It all started for us in the front bar with The Herron Brothers; we were running a little late and did not settle for too long. What we heard was encouraging, bright and a cheerful pop act that had character. From what we have seen they are like Mirror Universe Gallagher brothers bringing the cheer to Derby in their own rather than projecting an image of fighting you for your bag of chips, like a seagull. Independent music is great and this band is carving a place with some cool music.
Before moving on we have to plug their clip of “Babu”, what a great, joyous listen.
Then, from nearer our neck in the woods, Blair Dunlop arrives from sunny Chesterfield. Dunlop is a good entry to ticketed part of the festival with a mix of mellow, insightful in his acoustic performance. He credits Jim Moray as being a big influence (which seems to be a theme emerging in this festival so far) and, like Moray, he has found a plethora of interesting topics to tackle be it recent historicals or more obscure interests, (The expenses scandal, a Porsche, and condiments).
Dunlop is like a rag and bone man, he has a bit of something for everybody. For us we were particular enamoured by “Sweet on you” (a bad relationship, but a good melody) which has a hook as good as Arturo Gatti, “In the day I think you are trouble, in the night I’m sweet on you”. We also enjoyed the time travelling nature of “Spices From the East” which brought back a historical talk we had on a guide tour of the Salt Mines near Krakow. Fascinating, beautiful place and also a metaphor-filled spice rack of good lyrics once again. Check out the link below for the previous release for “Sweet On You”.
Leveret don’t really need much introduction for those swimming in the pool of traditional music. For many, they are probably “all about the playing”; as they said themselves on stage, “We don’t talk much”. They actually talked more than you might expect with this sentiment, but there were definitely some interesting stories from the road alongside the continuing excellent musicianship.
We’ve seen them a couple of times and hadn’t been aware of the changing roles they take during their sets depending on how they feel. Such fluidity must come from a place of prior technical excellence and practice. We loved the abundance of hornpipes, including the 3/2 ones such as “The Good Old Way” which is the tune that always instantly springs to mind when we hear their name. A beautiful change of pace was the set of airs, “The Height of Cader Idris” with “Jack a Lent”. The first tune certain conveys a kind of majesty within it’s performance, “Jack a Lent” has serious Spring overtones and probably less of the implied dark contradiction in this rite than you would imagine. If you want a listen, take a listen below:
An impressive entry to the Folk Weekend covering a few different bases in the musical tradition. There is a lot to like here and much more coming up for the Derby Folk Weekend https://www.derbyfolkfestival.co.uk/
“Strong of purpose, unbridled in energy… Steamchicken’s sound is a surprise to many, but a disappointment to none”
There are plenty of good reasons to hide away. It could be the dark, a moment of reflection, or even (at the time of the his writing) to get away from scary snow beasts clawing at your door. Whatever your plan, it is always good to have an accompanying soundtrack to your thoughts (particularly if you are under the weather). The question is then, “Who do I listen to?” Well if you are looking for entertainment and especially to lift the heavy weight of your heart.. then the band “Steamchicken” is the answer. Who are Steamchicken?
Comprised of Ted Crum (Harmonica, Bass, Melodeon), Andrew Sharpe (Piano), Joe Crum (Percussion), Mandy Sutton (Tenor Sax), Becky Eden-Green (Alto Sax, Bass), Katy Oliver (Trumpet), Matt Crum (Soprano Sax, Melodeon), Tim Yates (Bass) and Amy Kakoura (Vocals) they are not so much a band but an army of music makers. Steamchicken in their own words are, “Folk with a twist, with huge dollop of blues and ska.” We can’t really argue with this, their feathery wings cover a wide range of influences. It would even be insufficient for us to add that there are elements of reggae, swing and jazz there too because that is the tip of the iceberg to the expansive and inclusive of their sound.
From beginning to end their set is like a child running around in a toy store with the energy and excitement galore that explode from this ennead of artists. There are brass instruments aplenty which blast from left to right and all around, some truly beautiful, sustained harmonica, and the grounding of excellent bass and keyboard, a rich goulash of melodic possibilities that swirl around lead singer, Amy Kakoura. Everything is played exceptionally, the person sat next to us in the theatre are particularly impressed with the drumming which has a rich, technical and clean sound (Joe Crum) but we personally cannot really point anything out in particular. It would be like commenting on your favourite stripe on a tiger.
What we enjoy about seeing Steamchicken is there is a song for every occasion, and then a few more- it is a comprehensive selection. Some of their early opening songs include “Landslide”, a jazz-filled upbeat song about misery and melancholy, their off-beat retelling of “Brigg Fair” with shades of blues and trip-hop aka. Portishead, and Amy Kakoura’s soaring vocals on a streetwise cover of “When I Get Low I Get High.” It is enthusing to see a varied set and the band’s ambition of perpetuating and developing their sound into something wholly theirs. There is a level of mastery here that is cemented with Kakoura’s luscious and varied vocals. After 20 or so years of different lineups and styles, the animated whole of the musical performance might make this the Ziggy Stardust moment of the band.
Steamchicken always come across as a force of nature and there is something primal that is stirred by their sounds. The perfect example from their set is “Western Approaches” (a favourite of ours), a song that makes a boating holiday become more of a tale of adventure in the face of briny elements. When you are just reeling from the fun and frivolity, the set takes a sharp turn in a different direction with the introspective “Gypsy”, an altogether creepier and darker take of Raggle Taggle Gypsy (perhaps the polar opposite of a more jaunty version such as Fay Hield’s). For people of the shadowier persuasion, their song “Foot Falling” has a kind of gallows humour married to and excellent sing-along, dance-along tune about a goddess with a wild, macabre streak who gives a brutal response to the suggestion that she should get married (a fantastic number).
Along with some favourites they also played a few new songs for the audience. There are some good songs here, our favourite is without a doubt “Violet Lane”, a track about enterprising “ladies of the night” and their plans for rich gentleman who visit. They end, as always with an encore of a song that is to them as the night is to Batman, 1947’s “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” as fun a tune as you could ask to hear.
It’s not just that the music is great and that they are well rehearsed, Steamchicken clearly love what they do. Much like the train in their Johnny Cash tribute, they keep rolling. There is no dead time in their set, there are a few good-natured quips here and there between band members and a warm audience presence, but primarily it’s a musically rich set that goes at a good pace speed from song to song.
We strongly recommend for folkies, non-folkies and for anyone who doubts that live music can get you moving in your heart and in your feet because these chickens sure can fly!
For more details about Steamchicken check out their website here which has details about their most recent album release, “Look Both Ways” (I presume when crossing the road!)
Also check out their 2018 tour list here to see when they are playing near you!
If you still haven’t had enough of Steamchicken, check out my other half’s interview with the Chickens not too long ago here.
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).
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.