano-led track that uses cool pitch changes and chords that navigate a topic that weave between anger and acceptance like a loom weaving a Queen Band tea-towel. Distinctly musical and mildly dramatic, it would not be out of place in a stage musical involving motor-bikes and a rite of passage between being young and care-free (yeah!) to a suburban life with lots of responsibilities (boo!).
Our favourite number that appears is “Curtain to Fall” which is an ode to everyone involved with the music industry whose work was affected by the lockdown. Naturally topical at present, it reminds us that nothing, not even Covid, can stop the music industry. Dwelling in the psychological gap left by musicians when their performance space is pulled from them; this could be a powerful addition to any musician’s playlist in their first post-lockdown gigs. With the hallmarks of that signature singer-songwriter number, it’s sadness and depth of conviction is a lens on this time and space; and however sad it makes us feel, we love it.
After the second break, we then return with the Birds & Beasts.
We will confess to already being massive fans of Birds & Beasts. We first saw them perform whilst I was pregnant with my daughter, at another famous Hebden Bridge venue, so I am excited for this follow up act. For those not in the know, “Birds and Beasts” are a Huddersfield-based folk-rock duo who write with animals in mind. The songs go beyond just animal inspiration though; they are interesting in that they are incredibly close to the lives of the beasts around and often the songs hold a mirror up between these and the human lives that are listening.
Here at Hebden Bridge they harken to the darker corners of the church with their presence. Anna and Leo’s set focuses on their more acoustic first album rather than the current hot property that is their second album “Kozmik Disko” that launched the previous weekend. It all works well.
The Birds and Beasts entertain with a collection of songs that brim over with that joyful 60s and 70s Summer vibe where the folk sounds call to the trees, the beaches and those vibrant places in the sun. There is a lot to like here including “Time Stands Still”, a song about a murder of crows lamenting the death of an elder. It is a song guaranteed to move anyone who has recently lost a loved one, it certainly hit a personal, moving chord with ourselves. The song features Anna beautifully playing a 22 string Irish harp with a chilling melancholy (which sadly had to be put away afterwards due to the cold temperature) .
There are some other dreamlike numbers here such as “I May Fly”, a song not from their albums. It is a short, sweet and punchy song about what the mayfly can achieve in the small lifespan that it has. Like their other songs, this is an apt metaphor to our human lives and our own potential. It was so short that it made Blur’s Song 2 feel like a Greek epic in length. The song culminated in some excellent guitar playing by Leo.
“Medusa” with it’s short, upbeat and catchy lines gives a hint of their new material to come (is it too early to get excited for a third album?); and “In The End” is an ode to being able to be with your loved ones again in the near future. In subject, it is about red deers in Ann’s homeland of Germany with the feeling that it equally applies to both the experiences of families divided by the Berlin wall, and the recent Covid lockdown that inspired it. It is performed with uplifting passion and a bright hope for the future, like many of their songs.
Leaving the gig feeling uplifted by a beautiful couple of hours of live music to get us through the drive home, we can’t wait to return to the venue for its next set of gigs in the new year. After all, in Carol Hodge’s words, “we will never be ready for the curtain to fall.”
For more information about Carol Hodge see her webpage here, and read about Birds & Beasts here.
Looking ahead to Hebden Bridge Folk and Roots Festival ( 11th-13th May!) we are hoping it is going to be a sun-drenched affair with ice-cream, cool beer and the faint rustling of leaves on the breeze. If it’s not.. well, at least we will still have the music! Before it all kicks off we managed to catch up with some of the musicians at the festival and were delighted to hear what they had to say.
Tickets are available to collect from the Hope Baptist Chapel in Hebden Bridge at 2pm on the first day, Friday 11th May 2018.
First of all we spoke to Henry Priestman, a man who has been in the music business quite a while (over 38 years) who whilst in the band, The Yachts supported some impressive talent such as The Who and The Sex Pistols and contributed to the world in a huge number of other musical projects. We caught up with him to hear his thoughts.
I: Tell us more about yourself?
Henry: My name is Henry Priestman. I used to be songwriter/member of The Christians (big in the 80’s/90’s, ask your Mum about them!), and before that, new wave band Yachts (ask your Grandad about them!). I released my debut solo album The Chronicles of Modern Life in 2008, and have had an amazing time in the last ten years, at this new cottage industry level, on the folk/singer/songwriter circuit. Wembley Arena? Been there, done it, give me Hebden Bridge anyday!
I: Describe your music in five words?
Henry: Radio 2’s Johnnie Walker, he called it “Music for grumpy old men”!! Me, I’d go for “wry, poignant, warmth, protest, mayhem”
I: What’s your favourite song to perform and why?
Henry: Probably my song “We Used To Be You”, a song about kids leaving home to go to University (or a job away)…I love seeing how each verse resonates with certain members of the audience…I feel I can hear them saying “yes, that was us when young Billy left home”!
I: What are you looking for to most about performing at the festival?
Henry: Returning to Hebden Bridge for the first time in 4 years…love the place…also will be great to be back with my band The Men of a Certain Age.
I: Who else are you looking forward to seeing perform at the festival?
Henry: Especially looking forward to meeting up again with quite a few people I’ve performed with in the past…a while back I did a Hebden Bridge songwriter circle with Steve Tilston and Roger Davies, and Reg Meuross and I have also done a few joint gigs together, so will be great to see all them again. And Jon Palmer and band have done Beverley Festival and Folk on the Farm Festival a number of times on the same bill as me, and they’re always good value!
I: What’s next for you after the festival?
Henry: A house gig at Spurn Point the next day!…then a good lie-down, followed by more dates throughout the year
Henry Priestman will be performing at Hope Baptist Chapel at 9.15pm on the Saturday 12th May. For further information on Henry Priestman visit www.henrypriestman.com.
Mambo Jambo describe themselves as an acoustic-roots duo. With an uplifting sound and vast, almost continent-spanning array of instruments they have many tools in their arsenal and look to be a fabulous addition to the festival.
I: Tell us more about yourselves?
Mambo Jambo: This is what our website says about us! “Acoustic Roots duo, Mambo Jambo, might just be the biggest acoustic duo you’ll ever see. A truly unique two-piece with their own rhythmic and joyful sound, they’ll take you on a musical journey with a mash-up of sounds from roots, world, folk and jazz, plus their own compositions. With Frankie on sax, vocals, clarinet, flute, guitar and spoons plus other percussion and Pete on guitar, vocal, ukulele, tres (traditional Cuban guitar), banjo, accordion and suitcase ! Pete and Frankie have been gathering admirers at shows and festivals the length and breadth of the country. A fabulous musical treat is in store wherever they roll up, their tour bus packed to the brim!”
I: Describe your music in five words?
Mambo Jambo: Multi-instrumental Whirlwind of joyful roots music.
I: What’s your favourite song to perform and why?
Mambo Jambo: We don’t really have a favourite song as such; we keep it fresh for the audiences and ourselves with variety, variety of styles,moods and instruments. People often describe our shows as a musical journey and we don’t want to pick out just one musical stop off along the way!!
I: What are you looking for to most about performing at the festival?
Mambo Jambo: We’re looking forward to bringing a whole range of diverse roots music ourselves to the festival. We’re thrilled to be part of this festival with it’s great line up, we love the fact that there’s loads of great stuff going on in in venues, in the community and on the streets – all sorts of stuff going on!
I: Who else are you looking forward to seeing perform at the festival?
Mambo Jambo: We’re really looking forward to seeing all the musicians who are playing the same day as us, some of whom we’ve seen at other festivals they and we have played at, including Tantz, Mestisa, Don’t Feed The Peacocks. Also Steve Tilston; Musicians of Bremen, 309s; G-Runs And Roses; and we’ll try and catch all the bands and musicians we haven’t seen before; so many great bands for us (and all the audiences) to discover! Not forgetting the storytelling sessions and workshops!
I: What’s next for you after the festival?
Mambo Jambo: We are constantly touring, which we love. So we’ve got a tour of the South West coming up, playing in venues in Bristol, Bath, and other venues in Somerset and Devon. Then a couple of festivals including The Big Malarkey Festival, Childrens Literature Festival where we’ve been commissioned to present some different workshops. Two other festivals we’ll be playing at are Beverley Puppet Festival, and a Cycle Festival in North Yorkshire. Later in the year we’ re playing some shows in Europe – lots of interesting playing for us this year! We’ve also got a fair few workshop sessions and school projects coming up, and are planning to do some recording in between all the touring!
Mambo Jambo will be performing at the Trade Club on Sunday 13th May at 3pm. For further information on Mambo Jambo visit http://mambojambo.co.uk.
Once again, further information on the festival, its line-up, programme and to book tickets visit www.hebdenfolkroots.org.
Tickets are available to collect from the Hope Baptist Chapel in Hebden Bridge at 2pm on the first day, Friday 11th May 2018.
Persistent in the yearly calendar, Hebden Festival has been going for a little while now showcasing music from far and wide but what is it about for those who have never been?
Hebden Bridge is nestled within the Upper Calder Valley as a place from history that has been known as “trouser town”, been a reception area for individuals in the wars relocating from urban cities, and a hotspot for politics, creativity and tourism. It is friendly and characterful with a cool town centre and a beautifully green and verdant feel being a place of choice for walkers, climber, hikers and the outdoorsy. It is a nice place, but what about the festival?
It is what it says on the tin, a festival of folk and roots music. It does this through the wonderful efforts of Hebden Bridge Creative types who have put the beacons out that and gathered the heart of roots music and the soul of folk music to it’s old stone buildings, song to the taverns and stories to the very glade itself. While it is stitched together so nicely with so many acts, it is also relaxed with a bohemian feel and a family friendly ethos.
There is something incredibly celebratory and characterful about the whole place, for adults, children and generally lovers of music. If you love live listening to music with the Countryside on your doorstep, this is your place. But for those who are still not sold..
HERE ARE 5 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD GO
(1) Its picturesque
Hebden Bridge is definitely what you would refer to as a place of enchanting beauty. I’ve already been harping on about this a lot, but words cannot truly describe. Rather than go on and on even more, take a look at where this is all happening and get yourself a ticket!
(2) It has local, established and upcoming talent
The Festival is very rooted to musical happenings from this part of the world but also from further afield. One of the venues, the first floor of the Trades Club is an incredibly well know, popular and celebrated site that regularly gets voted as a finalist for the NME Small Venue of the year award. Formed in history as a co-operative, it is even now member’s co-operative again. The history is one thing, the music is another. Last year the roof was pretty much being raised by the Klemzer Bands in there. Energetic, joyful and atmospheric it is one venue amongst many that get the senses going.
There is also a great, ranging musical spectrum of artists this year. There is expert guitarist “Ewan Mclennan”, the political “Reg Meuross” and the recognisable “Steve Tilston” and these are just the bigger names. Of these artists, Reg Meuross, Steve Tilston, and John Palmer will be performing at the Hope Baptist Chapel a fine acoustic setting that reopened in late 2017. There is also something here if you like historical song from Calderdale (Ghost School), the songs of Woodie Guthrie (Will Kaufman), Latin America (Mestisa), and swing (309’s) or Americana (Farrago); just as starting examples. There is undoubtedly something new and exciting to discover in this lineup, go and see what Calderdale is all about!
(3) There is intrigue as well as music
It is not just music that Hebden Folk and Roots are known for. There is, of course, a ceilidh for people who cannot keep their feet still on Friday night and other opportunities to dance along with street entertainment.
The festival is also home this year to storytelling as Ursula Holden Gill takes you along a “grisly ghost walk” of Hebden Bridge (which is entertaining and appropriate for children also) and there is also Shonaleigh, an accomplished storyteller of the Drut’syla tradition who has travelled and performed in London, Europe, New Zealand and the US bringing her work to schools and community groups.
If storytelling is not your thing, there is comedy and street theatre from Mike Hancock, folk dancing, and “Fire Man Dave” (circus skills) to keep you and the little ones entertained. Whether inside a venue or outside in the beautiful sun, it’s going to be a great weekend with something to learn!
(4) There are fine taverns with their own musical goings on
If you need a break and the formality of a line-up gets too much, there is a chance to walk the cobbled streets and grab a refreshing drink from several of the fine pubs that Hebden Bridge has to offer. From the “White Swan” to the “Fox and Goose”, from the “Old Gate” to the “Shoulder of Mutton” and the “Famous Albert” there are many stops to refuel, eat and drink and be merry. Hebden Bridge also boasts some small, accomplished cafes and bars which are also opening their doors such as “Mooch” and “Drink” for Coffee addicts if alcohol is not on your preferred drinks list. The food is also excellent here.
The cool bit is not just that they are serving as ususal, they also have their own programmes of music running through the weekend with many local bands making an appearance and entertaining you through your third latte. A warming coffee and some good music is a good way to end the night.
We really think its difficult not to come away from Hebden Bridge without something unique and special to remember your time there, check them out!
And there you have it. A music festival, but also a weekend experience in itself, and one we are looking forward to very much.
If you are interested in going, check out the website and get yourself some tickets. There is the option of camping, day tickets and weekend tickets, the website is a good resource for finding out other information about the area too at https://www.hebdenfolkroots.org/.
The Box Office is open from 2pm on Friday 11th May 2018, so pop in.. say hi, and get yourself a ticket!
Hi everyone. Quite a bit of time has passed since my last festival post and as the cold sets in to it’s fullest we have snow as far as the eye can see (well it is here). Before the hot rays return I wanted to bring you a roundup of some of the things that we saw at Derby Folk Festival a few months back (ESPECIALLY AS THE LINEUP FOR 2018 is looking pretty colossal!)
Derby is quite a central place and relatively easy to get to, so we do enjoy travelling down and seeing what is happening.
For those who have not managed to get there yet, it is a friendly festival wit venues that aren’t too far from each other, and always a good and varied lineup across the range of Folk genres and popularity. We think in all ways it gets the balance good for an inner-city festival). There is also ceilidh, often some dance workshop and plenty of public displays too that make it a fun few days.
Thinking about Derby Folk Festival, the first rather small (but important) point to note is the Main Marquee. Every year its a sight to see. It’s a big space sitting in the very heart of Derby’s art quarter which ends up weathering an potential weather storms at the quite late time of year. In 2016, the rain fell and got everywhere. Let us say the Marquee seemed to take a bit of a battering and the Gods seemed displeased. This year the Marquee is reinforced, looks a lot more solid like a great metal tree awaiting the harshest of elements. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the weather didn’t come so it wasn’t put to the test. It still looked great though.
Another thing about the festival is there is plenty to see, some cool food vans, many great bands and the lovely yearly addition of Adverse Camber (more on them later). Apologies if you or your band are not mentioned below, we have taken a chance to highlight some of the lesser-known artists this year. The rest of you, I will catch up with you shortly I am sure!
So.. lets get to the music! Rather than go day-by-day, let me point out some of the great stuff that springs to mind that I would recommend and makes the festival special.
A young folk bicep of a group flexing their musical muscles, “Rusty Shackle” is an energetic start to the festival. From Wales, the groups comes across as a sometimes understated indie voice, sometimes a fine mirror to Billie Joe Armstrong; either way they have an incredibly broad range. One minute it is the broad anthem of “King Creole”, a song of self worry and ruin, the next it is a surprising medley of numbers including the wonder of “Touch My Bum” (The Cheeky Girls) which got a few nods of recognition. They certainly have a sense of humour too, and it is this fresh-faced, joy and fun that make them a very good gateway to folk for a young crowd; they are a veritable folk aperitif. Other fast and melodic numbers include the quite sweet number “3AM” with a welcome bit of banjo riffing, the denser more urban and expansive “When the Morning Comes”, and a personal favourite “Down to the Valley” that reminds of the best of 80s pop in a direct collision with Show of Hands at the top of their game.
It is all a sweet sound indeed with electric guitar, fiddle, banjo and drums and trumpet laying down spritley, rocking and seriously entertaining set of tunes you should check out. They are also a pretty industrious bunch being on an extensive tour so see their website and perhaps check them out here.
The Rheingan Sisters
A duo of artists that spring to mind the Rheingan Sisters’. We see one of their sets (they actually have two different sets over the festival), and are on very good form,
Fantastic as always with excellent fiddle technicality and songs of evocative soundscapes, we caught them as they were trialling some new material much of which revolved around French bal music and other influences from the region. They did “Cuckoo” from their “Already Home” album as well and this was rich and deep as ever. This allows us to lose ourselves in the ballroom amongst the party of strings. One of their new numbers took us into the depths of forests, in a sweeping and glorious portrayal of environmental destruction, and this was our favourite. Epic and contained like a jack-in-the-box, the Rheingans continue to impress and make a mark. We are just a little dismayed we did not catch their full set (our fault, nowhere elses). Details of their projects can be found here.
Adverse Camber – Dreaming The Nightfield
Burning brightly from a number of past intriguing shows, Adverse Camber return to Derby Folk Festival with performance, story and song about the old book of tales written in Middle Welsh, the Mabinogi. We have seen them on more than one occasion and the fire is still there in their performances. It is quite a treat to see something drawing on old history and myths from our own isles, and I am saying this absolutely loving the older shows from Persia (the Shahnameh show the other year) and their more Nordic sagas.
It is a warming experience for Derby to let the Storytelling in, after all stories and myth aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. Whichever side one falls on, here it certainly adds to the variety of what is on show and delivers a quieter (but not too much!), individual first night at the festival. It is quite a sensory, word-spinning reflection of a show and as such it brings a different kind of wonder to the corner of the Guildhall for a night.
Telling some stories of the fair and just lord of Gwnedd, Math fab Mathonwy, Pryderi the lord of Dyfed, a magician (Gwydion), heroes (Lleu Llaw Gyffes) and a woman made of flowers (Blodeuwedd) there are lots of enchanting tales, and as with many stories from history; usually a moral involved (especially with Blodeuwedd). The wonders keep coming.Whether it is (literally) magic mushrooms transforming into golden shields, a plot involving the theft of especially tasty pigs or (my personal favourite) the part where the great lord transforms his son into a series of animals (and learns the creatures’ natures) there is a lot to digest, and like a fine stew more the better for it. The three storytellers Stacey Blythe, Lynne Denman, and Michael Harvey all have their time to shine as musicians and singers in turn with Michael Harvey taking the lead with recounting the stories. The music is stirring and the stage evolves alongside the story which is a pretty special thing to see.
What happens is that throughout the show the cast carry and assemble of series of sticks in what at first seems like a kind of sculpture maze, but it becomes apparent that it is forming the aspects of the stories so the sticks are representing either creatures, mountains or even dead soldiers. The movement of the sticks actually grounds the play and connects the artists to the environment, the touch of dynamism is welcome and it is intriguing to see how the sticks assemble together and actually balance. It is a pleasure to see the company’s continued creative use of set pieces in their shows.
Alongside Naomi Wilds (producer) they have put together a close to home, wondrous series of stories that will leave you wanting more of the magic and more of the myth from those rainy, misty Welsh valleys. We heartily recommend, as of the time of writing there are two more dates coming early 2018 for the show if you can make them, have a look here.
Robyn Johnson joins a (growing) list of female acoustic musicians this year who are convincing me that you do not necessarily need a full band to create a good variety of songs and feelings. Admittedly and embarrassingly at time we at FP find solo guitar acoustic artists a little wanting and numbing. Of course there are always exceptions, and this is not knocking guitars of any shape or size, we just require more convincing. Let us say however that this year we have come to out senses a little bit more on this issue.
Under the banner of Village Folk (excellent hosts in and and out of the Derby Folk Festival, see here), Robyn emerges riding a midnight blues train that has a few folk-town stops along the way. Johnson played some delightfully understated and rhythmic entries such as “Say it with wine”, a lyrically break-dancing tune that wears a bit of a Country and Western hat. Sweet and vulnerable it probes modern living and anxieties in what is an essential piece of acoustic listening. There is also the exploratory, evocative “midnight ramble” which Johnson plays to warmed up, appreciative and rapt audience. Midnight Ramble has particular interest due to it being written about the characterful characters and experiences gathered while the inner town of Derby late on a Friday night, it has everything “Gypsies selling roses”, propositioning men, and a swirling blues ambience.
“Plastic Bag Fairy” is a demonstration of Johnson’s excellent acoustic guitar times and tones; as the first song she wrote it is interesting to see how it contrasts with the rest of her set. Slightly more optimistic and sunny, it shows the good in people who have little to live on. Ending on “Pour Me” is the striking of a match to a can of gasoline as a finisher that refuses to take things slowly.
An intriguing addition to Derby Folk. Worthy and in a way delightfully low-key, her songwriting left an impression with us. Check out her Mixcloud of recordings here.
Kim Lowings and the Greenwood Band
Pretty much the highlight for us and several others at the festival, Kim Lowings and the Greenwood Band had been on our cards for a good while, but we hadn’t seen them live until now.
The band has a good sound and a nice range of instruments. Lowings herself has a distinctive and clear voice and it was all enhanced by the Guildhall’s acoustics. The joyful thing about Lowings and the Greenwood is that they have a playful aura which they cast on to several oldies giving them continued leases of life. Their version of “The Cuckoo” was rather special, and their take on “Oh the Wind and Rain” leaves you wanting more.
We do not want to go into too much detail here, except to say they are an entertaining and rich sound experience, and that for you should check out our other blogpost here about their latest album “Wild & Wicked Youth” here. Take a look at Kim Lowings and the Greenwood’s site here.
Kirsty Merryn was a very welcome addition.
Recently basking in the sunshine from her debut album “She & I” (it is very, very good) she had a chance to perform in Derby Cathedral to an attentive audience. Performing her numbers solo without band accompaniment, Merryn brought a touch of class. At one point she was brought a bouquet of flowers (this has happened a lot while we have been on the road recently), adding even more colour to her flourishing, piano led set. Some songs she shared included ghostly tale “Without Grace” about Grace and William Darling and a tall lighthouse, “The Birds of May” had a strong stillness to it’s sound, like a pagoda next to a small pond of bright koi. This was a general theme and feeling throughout the set; Merryn provokes with a powerful front and a quiet strength that shatters aggravating noises around. She is a fantastic role model in this regard that men and women could look to equally. She also previewed a love song to the sea that she was working on which was exciting to hear. Usually she is the support for Show of Hands, and in a way she is a perfect foil to their louder more anthem-fuelled sounds. They both share a sense of wonder in people and musically approach their reflections on them from different angles.
Like Kim Edgar but earlier in furrowing her own path, Kirsty Merryn is on an upward trajectory. Check out the video below, her website here and keep tuning in for more writing about her in the near future.
Oka Vanga are another group for which we have been acquainted with for a while. We reviewed their latest album, “Dance of the Copper Trail” and found it, “An incredibly listenable album that is tightly managed and has a pretty rich, consistent sound” here, Suffice to say they did not disappoint in person either. Playing some material from their EP, as well as some other acoustic wonders (bolstered by some great double bass) like “The Devil’s Tide,” an exciting, interesting song about a female pirate.
Hosted by live music aficionados, “Village Folk.” they brought a Western charm with their tales of birds, trains and magical trees. The set was punctuated by a heartfelt and warm few songs by Dave Sudbury. He sang “The King of Rome”, and we cried a lot. Fantastic to see him and the friendly reception that he got with the generous applause and acknowledgement. Here is Oka Vanga’s website.
There were many big names at Derby too including Show of Hands, Oysterband, Roberts & Lakeman, and Leveret too which were fabulous to hear while we were moving from place to place. The schedule is enormous, detailed and leaves you with choices to make but in the best possible way.
“Derby Folk is good value, convenient and friendly with good systems for putting the audience close up to both big and upcoming stars of the folk and roots circuit.”
This trend of encouraging this myriad of folk names continues for 2018 as some due to be attending include: Lady Maisery, Eliza Carthy and the Wayward Band, Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys and many, many more. The tickets are available here and more information about the Festival as a whole here,
This coming year the festival will be running from 4-7 October 2018.
There will be an extra concert on the Thursday compared to previous years (see the site for details).
In my past posts about Village Folk I have alluded to the venue (The Lawns Hotel) in Chellaston being very much like a fortress.
On reconsideration, it may in fact be more like a castle. Whatever your mythological leanings and interests one thing for certain is that within English music Martin Carthy is a wizard. Not a pinball wizard, not quite Gandalf or Merlin, but certainly a folk wizard of some sorts who lives and breathes the music he plays. You could also call him a bard as he is also an example of a widely touring artist often on the road, and at many fine establishments.
In April we see ourselves back at Village Folk to see Martin Carthy for what can only be described as the most recognisable act they’ve had to date. I don’t know anyone (outside of indie folk, anyway) who would not know who Martin Carthy is and his part within the jigsaw of acoustic music and history really. With 50 years of performance under his belt in a number of high-profile lineups and a Radio 2 Lifetime Award he is not really a guy who flies under the radar, but on the other hand he is as much a man as any other with an air graciousness and a down-to-earth personality. He fits well with the warm reception that Village Folk brings and it seems that the audience agree. Seats are packed closely, the venue sells out quickly and the action begins.
Taking the stage for the latest, big-name show (joining some excellent previous acts such as Sam Kelly, Harp and a Monkey too) tonight it seems especially the case that there is an understanding and a knowing nod that Martin Carthy is as big as an act as you can get; everyone is incredibly excited. He is a leading figure in the folk tradition; if the country had a hall of folk heroes with statues and everything (it might do, I don’t know), Carthy would be there in Marble, tall and proud with his head turned as he tunes his acoustic guitar for the next beguiling rendition. On a personal level Martin Carthy always interests too. The joy I get from stories;how they are told, collected and adapted is a hallmark of Carthy’s talent, and I take great interest in how he collects and interprets what he hears. He is a stellar example of reproducing and adding to folk songs but also adapting and taking great pleasure from what he does. As far beyond the hobbyist as you can imagine, he is fully aware of his efforts to change the meaning, context and life of a song and put his indomitable spin on it. A wizard he truly is as he resides in a world of tales, half-truths, history and lore that through history are whispered from mother to son and father to daughter. You cannot help but be dragged in by the atmosphere and wonder. What does Martin Carthy play?
He specialises in older songs, ones with a bit of legs to it that have been in our oral tradition for a long time. Nothing is quite as old-time and brimming with powerful energy as the deliberate and honoring “John Barleycorn”. It could be a very old song indeed, it could be much more recent than you think; opinion differs just as it does about the theme of the song. It could be a song about the death and resurrection of the Corn King or maybe just about brewing. Either way Carthy’s take has the sound of a song from history and quite unlike the modern age. His fingers strumming an ancient tone, his voice is like the village elder who keeps the law and keeps the community safe; all eyes point to the stage as Carthy explains the song a little. Even more intricate guitar work is seen in the militant, cyclic rhythms of “Downfall of Paris” another song from antiquity, but perhaps easier to confirm as a historical piece as it was played in the battlefield of Napolean’s armies. Carthy continues to tirelessly hold up these traditions and keep their fires alive and burning through the the arteries of the country. It is thankful he stopped a while in the centre, as some consider the Midlands where the heart is. Quite hypnotic and a sound to behold, his music is something else.
I am especially pleased to hear Carthy’s version of “My Son John” which was performed under the “Imagined Village” super-group a few years back. One of the first takes of a folk song I ever heard, Carthy’s quiet emotion and spinning, melodic fingers coupled with the sharp political lyrics of the time is for me a distinct political and personal memory that is awakened. As a reimagining and contemporary take on the aforementioned John” who loses his legs at war into the (relatively) modern soldier who steps on a min in Afghanistan, it still has a punch that is only enhanced by a richer, more varied and extended set of lyrics. Another favourite of mine that he performs is “A Stitch in Time” (Mike Waterson’s song). Explaining it’s origins in Hull and the Daily Mail he interests and stokes the curiosity by telling us it is not the “urban legend” we may think it is, and is very much real. In short, the wife of a not too pleasant man gets her revenge on his physical manner by stitching him to his bed while he sleeps.. the kind of thought of that could wake you with a cold sweat in the middle of the night. I’ve heard Lucy Ward’s cover which slows things down a little and adds the malice to proceedings; it is especially good to hear Martin Carthy sing it as the dry narrator, gently mocking the man and celebrating this folk-horror retribution with his expressive voice.
There were these and many, many more songs too such as traditional “Green Broom” and “Long John” too (who is especially tall and disliked by the King) with a number of narrative avenues that are visited throughout the course of the set. Telling stories as he re-tunes his guitar between songs (no rack of guitars in sight) and glows under the pale lights of one of Derbyshire’s most intimate venues, and the crowd loves him. A man with much to share and with a love for the genre that is rarely equalled he continues to cast a spell on the folk world.
Martin Carthy is indeed continuing to tour the UK both at larger venues and Folk Clubs, see details here.
Things are going splendidly well here in Sheffield. The sun hasn’t fully retreated, life is certainly stirring and festival season is well and truly kicking off.
I wanted to write something to make you aware of a festival, this weekend coming (12-14 May) in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire
I will be in attendance at Hebden Folk Roots Festival. Surely “Folk and Roots” is a better turn of phrase you ask?
No.”Folk Roots” makes sense and I will tell you why.
In it’s third year, Hebden Bridge opens it’s doors (quite literally the whole town’s pubs and venues are getting involved) to host a number of artists from across the Folk, Acoustic and Roots musical spectrum. To call it “Folk and Roots” would firstly miss the full range of what’s on offer with all the musicians in between (also playing Americana, BlueGrass, Swing- you name it) , and secondly it wouldn’t do justice to the sheer volume of singers, storytellers and workshops that are being wonderfully crammed into a lovely, cultural hotspot (I’m thinking recently of Happy Valley as well as older influences on Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes).
What am I excited for?
Well there are a large number of well-known artists lending their talents to this growing festival. BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Nominees O’Hooley & Tidowhttp://ohooleyandtidow.com/will be making an appearance, Sparkly and Rootsy Jess Morgan and the Light Band http://www.jessmorgan.co.uk/will be there riding the crest of their last release “Edison Gloriette” (which I helped crowdfund), and bluegrass heavyweights The Kentucky Cow Tippers http://www.thekentuckycowtippers.com/will also be grazing on the positive vibes in Hebden Bridge.
As mentioned, there is music for everyone. What am I looking forward to in particular?
As a fan of all things folky and with a keen eye for relatively new performers who are shaping the scene “Bric-a-Brac” with Bella Gaffney is a strong contender for a group whose set I am hoping to mosey on down to. Having performed at Beverley Folk Festival in the past, they converge from the Midlands and head upwards to delight curt Yorkshiremen and women alike. Looking at their clips from previous performances, I can see energy and enthusiasm and a great double whammy of traditional and modern. Their website is here, see below for a clip.
Having gained the watchful eye of R2 Magazine and Steve Knightley; Plum Hall are an intriguing duo to consider. Looking at some of their previous performances (clip below from Moonbeams Festival where they cover “All I have To Do Is Dream”) I am feeling it will be a warm, rather inclusive atmosphere they will bring to Hebden Bridge. Will there be a log fire and will there be lots of ale? Probably, and the time goes swimmingly when there are good tunes to be heard. http://www.plumhall.co.uk/
I am somewhat envious of storytellers. They look cool, they have interesting tales to tell and they bring a certain air of enchantment wherever they go. I am envious in particular because often they make it look easy (and I know it’s not). From what I can tell, Debs Newbold has gathered much acclaim from her work. Like a shell collector who unearths known beautiful objects she thus arranges these known wonders (Macbeth, King Lear) and some original works and sells out vast, opulent rooms full of people (including at Hay Festival). Not only this there is some prestige here, she is also an education consultant for Shakespeare’s Globe after all and was ranked one of the top five acts of Towersley Festival. Why would I want to see the cat, when I can see the cream that the cat desires? Does that make sense? No, but this promises to be a good show. http://www.debsnewbold.com/
Ghost Walk: ‘Beyond the Veil of Calderdale’
Ghost walks are the best. Be it the quiet considered ramble through the cobblestone streets in York (where you often end up in a spooky pub at the end) or the father metropolitan, youthful and nerve wracking experience of a student ghost walk in Edinburgh (where you get things thrown at you and student actors jumping out of bins when you least expect); there is indeed something for everyone. I love connecting with a place with history and where myth and superstition overlap. I wonder if there will be a Thriller Dance to be had alongside the jigs and Morris there will be there? http://www.ursulaholdengill.com/storytelling/beyond-the-veil-of-calderdale-ghost-walk/
A very small sample indeed of the kinds of things happening. There are no end of other genres being covered including Rockabilly, Klemer, Swing, Barbershop.. check out the artist page https://www.hebdenfolkroots.org/artists
There are also Singing Workshops, a huge number of Dance Workshops and even a Clown Workshop (I am afraid of clowns but this guy seems nice!)
Striving to keep a lot local and celebrate this area, I think the curator for HEBDEN BRIDGE FOLK ROOTS, Brian Toberman sums it up best:
“The committee has created a festival, I as a musician would love to be at, we are lucky to have the amazing talent on our doorstep. The Hebden Folk Roots Festival brings people and music together and celebrates our local community, it is always good to give something back to our lovely town and bring a smile to people’s faces. We work closely with all local people, musicians and businesses to create a people’s festival.”
It will be good to see you there! There are a lot of venues, a lot of spaces and an awful lot of musical acts. It’s child-friendly too and promises to be a compelling weekend.
I will be there for the full weekend, if you see me there give me a shout and lets compare notes on what is happening!
I will also be providing shoutouts, and reminders about events and artists who are appearing, so follow me @folkphenomena on Twitter so you know who is on, playing what, where and when.
Go the website for details on pricing, accommodation and the possibility of camping.
Derby Folk Festival has been a really good event, I have seen some great acts over the three folk-filled days and wanted to give a rundown of the bands that have come on to my radar since the weekend. There were many big names, there were some energetic new acts and a variety of performances that covered the entire folk spectrum, some I have written about more than others- it is no indication of who I thought was the best (that would be a hard task).
Grab yourself a hot drink, sit back and have a peruse below. Feel free to add comments, let me know what you enjoyed and who you’d recommend to see in the future!
The Shahnameh: Book of Kings
Filled with stories heaving with imagery, colour and flash in a series of tellings from the poet Ferdowsi over a thousand years in the past, “The Shahnameh” feels like the influential, cultural artifact that we have never heard of. Persian in origin and epic in nature, the atmospheric music (from Arash Moradi), sheer experience and versatility of the main storyteller (Xanthe Gresham Knight), creative use of scenery, and the gentle, engagement of the audience all contribute to an extra special piece of theatre. See my full post on it now here.
Derby has it’s own brand of Celtic Folk Rock. I never knew because it has been hiding for a few years, but the Rattlers are back.
The Rattlers were big in the 90s, a local treasure of sorts but split in 1999 to do their own solo work and things apart from each other.
Coming back together at the Old Bell ballroom for the first time in a good while it certainly felt that anticipation was going to be high from fans. Playing to a mixed crowd of some young, some older. the room seemed to teeming with gold memories and remembered riffs, and it is fair to say that as they did come back, they accomplished a powerful and dedicated set. I will be the first to admit that I do not run towards folk-rock as my first choice in a festival but The Rattlers gave me a taste of what I was missing in having this misapprehension. One of my favourite songs had to be “Down, Long Way Down” a highly rocking, energetic snake of a song from yesteryear telling of misfortune and the poor educational qualities of gun-play. It struck a chord (in my heart) and reminded me of the great variety of folk music and rock and how sometimes you want something with a bit more legs. The much more folky number, “Roll Away the Blues” was also an encouraging and rousing song and worth the entrance alone to see these guys.
The Old Bell Hotel was a cool venue, the oldest pub in Derby with wonderful memories carved into the wood and fantastically situated in the heart of the city. In a sense they are a bit like guardians of Derby’s rock soul, Thor in Asgard. The Rattlers were rocking with the best of them and even if this grandiose description is too much, on another level it felt is like a few hours with some good mates. Time doesn’t seem to have faded their joy and with their slight blues influence,throng of electric guitar and hint of fiddle they are certainly a gem of a band that Derby needs to return in full. A showcase for homegrown live music, it’s honest and melodic rock which blows away the pretension of lesser musicians into the water with their solid, polished performance.
This is the first time I had seen and heard Mawkin in any shape or form. As I often do, I heard several good things about them all over the place and wondered if they lived up to the hype attributed to them.
On the stage they performed a number of songs from their third studio album “The ties that bind” and Mawkin were good. In fact they did live up to the hype and then a bit more. A defining part of their music is it’s energy and crossover feel. It would be wrong to categorise their music as second wave ska, but their guitar anthems and undeterred lyrical style does feel like jelly from a similar mold. “Jolly Well Drunk” particularly illustrates that as it shares as much with ska-based drinking songs as it does folk singing songs (see Reel Big Fish’s “Beer” as an example). It isn’t quite as fast as some punk, and it’s not as deliberate as some folk, but being driven by a young, brash and per the title “Jolly” approach it is more the planned staggering of a night out at pub stops than the “lets see what happens” night that ends incredibly messy. One of the added intriguing aspects of performance is the division of their singing voices. The songs where David Delarre lead are kind of rougher, folk and rock for the everyman who is working by the sweat of his brow; songs led by James Delarre are more like the nobleman watching the landscape with mild interest and amusement; these contrasts and differences really build a versatile band. Another great song was “Shangai Brown” described as an “anti-shanty” song that talked about the horrors and misfortune of going away on a boat and warning that the better life is the simple married one. Fresh with great punch and a killer chorus, it lingers in the mind and shows great inventiveness in flipping the concept over. This is all incredibly fun, quintessential folk that I would gladly see again.
Granny’s Attic are a group that is definitely needed, their very existence could single-handedly quell the fears of any traditional folk fans worried about the continuation of the form in years to come, but Granny’s Attic are making a concerted effort to take primary interest in folk of this kind.
When they perform, the joy is in their energy as they literally cannot keep still. It’s not the well co-ordinated, choregraphed jumping of 30+ year olds like myself working out their moves and hoping to appear younger, but it doesn’t need to be; they are loving what they are doing, and they are doing it well. Much like hot air being breathed through a furnace of folk they have a certain amount of swagger but immense humbleness and respect for the audience. Their organic being is supplemented with confidence in more spades than a deck of cards, “Death of Nelson” is sung with grandeour by the members of the group and “Royal Oak” kicks along at a frightful pace before mentioning their other songs. They are a likeable bunch with one happy, one happy go-lucky, and another with the prophetic voice of doom you get in traditional folk that adds a wonderful character. They are quite possibly a glimpse of the future, it is hard not to feel that they are having some good mentoring and at are building up their repertoire for times to come. One thing is certain, they don’t really need any help with stage presence or enthusiasm, the love is deep and honest without a shadow of a doubt.
What can I say about 9Bach?
Before the festival I listened to their video, saw all their promotional material, and stared into their neat publicity pictures that see them looking either (a.) cool or (b.) enigmatic. Then they appeared like the still centre of a whirlpool in the Marquee as the rain swept around outside and the festival tent shrugged off the typical Derby weather with indifference. I was not entirely sure what to expect, a question mark hung over decidedly idiosyncratic music and their seeming religion of ignoring genre, but their performance made things pretty clear.
It was actually something special. Before you even attempt to go any further, the songs are quite haunting, ethereal and somewhat spectral without consideration of the meaning of the lyrics. “Anian” (also the name of the 2016 new album) is like a funk loop, in it’s performance and tension it fills the gap that exists between full new-age soundscapes and traditional folk based on (and describing the relationship with) the land. There are hints of this within the performances, and as a non-Welsh speaker I would possibly have skirted around the meanings in the songs and relied on my own imagination for what the lyrics were conveying (which might not have been the worse thing, but probably a reduced experience) but Lisa Jên did a good job of explaining and conveying their reasoning for each song’s existence and character. Anian for example it is about the sensory and spiritual connection between people, something untranslatable in English and the song “Llyn Du” on the other hand describes a tormented, frightening black lake Queen that lives in the body of water and haunting your dreams. Jen’s voice is a rising, piercing sound amongst the amorphous cold waters, and the bass sounds like it is propelling a river of stone through the waves. The whole thing is primal and atmospheric and in a positive way, unsettling. The song, Witch Place,a story about a man who disappears and the ominous appearance of red-tinged soil that is discovered by his wife soon after near a church steeple. The song is penetrating, dark and clandestine and reason itself for us to hang, or at least dangle the folk label above 9Bach for disbelievers. My favourite track was “Wedi Torri” (It’s Broken), the harp solo was immensely cerebral, the harmonies enthralling and gentle, and the whole song is balanced on a knife edge of fragility, like a crystal swan figurine on the edge of a shelf. It is a poor comparison, but the last time instrumentals moved me in a similar way was the unstoppable nightmares I got when listening to Radiohead’s Kid A album. It’s not nightmares as such here, the music is really good and emotive; it feels like it is opening the floodgates between imagination, reason, and wonder and giving you a glimpse of musical spiritualism. The whole performance was great and in content it was a huge contrast to the other folk at the festival. Somewhere between Enya and the dark, gritty industrialism of 1990’s Portishead, the band is unabashedly confident and deserving of praise. Much like Jên’s fantastic star dress she appeared in their music is only just of this earth and lustrous in it’s beauty.. I will certainly be getting my hands on the albums when finances permit.
I had a bit of time and managed to catch Merrymaker in the Clubrooms at Derby, I have recently written about their recent charity single “Nobody here wants a war” here. A worthwhile cause in itself, it was especially good in such an intimate venue. Village Folk took the room and filled it with some fine folk paraphernalia; photographs of the artists they have previously hosted (at their regular Chellaston sessions, see here) and gave a warm welcome to guests within. Their first year in the role (last year it was Winter:Wilson who spent a good time this year in Derby Cathedral) they were a great addition to the festival. Merrymaker themselves are also undergoing a readjustment and change of scene with Dan Sealey (Merrymouth, Ocean Colour Scene) and Adam Barry (Merrymouth and The Misers) being joined by solo artist Nikki Petherwick from Oxfordshire, bringing some new ideas and direction. As part of their set they played “Nobody here wants a war” with some class, as well as some of their older material which worked well such as “In the Midst of Summertime” a pacy, springy number that felt like rolling meadows and a fresh breeze. Their performance was well rehearsed, yet casual and the addition of Nikki gives them a fuller flavour of sound, her performance of “The Oak Tree” was acoustic simplicity but also categorically beautiful. Towards the end they played”This is England” a definitive track detailing an 85 year old’s perceptions of the Country that he grew up in, in my line of work something I hear quite often. It’s content, empathy and humour is not unlike Oyster Band’s more famous hits, but less bombastic taking aim and hitting out at celebrities and modern culture in equal measure.
The Young ‘Uns
The Young’Uns were in attendance on the second day and brought their signature, popular and rather denuded version of folk music to a rapt audience. Much like that bit in films where a noble warrior puts down his weapon and fights with fists alone, the Young’Uns opt for folk in it’s rawest, human crux form with several a capella numbers combined with interesting modern influences and topics. The Young’Uns also have the bonus of having gut-wrenchingly strong, exploratory voices and a timeless tradition to their sound and craft which is rightly recognised by folk artist aficiados. Their song “Carriage 12” is like a song from a Western, you can imagine whipcracks, dusty sand and people drinking very bad rye whisky in the background. This it might sound like but in subject it tells a tale of the foiled terrorist plot that occurred on a carriage from Amsterdam to Paris in recent news but as if it had happened over a hundred years ago. The Young’Uns are creating modern mythologies using old standards and showing good mastery of Americana while they are at it. They really are the real world equivalent of the “Soggy Bottom Boys” with the amount of people that packed the room out to see them. Another one of their songs “Dark Water” made a lasting imprint too as is a poignant song constructed from the broken English of a refugee coming to this country on a raft. Resonating outwards and engulfing the audience there was nowhere to hide from this track. There is a braveness to The Young’Uns music which doesn’t shy from modern attempts to hide ugliness in society or how human beings treat each other. It plainly and melodically communicates what is happening and lets the audience make’s it’s mind up. It all still manages to entertain and move despite the risk that the music could use the veneer of the past to shroud the significance of what is being sung about, in fact it holds up the stories for all to see. This talent and driving moral compass makes the Young’Uns a force of authority for the heart of folk within the music community.
On the third day Ninebarrow had the task of entertaining following the aftermath of what seemed like torrential weather. Despite this, their early slot, and a few minor technical hitches early on they went on and impressed me and the rest of the audience enormously. They have a particular brand of folk music that returns to nature and explores it’s uses (hence their name), and it is these inspirations that make their sound as inspired as it is. In this regard they have a gentle folk sound with hints of Simon and Garfunkel in their delivery and harmony. When singing “The Weeds”, a song about a man who has lost his home and life when he makes the rash decision to leave his wife or “Bold Sir Rylas” their darkest cover about the exploits and murder of a bloodthirsty witch, they sound quite uplifting no matter how dark the material. Their frank joy makes opening a bag of moths in a sack factory seem like the most innocent, happy thing you could ever do. Playing fairly light instrument-wise they rely on their affable voices to sweep the songs along which they do with aplomb, but there is an added distinction to their soundscape for they use a reed organ quite extensively. This is a relatively modern sounding take on the folk heritage, and such an integral part of the band that I would fear that removing it would likely remove the modernity, edge and anything of value still present within the song. As a band that Growing all the time and turning a few prominent heads we have certainly not seen the last of Ninebarrow.
Ange Hardy and Lukas Drinkwater
Like a pint of the black with a rum chaser the pairing of Ange Hardy and Lukas Drinkwater effectively portray a duo of mutual somber jibes and a suppressed manic, mutual deprecation of each other which works for the audience’s amusement. It is of course how many double acts work but their use of stage presence and humour is really well-timed; a few bad pun-like jokes (I actually love bad puns) and a bit of tomfoolery, they would not be out of place at some good venues of the Edinburgh Fringe should their muses depart in the same direction. If this sounds like it is uninteresting chaos and a slight, it certainly isn’t because much like their approach to music and use of technology they are innovators and their performances feel well practiced and organised. In order to add depth and fill a space around the two artists, several instruments such as harp and double bass (and sometimes voice) are recorded by Ange on a loop pedal and used throughout the song performances to great effect, but it would be nothing without what is played and Ange Hardy’s singular voice. Playing several tracks from her quite wonderful Findings album the corners of the Guildhall Theatre shook with the immense concentration of the crowd upon the musical performance. Together they pay wonderful, constructive tribute to songs of old with renditions of “The Pleading Sister, “The Trees They Do Grow High”, and little-heard “Bonny Lighter-Boy”. Her voice seems limitless, their chemistry undeniable, and all-in-all a very good addition to Derby Folk Festival.
Apologies if your favourites are not mentioned, I would love to hear your impressions of the Festival in the comments below.. this just a snapshot of a wide range of exciting folk artists that were there on through the weekend. I cannot wait til next year.