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/
Ahead of performing at this year’s Hebden Bridge Folk Roots Festival, taking place from 10 to 12 May, we were delighted to have interview, in partnership with “Last Night I Dreamt Of…”, 21 year old singer song writer Katie Spencer.
Q. For those who haven’t come across you before, please tell us about yourself?
I am a progressive folk singer-songwriter and acoustic guitarist, from the East Coast in Yorkshire. My music draws on influences such as John Martyn, Roy Harper and Laura Marling, and I owe as much of it to the songwriters of the 60’s acoustic music heyday as to the beautiful East Riding landscape.
Q. How would you describe your music in five words?
Guitar-based progressive folk songs.
Q. What inspires you as an artist?
Landscape is a huge one. I feel that we are so lucky to live in the UK, where the landscape and seasons are so varied. My consistent aim is to capture the space of the landscape into my music, and I’m currently living by the sea which is a big inspiration.
Q. What can audience members expect from your set as part of the Hebden Folk Roots Festival?
Some original music, heavily based around the acoustic guitar and influenced by the sounds of the 60’s folk revival.
Q. What’s your favourite song to perform as part of your set and why?
At the moment it would have to be a new song called ‘Roads’. It has been brewing for a while but suddenly came tumbling out of me, lyrics and guitar part all together. It has a short instrumental excerpt at the beginning which is a gospel tune called ‘Wash in this Beautiful Pool’ that I learned from listening to the inimitable Martin Simpson.
Q. Who else would you recommend festival goers seeing during the festival?
Peter Dilley & Henry Parker!
Q. What do you love most about performing on the festival circuit?
There are countless things to love. The connection with people is a great one, because festivals are a brilliant places for people of all ages and from all walks of life to congregate and enjoy their love for music together, in the same place.
Q. What can fans expect from your album Weather Beaten and what’s your favourite track from the album?
Weather Beaten is my debut full-length album. It was produced by Spencer Cozens, long-time collaborator of John Martyn and Joan Armatrading and someone who I’ve been a fan of for years. The sound of the album is clear and bright, but still has that warm and hazy folk vibe – as we aimed to capture my live performance style. It is subtly embellished by Tom Mason, Miles Bould and Martin Winning on double bass, percussion and woodwind. And my favourite tracks would be ‘Weather Beaten’ & ‘Too High Alone’, I just love what Martin Winning brought to those tracks with clarinet and flute.
Q. You often look to East Riding for inspiration, where in particular in the area inspired you and would you recommend visiting?
Yorkshire as a county is an incredibly beautiful place, and I am totally blessed to be able to explore it on a regular basis. East Yorkshire will always hold a special place in my heart, as I grew up there and I’m currently living by the sea in Hornsea (you should definitely visit, especially for the chip shop!)
Q. What’s coming up next for you as an artist?
Throughout this year I am touring my album ‘Weather Beaten’ and continuing to write new material, which is great fun!
Katie Spencer will be performing at Hope Baptist Church at 2.10pm on Saturday 11 May as part of Hebden Bridge Folk Roots Festival. For further information on Katie Spencer visit www.katiespencer.net. For further information on the Hebden Bridge Folk Roots Festival visit www.hebdenfolkroots.org.
As mentioned, this interview was in partnership with “Last Night I Dreamt Of…”, a website dedicated to art and theatre through South Yorkshire. For further information visit www.lastnightidreamtof.co.uk
It’s been a little while and Derby Folk Festival 2018 has come and gone.. in fact, as of writing it is 2019 and there is a new year ahead!
We are pretty certain plans are under way for the next festival in October 2019, but in case you didn’t go last year.. let us give you our impressions of some of the goings on, the standout performances and general feel of this late year musical mixup. We couldn’t catch everyone, so apologies if we miss your favourite group out! There will be pictures and a few clips to give you a feel and hopefully get you excited about the return to Derby in 2019!
Last year the festival spread it’s wings a little more and has extended the festival to run from Thursday evening to Sunday. We could not get there for the Thursday, but we do hear that Gary Stewart’s “Graceland” and Zulu Tradition were extensively rocking the main festival tent. We can’t speak for Zulu Tradition as alas we have not witnessed them yet, but the “Graceland” set is a very good one. We saw Gary Stewart’s Graceland at Beardy Folk earlier in the year and they sound very, very like Paul Simon. They have the bustling energy you are looking for in bucket loads and for anyone wanting to relive the time of the album launch (or anyone new for that matter) they are indeed in for a treat of the ears by seeing them live, so we strongly recommend.
So let us start with some of the acts that got our attention.
A treat near the beginning of the festival, always a treat, is to hear John Tams & Barry Coope. Bringing a significant wealth of experience and poignancy to the beginning of the festival, this duo are clearly old favourites of the crowd. With pointed, emotive numbers such as a rendition of the “Manchester Rambler” (an ode which puts the highest amount of importance on this activity other all others… including marriage), the song “Sorrow” with it’s eye on loss in society and (presumably) unemployment, and also the “Devonshire Carol” (as heard in Warhorse) they bring a tear to the stanchest and toughest of people. A set that is quiet and dwells in the heart, we recommend catching these two if you get the chance.
It isn’t just Barry Coupes & John Tams whose music crosses into war-related music and stories. Luckily for us Louise Jordan arrives at the Guildhall Theatre with her trademark sense of class and humility, and most importantly with her excellent show/gig called “No Petticoats Here.” We have been looking forward to seeing Ms Jordan and her show every since the Great British Folk Festival we went to in 2017. We attempted to see her show in Skegness but due to the numbers, small size of the room, queuing difficulties and acoustics.. we couldn’t really say much about it. At the time of writing we are pretty certain she is working on her new show but if it is anything like the beautiful interlace of historical story, song and images we see in Derby, then we have high hopes indeed.
Conjuring up thoughts of the great war, Jordan does the job that everybody should have been asking her to do. That is bringing the voices of great women and their experiences to us to remember that we “were all in it” during the war. She certainly does and the show more often than not highlights some incredible sacrifices that were given which many would never of heard of. Not everyone is a fan of war-time related music but in fairness there is enough intrigue, guile and determination from the historical figures that Jordan brings to the fore, that it is incredibly difficult not to look on in admiration. Jordan’s voice is as powerful and empathetic as ever as well. Whether Jordan is teaching us about Ada Yorke (a nurse who wanted to be a doctor) who got the Royal Red Cross for exceptional nursing (in the song “Pride of the Army”), or about when women’s football teams arose to fundraise for children and families of soldiers (only for women’s football to be banned in 1920), she brings a sharp, observational style to her music. We can see what has been ignored for so long.
Jordan’s measured use of technology, design and choices allow the stage to be wholly about these important women. There are highs and lows, great characters and a lot of history to make this a fascinating evening show. Jordan is an enthusiastic sharer, her joy must be like a botanist finding a rare species of flower, except here the flowers are indeed the women of the Great War.
For that reason and the bright sparks that Jordan has captured from the tinder of the Great War, we consider her set one of three best things that we see at the festival.
Harp and a Monkey in the way that they are, are rather odd, deep and certainly furrowing their own path in the folk world.
We saw them a good while back at Village Folk in Chellaston and they were very good indeed. At Derby Folk Festival they were back again within the “Village Folk” segment of the festivities. The trio performed two sets over the day, each one coursing with a signature blend of the psyche (their cover of “The Molecatcher”), the reverent memory (The Gallipoli Oak), a tipping of the hat to Charlie Chaplin’s unusual role in the War (Charlie Chaplin) and their dipping into folk themes of old (Willow and the Ghost).
They certainly have built up an impressive repertoire of moods all blending in and out of each other. At Derby Folk Festival the sound was crisp and clear, their voices are both mournful and joyful as if moving across the veil itself, bringing these stories back. Their performance also reminds that they take risks, and whilst their use of electronic sampling will be a Marmite factor, it does bring shape and form to the whispers of stories past and put a signature to their invigoration of songs. Like a whisper travelling across the edges of your mind, Harp and a Monkey get in, reverberate and add to the mysteries of this world.
Without a question a swirling vortex of wind, Eliza Carthy et al’s entrance and reception at Derby Folk Festival is a reminder (in case you have been living under a no-folk rock for many years) that some voices cannot be contained by the constraints of nature.
Eliza Carthy and the Wayward Band have been formed since 2013. Twelve in number and probably 12 in volume and energy (sorry Spinal Tap), the band have gone from strength of strength especially since the launch of their 2016 work “Big Machine.”
Theatrical in sound, style and appearance it is a very awesome sight to behold. Ducking and weaving, jumping off the stage and bringing the feeling, Carthy and band certainly live up to the expectations from the album. They played some of our personal favourites such as, “Devil in the Woman” (a track of outrage and grit), “The Fitters Song” (a dark musical, but a number too good for any theatre I know) and the earthy, breathless “Hug you like a Mountain.” Words and descriptions do not really come close to the magic, spinning wonder and percussive excitement that you get from this individualistic band and show. It is like they bring the explosive pop of the champagne bottle to the Saturday, and we do not hesitate to put the group in our top three of Derby Folk Festival.
The day after In the Guildhall Theatre on Sunday we get the very big treat of seeing another rather special folk group that also comprises of some top-notch musicians. Just prior to the release of their third album, “Through the Wild” we meet Jade Rhiannon and band as they prepare for a focused, clean and intensive set. It is a show we have been waiting to see for rather a while.
Straddling a canyon of folk rock, folk pop and hints of indie, The Willows are a step into a unashamedly full, refined soundscape with a strong baseline and vocals that evoke the warmest of times. Somewhat easy listening, somewhat 90’s popular folk the limits of their reach cannot be fully measured in this blogpost; but we do manage to reach a verdict on their show.
Before we get there, we have to think about their set. There is something here for everyone, “The Visitor” is uplifting and a pretty tasty bit of percussion, “Better Days” is a sweet and optimistic song though it winds its body around a contemplation of grief, and “False Light” a song about the ghost lights of the fens. With False Light in particular you get a song with a supernatural theme being turned into a belting, big sound event. Melodic to the last and rocking from the start, The Willows make a case for a wider sound, quite probably with larger mainstream appeal and musicians looking for something a little faster and fuller like a turbo-charged double-decker bus.
We enjoy their set and have had a good listen to their third album since; certainly an interesting and inspired choice for the festival.
There is a lot to see and fatigue can set in towards the end of a festival though Derby Folk has a secret up their sleeves. It is in fact Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys!
We do like these guys. Their folk music is unabashed fun and melodic, they are dead cheerful in demeanour and they do know how to put on a show. Most importantly you sometimes want to listen to a bit of folk that makes you feel good, Kelly and associates do not disappoint.
At this point they are probably stood on a tall stone surveying the land and maybe breathing in the fresh air as they have a couple of albums out and their initial ep, and pretty much everybody know who they are. This is a good gig to see for it is an act of consolidation and reflection. They cover several songs from both albums including the affirming “Spokes”, a song which is one of our favourite interpretations of “A Golden Vanity”, anthemic “The Jolly Waggoners” and many many more. They have a lot of good material both slow and fast and this gig certainly reminds us of their ascent into the limelight. We look forward to seeing where they go next!
This of course brings us to Lady Maisery. Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let us say that Lady Maisery were for us, hands down the best act at Derby Folk Festival. It is not a statement we take lightly or with any intention to downplay the other excellent acts that were there.
Why? Might you ask. It is no secret we rate the vocals of Hazel Askew, Rowan Rheingans and Hannah James at the top of their game but they brought something else which they admitted themselves had reinvigorated their enjoyment of the live scene. That is, their sound engineer.
Apologies for my failings. At first I couldn’t get a good picture and secondly I didn’t write down the sound engineer’s name. But when hearing the trio within the Guildhall, and with this level of sound production and management it is pretty close to perfect. Clear, resonating vocals and a show that takes many favourites from across their albums such as “The Factory Girl”, “Order and Chaos”, “Honest Work” and the excellent “Poor Man’s Lamentation” from the multi-artist Songs of Separation disc (one of the best works we have heard of all time).
Combining a sense of general societal political songs (not anything about the current situation thank goodness), poignant and dark tales of human beings and a sternum-shattering cohesive, beautiful sound their often (but not always) unaccompanied voices are pure magic.
For that reason they are our third pick of the festival and an act that you should not miss should the chance arise to see them!
And Many Others…
There are many, many others who graced the stage who we saw and enjoyed thorough. Midnight Skyracer, the all-female bluegrass phenomenon were here continuing their explosive entry into the scene with fast fiddle, deep bass and an incredibly joyous set of songs to behold. Jack Rutterer had a great acoustic set touching on folk of all corners including the well-known “John Barleycorn”, The Kimberleys remind of acoustic folk of old: simple, happy and refreshing, and Oka Vanga have their time in the light of Derby Cathedral bringing songs of myth, nature and heartbreak.
So all-in-all an excellent festival. We saw a lot of artists here, many who we haven’t mentioned- the joy of Derby Folk Festival is it certainly gets the artists in!
Check out our sample videos below of the acts and get over to their websites for more information about them!
Keep your eyes open for Derby Folk 2019 and do not forget to get your ticket when the time comes at the website.
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).
It is true that everybody has heard of Cambridge Folk Festival, and Cropredy Festival, and why not? After all, they are big festivals with International renown and very good lineups.
Certainly fun times are had (I would love to get myself to one of the ones in Ibiza/Portgual) but there still is indeed room for a different type of scene too now that festival season is upon us!
Hebden Bridge Folk Roots fits the bill as something different. It’s picturesque, full of crafts and nestled amongst rolling nature and inspiration and come festival season it is packing to the brim with musicians and artists in local pubs and venues waiting to entertain.
It is over now, but have a read of some of the people we saw (with sample video) and see if you would you might not be missing out on next year!
Hebden Bridge is picturesque and I have fond memories of the region as I used to live in nearby Huddersfield. Artistic yet surprisingly not aloof in the slightest, it is is good to see a place where so many of the trades here have opened up to host musicians. Some of the artists are from local regions (such as Plant and Taylor, Plumhall) but there are more nationally recognised acts too like O’Hooley and Tidow and Jess Morgan.
Hebden Bridge Folk Roots is a wonderful festival showcasing an array of talented musicians and performers (several who are local). It is all so good-natured, it feels like the people and businesses of Hebden Bridge have opened their doors and their hearts visitors in this weekend of artistic wonder. The place itself is great; I love the greenery and the atmosphere, and that there’s a lot of places to get good gin and food while you listen to someone you have been wanting to see in the flesh.
It’s not just folk and food though. There was also a good helping of storytelling events, family friendly events, and dance workshops that appeal across the board. From everything that takes place, I only see a small sample; so apologies for people missed out of this post.
What caught the eye? What acts am I taking away from this West Yorkshire painting of a place with it’s stream, trees and beautiful cut stone buildings?
Read on and you will see, there are a lot of bands and artists I was ready to hear but others that surprised and have now entered my musical radar.
Playing in one of the main venues (the Birchcliffe Centre) the group Bric-a-Brac take the stage and showcase a potent blend of interesting original work and energetic interpretations of some folk classics. Being the highest capacity venue, it was good to go there (and take the regular, free minibus up the incredibly steep slope to the venue) and an honour to hear a future face of folk
Bric-a-Brac’s (along with member. Bella Gaffney’s solo) sets were astonishingly playful and fun, and quite polished. Singing some great songs rooted in history and wonder, I feel they are a group to keep an eye on for the future. They sing a number of tracks including “Queen of the Witch Elm”, a song about a mysterious skeleton found in a tree and the group’s musing on it’s origin. The ballad has a bouncing narrative that lends huge mystery to the topic of the song and their collection of instruments join together in a really pleasing way. “Staffordshire Man” is a classic West Midlands number which the band present in a bright and sightly way. The addition of the whistle gives it a more contemporary character (especially compared to the Jon Raven version) and with it’s blended male and female vocals it sounds great. It sounds less like it is dwelling in somewhere like the grounds of the Black Country Museum and instead brings the feeling of nature meeting industry in the middle, not unlike the historical town of Hebden Bridge itself. It is still pretty folky and even with these lighter touches is a great song. “Middle of Nowhere” about a “dodgy B&B” is an equally fun that showcased fiddle, whistle and guitar together. I love the addition of the electric bass guitar, it gives the band even more depth and Heather Sirrel clearly relishes the role as it rolls out wave after wave of gravelly, rock goodness.
From the bands I had not heard of all seen before, Bric-a-Brac top my list at Hebden for their choice of instruments, combined sound and historical themes. They even sung a song about a family living in a cave in Kinver, a place down the road from my hometown. Their different regional influences add flavour to the mix, for myself they are a great young ambassador for the commitment of young folk with a slight Midlands edge. http://www.bricabracmusic.co.uk/
Of course there is also Bella Gaffney’s solo set. When she is not playing guitars and adding some cool vocals to Bric-a-Brac, she is playing her own music really well indeed. What stands out from Bella’s set is the amount of range that she gets out of the acoustic guitar. Thoroughly practised and tied up in a folky way to Bradford, she is to Bradford what Lucy Ward is to Derby, a singer and performer who could be a face for the region. A lovely set which as you listen to you realise there is something distinctly non-run-of-the-mill about her, check out the sample. http://bellagaffney.weebly.com/
We also catch a bit of the “Klonk!” set. A klezmer group with more electric instruments than I’ve seen one room before, they go to work quickly getting the audience on their feet. Playing in “The Trades Club”, a kind of musical enclave which feels like a place where musical history is made must be great because the room is setup so as much dancing can take place as possible. I spot one older man was so pumped he was moving (and falling) before the music even started. Klezmer music gets the heart pounding, it seems true and it’s rhythms are the strong thread wound throughout all modern music. It certainly appeals to the soul and the body and Klonk!’s music is energetic, gypsy-jazz that short-circuits your compulsion to sit and shakes your quiet sensibilities to the core. Highly recommended the speed that they play is breath-taking, a treat in every way; they also take on the “James Bond Theme” and “Rage Against the Machine”. Their website is here- http://www.klonk.co.uk/
Jess Morgan and the Light Band
Recognised roots singer Jess Morgan also treads the stage and performs a loaded pistol of tracks from her recent album “Edison Gloriette” An emotive, and licquorice voice she brings the beating heart of the subject matter to the surface. “A Hundred Years Old” sees Morgan showcasing some solid strumming and a pained, humble and sensitive portrayal of a woman in a kind of limbo between how her hearts feels and how she should act, maybe in the latter stages of a relationship. “Don’t meet your heroes” has a fascinating kind of stepped melody and delivery that is like the steely stare on a wise face; she doesn’t take any nonsense in this song. “In Brooklyn” is a favourite. With the child-like imagination fully interacting with the urban, and the idea of one or two lives mixed up in that time and place seemed to find a way is captured without obviously referencing New York. I mean there is seemingly talk of the carousel in Central Park, and I can picture the library in Brooklyn but it is like an insider’s recollection; it takes me back to my own trips there with it’s kind of drenching sun and nostalgia. It is good to see her at last. http://www.jessmorgan.co.uk/
O’Hooley and Tidow
They were nominated for the Radio 2 Folk Awards this year. No, they did not win but this injustice did not deflate their affable, impeccably warm show at Hebden Bridge. It would be an understatement to say they did not disappoint.
With a bright halo of showmanship and a springy step of enthusiasm, O’Hooley and Tidow’s begin their set with one of my favourites, “The Cut” and my enthusiasm did not stop there, it only went skyward. The music is infused with a screaming piano cabaret that is glamourous from tip-to-toe and certainly an interesting bedfellow with their reverence for Yorkshire. We are treated to a number of their songs that take on the task of publically celebrating women and sharing some dashing personalities we would otherwise would not hear of. “Gentleman Jack” a raucsous number that was as bawdy as the character herself. With lyrics such as, “Their husbands are coming, you’d better start running For nobody likes a Jack-the-Lass” you’ve got to admire the duo’s penchance for bringing exceptional characters through their song be it scounderels or saints. It is kind of a folky alternative to similarly themed song “Doctor James” by Gilmore & Roberts which hopefully through time will be part of a larger body of songs rewriting history books. They also perform “Beryl”, about the multi-award winning cyclist (Beryl Burton) who from the 50’s onwards was pretty much unbeaten in a number of competitive categories but compared to her male sports counterparts was barely a footnote in history.
It was not all songs about amazing women though. There were also songs about beer. Murphy’s Saloon (a much less crude version than variations I have frequented) and their version of “All For My Grog” are well received with the effective and jaunty melody in a bit of a squeeze box interlude from their limited edition work “summat’s brewin'” about English drinking. The tour of their music continues with a song written for their wedding “Big, small love” from Kathryn Williams as well as sad elephant song “Blanket”, and national identity seeking “Made in England”. A bit like a pickle tray in a curry house there is a lot to choose from yet it all goes with the evening (of poppadoms?)
A rich, comprehensive set of many of their hits you feel there are no songs left out at all. Just the two performers, their instruments and the curtains drawn close, the scene is set for a showstopping headline act. http://ohooleyandtidow.com/
The Mather Robinson Band played a quite retro folk sounding set that didn’t hold back, Rod Clements brought some quiet nuance to the afternoon with songs such as “the ghost in blue suede shoes” and popular “Meet me on the corner”.
Fine guitar work from Plant and Taylor is pretty entrancing and other duo, Plumhall are quite affecting in their highlight- a rendition of “Cold Harbour” from their upcoming album.
I love a good story, the creepier the better. Thankfully this wish was taken care of during the afternoon on Saturday at the Festival.
There is not too much to say about the Ghost Walk at the festival, except that it was great. Ursula Holden-Gill took a small crowd through the streets and bustle of Hebden Bridge centre, and despite the traffic and large number of people about, it still proved an intimate and interesting way to spend the time as modernity melted away. Great for the family, her stories are quite ghastly in places but there were are some (slightly) lighter references to Robin Hood and much of Hebden Bridge’s quite sordid past. Fully in character she entertained all, there is something rather special about seeing so many younger children paying attention and being taken in by the horror stories of yesteryear. I recommend whether during festival season or not, Holden-Gill spins a good yarn and thankfully errs on the side of the fantastical with her stories. The best female storyteller we have seen to date. http://www.ursulaholdengill.com/
A mild interlude to the strings of musical gigs, sessions and storytelling taking place, even the streets themselves could not fully contain the full extent of talent on display. Even me, a bit of a Morris sceptic enjoyed quite a bit of dance in the centre (400 Roses were tops for me with their alt-morris look and fantastic coloured and braided hair), but that was not all. How long it has been since I’ve seen a one-man band I cannot say, but this combination of music and dance is something else. A head-turner and one of the most popular displays.
It is a fun weekend, an enormous array of musicians and a relaxed yet professional festival there seems something quite timeless about the place.
Lots of love going this way, I recommend taking the quieter path next year and seeing what the fuss is about here.
Keep an eye on the website for next year’s festival where there are “Super Early Bird” Tickets already https://www.hebdenfolkroots.org/
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.
“light Americana which grabs and appeals across the board”
Starting off the South Yorkshire Folk, Roots, and World Festival there was the incredibly talented duo of “Madison Violet”. Madison Violet consists of Brenley MachEachern and Lisa MacIsaac, two great robust names and musical artists with a sound I am going to describe as glazed pinewood, quite light in character and incredibly well polished.
Colourful in name and compelling in presence this Canadian act has more than a few hints of Americana and Roots to it, though it’s strength is in their wide appeal to a full audience. Having released seven albums following a busy schedule of touring and working together for the last 14+ years, they are of course on another big tour which is stopping off in many countries, though sadly not much longer here (check out their website for details here). Their touring seems integral to their character, their professionalism and confidence certainly shows in the set in Doncaster as they made a lot of new fans in a potentially a difficult slot in a day when people are usually hunting Yorkshire Puddings rather than live music (first slot at 2pm on a Sunday).
They started the set with “The Heat”, a track that was swerving and engaging in equal measure. This alongside “Ohio” were introductions that describe the character of Madison Violet quite well: the sound is clean, their performance is unforced and their instrument changes seamless. Under the shine of the unexpected Doncaster sun and the fleetingness of the afternoon, they were a great way to spend the time. Much of the set was older material than “Ohio” a more poppy number from their latest album, “Year of the Horse”. Whilst some fans are split on the new influences with the later album, it seems that whatever material the women reach for has at least a modicum of appeal to a general audience; and this is no bad thing, many fans of Americana might be seeking the grimier side of life but treading that furrow can equally be a worn exercise.
Moving on to “Come as you are” and “Crying your eyes out” the strength of this group is in their intimate portrayal of emotion; “crying your eyes out” was, as admitted by Brenley as being in part about her brother (who passed away) and part on discovery of the chemical complexities of the tearful act. A sad number yet catchy and memorable. My favourite song from the group had to be “The Ransom”, one of those songs that while tip-toeing a lightness that their music embodies, it describes the pits, the desperation, and worry of being broke. Inspired by an Australian motel, you can almost feel the broken aircon through the guitar strings and searching lyrics.
Not “husky” but with a touch of darker sweetness, maybe a vanilla pancake with brown sugar (does that exist, I want one?) their voices show that time has been put into their craft and the decision to reduce production to a barer sound throughout their career is a very good choice, it puts their voices and hearts centre stage.