We return to the Wesley Centre in Maltby after a hiatus to see what we have been missing out on. We haven’t been since Covid and are looking forward to a night of live music.
The Wesley Centre is still a nice intimate venue with friendly serving staff and the all-important raffle to host the folk-gig night “Firbeck Live” which continues to gather some cool folk artists. As pointed out, Miranda Sykes herself is not touring extensively until her own new album release and upcoming work with other bands, yet she is here and she is playing to a pretty full audience.
It is a set of two halves. Sykes’ first is her self proclaimed, “songs that I like and random numbers” and the second is where she delves into songs from her “Farmhouse Sessions”. The whole selection is light with a few forays into more traditional faire (notably the Bonny Light Horseman), but generally taking a comfortable and popular collection of blues and acoustic numbers that have been influences on Sykes. We have seen her before and have always been impressed of the road she has taken and her tales of being on the road. Contributing to many albums and travelling from Yorkshire across Europe in a number of groups, including her part she has played with the Show of Hands group; Sykes is a musician who is a pleasure to hear .
Sykes voice is more towards the softer and quieter scale, punctuated with a great clarity like that still hummingbird picture you see with it’s wings mid-motion. Her voice is somewhat like suede in that her lilt is versatile and can take a bit of punishment while retaining a glossy alllure. Metaphors aside, this is the best we have heard her voice in the few years since we last saw her and it was only better thanks to the great sound engineering work on the night.
There were some standouts from the sets, her rendition of Karine Polwart’s, “Only One Way” from the Faultlines album is a good one. Each pluck of the double bass was like a leg on a blues freeway you are hurtling down, building on the night wind in your hair. However one like’s their blues, this is a sharp number and performance. Kerr’s cover of Nancy Kerr and James Fagan’s “Sweet Peace” did it justice. Her voice managed to encapsulate the original’s duo dynamics with her own range and steady guitar strums. Gentle, spiritual and stirring it is a reflective cover of one of our favourites. A particular crowd pleaser was Sykes’ performance of “The Lincolnshire Song” a song peppered with heart and familiarity, which the audience were jubilant about hearing.
Sykes’ tunes contain echoes of counter-culture and kindness without being a harsh political denouncements calling for blood. This is seen in tracks such as Nancy Griffiths’ “Time of Inconvenience” with it’s especially boingy bass that thumps to the rhythm of technological commentary. The theme of joy and light is furthered with a rendition of Chris Hoban’s “Stay Close to Me”, a particularly poignant and pretty number penned during the time of Covid, which resonates through it’s call to hope even at a time when things were less certain for the future.
The songs and others point to a relaxed, happy evening. Warming and restorative, it is a pleasure to see Miranda Sykes again for a delightful evening at a great venue.
Check out Miranda Sykes’ website for details of further tour dates here
An auspicious beginning in the sun, Beardy brings the breadth of bigger festivals to you in a space which is convenient, friendly and relaxed
Like when the blacksmith’s hammer is at it’s hottest, June this year was aglow with fire, heat and sparks.
Festival season was underway and the musical magic about to happen for many people who get to choose their poison (alcohol, cola, tea) and go to a festival to choose their other poison (pop, jazz, folk, hip-hop). For a few days over late June we decided to opt for Folk as our medium of choice and travel down to Shropshire for the first of what is shaping to a nice additional to the festival calendar, the “Beardy Folk Festival.”
It lived up to it’s name, that’s for certain. One of the artists (I cannot remember which) did point out he thought he’d walked into a ZZ Top Convention. Yes there were beards and they were that impressive, my boy stubble was of no compare.
Bearded stuff aside, the festival was home to some children’s entertainment, a mini funfair and opportunities to eat, drink and buy around the fantastic walled Hopton Court. Thankfully with the expansive, warming sun we found a few areas of shade to cool off and certainly left the festival with a tan! We are certainly liking the trend in festivals where the bar is encouraging people to hire the containers or bring their own. Beardy had their own take where they sold you a commemorative container for £1 and you keep it for the festival all the way through and beyond. Certainly environmentally better than binning a pile of plastic.
We also found that there was excellent sound quality all around, good scheduling (you could see absolutely everything) and some brilliant acts to boot; the beer was quite awesome too. It’s more contained than expansive city festivals (like Oxford Folk Festival) so what it loses in it’s varied sprawling historical setting it makes up for in convenience and pleasant surroundings. The only musical tent being an acoustic tent was good also, not much need for jostling to get to the front, everyone can see and have to bring their own seats.
That’s the festival generally. What were our musical highlights? See below and have a quick sample!
JOSHUA BURNELL BAND
We continue to sing the praises of this modern, psychedelic outfit that brings the animation of yesteryear folk and collides it with the vitality of youth. Singing a number of folk songs, some bombastic in their rock interpretations (The Lowlands of Holland) with other more considered numbers (such as a version of “At the Harbour”) or bloodythirsty tales of revenge, “The Smuggler’s Tale”, they continue to be a a festival catalyst. Like the spinning leaves of Autumn that trigger a beautiful memory as they crunch underfoot, the Joshua Burnell Band always liven up the place. Their belting of Scots set, “Plane Tree & Tenpenny bit” is like the crack of a lion tamers whip as it curves around the stage, it is even more with the recent addition of Holly Brandon on fiddle, they really are hitting their groove in style.
With a big band rock edge, inspiration can be seen from Steeleye Span with their spin on “Blackleg Miner” and Fairport Convention’s “Tamlin” and these models certainly suits them as the joining chorus of instruments keep pace with Burnell’s dancing hands and swaying hair.
Always a pleasure to see and hear. For us the Joshua Burnell Band are like the person at a party who finds and open the champagne in the middle of celebrations!
We admit that the sun always shines on us with the Carrivick Sisters. A duo who have been influencing and informing folk and bluegrass for a while, it is statistically possible that their down-to-earth characters and earnest, exploratory songwriting could not do the trick one day.. but that would be a sad day indeed (and we do very badly at maths).
At Beardy, they were joined by Kieran Towers. Kieran has made an album with Charlotte Carrivick, “Wolves a Howlin'” that looks at Appalachian Folk Music with new eyes, and his presence here was very welcome indeed. They performed some excellent songs including the historically drenched “1912 House” that oozed sadness and the feel of another time, the burning and aching wonder of their take on “The Blackest Crow” and the delicate racing burst of “Piggy Bank”, an instrumental that reminded of the sugar rush of crushed skittles.
They also sung of Snowdonia and maps, responding to a Yew Pine Mountain in an original track (“No Yew a Pine Mountain”) and an old tortoise, in a great set of versatility.
Dynamic and versatile, Towers and the Carrivicks make it look easy and effortless. To hear more of Charlotte and Kieran go here http://www.towerscarrivick.co.uk/, for the Carrivicks go here http://www.thecarrivicksisters.co.uk/.
Imagine a quiet cave with you inside and your thoughts on the walls around from a mythological adventure you have returned from. This is how you might come to understand the music of Kitty Macfarlane. We have been waiting to see her for quite a while, the last time we caught any of her set was at Oxford Folk Festival last year.. but that was literally ten minutes (we got lost on the windy streets).
Beardy Folk made it very easy to find her this time so there we were! Kitty’s set didn’t disappoint.
Several of the songs tickled our interest of legend and story such as the “Glass Eel”, the world-spanning creature and “Avona and the Giant” about the muse of brothers “Goram and Vincent” from Somerset lore. The latter is much like the singer herself: quiet and effective as it makes it’s way into the world. The afternoon sun definitely got softer with her musical presence. And then there were other songs such as her song about fishermen in North France “Tide and Time”, and a new song she had composed for a newborn in her family “Dawn and Dark” about there being bigger challenges for the child as they grow up and even better things to come in the future.
Enjoyable, mellow and contained we recommend you see her where you can.
At the point of Kitty’s debut album is on it’s way on 21st September, “Namer of Clouds.” Go to her website for more information http://www.kittymacfarlane.com/
With Granny’s Attic we feel that they are at the point where their lightening might strike, we have heard the rumble of thunder and now the energy is coming down from the skies. With a fairly extensive tour schedule and
Granny’s Attic are a trio of young, exasperatingly talented musicians who (we think quite rarely) sail their boat around the rock of traditional folk. There aren’t the only young group who are, its just that few seem to accomplish it with the kind of trad-purity and dedication to the cause. Like a herd of plucky mountain goats you can try to catch their sound and energy but they will run away with it.
Our favourites were “The Wheels of the World” with a particular message about society, the great titled “What I Saw In My Dream (As I Slept in My Chair)” a kind of delirious dream of what the world could be like, and of course their saline, punchy version of shanty, “Away to the South’ard.” The winds of the world were blowing indeed and these guys answer the call.
A funny bit of the set was how the band described how they might have burnt their bridges in local Worcester venues (because they weren’t very good back then) and have found fame elsewhere. It is certainly encouraging to hear how musicians always start from somewhere (and it happens they are from near where we grew up).
They are a young image of folk that takes everything you like about the traditional scene and adds a dash chilli to heat it up, go to their website for more info https://www.grannysattic.org.uk/
URBAN FOLK QUARTET
Dishing out intricate musical performance with the energy of a piston engine, the Urban Folk Quartet opened with “Long Time Traveller” an earthy, rich hewing of ancient wood and soil. There is plenty here with fiddle, guitar, banjo and some serious percussion that extends it’s grasp into those areas between experiences that spread beyond geographical boundaries. Awfully tongue-in-cheek with their prowess there is so much to like whether it’s Dan Walsh’s clambering and speeding “Whiplash Reel” (after what we presume is an intense Indian car journey) or a three piece tune that celebrates the experience of joining (and then running away) from the circus; there are many things to be happy with and many subject matters to get lost in. “The “Whiplash Reel” rolls off the banjo almost effortlessly and sings of unfamiliar streets, the song is layered like a strata of land that bristles with India’s many precious metals perhaps inviting you for a prospect of your own.
Enjoyable and reaching for those places you didn’t know existed, the Urban Folk Quartet are another band to add to your list, https://theufq.com/
There were many other sets we enjoyed at Beardy too. There was a rare appearance by Richard Digance, comedian and singer who sand many from his repetoire “What’s the use of anything?”, “Jack of all trades” and “Sod’s Law.” An all-round entertainer, Digance explained the showbiz world and where he feels he fits in it, it was surely entertaining to realise where all those daytime TV guitar numbers had come from. Grace Petrie was a force of nature. We hadn’t seen a full set of hers until this time (previously caught her as part of the Coven) so it was a joy to hear a strongly political (but often personal) voice to the mix of proceedings here. Extremely self-aware (her musing about just how “left” she is is telling, and something I battle with myself) she was a thundering cannon on these thoughts in “Nobody Knows I’m a Fraud” before launching into “Ivy” a runaway hit of her set (and would have been at the festival were it not for the Graceland set). Her self and being is held up for all to see, a heartfelt performer that laments her lack of finding a particular niche but exhibits the qualities of freedom and break from tradition that much folk shys away from.
We also enjoyed the continuing success of Kim Lowings, which was seen even more here and the comedic but vivid waves of tunes from the Jaywalkers who supplied not only the offbeat, unexpected numbers around burnt chilli and a “Mountain Chicken” but also a very fine cover of “Tainted Love.” Bright and piercing like an arrow of light, they are a quality act. Other musicians of note were Roberts & Lakeman, Skinner & Twitch, and Jim Moray but there are too many to mention here.
Beardy Folk was an incredible success. A good opener with a recognisable and varied type of artist, an open location with a complimentary sound setup.
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!
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/
Isembard’s Wheel sit between modern indie folk and more traditional folk fare that should properly interest the industry both as a great live band and one with crossover appeal.
The Shakespeares Pub in Sheffield is hosting some great artists; some new and some established. I don’t want to gush too much, the pub gets a lot of praise for it’s real ale, and (for me personally) a pretty extensive catalogue of whisky too. If you are in the steel city, I say check it out (go here)
Relatively speaking Isembard’s Wheel are fairly new to the scene, though they have appeared in a few prestigious places (Warwick Folk Festival), and have had a mention on BBC Introducing too. Tonight we see them for their album launch of “Common Ground.” It is a rather joyous affair with fire dancers, some warm-up acts and some great beer on tap.
There is definitely something here with this band. On listening I would say that their music could be considered a kind of keystone of folk music. It is like an indie folk band in terms of arrangement and instruments but there is a keen, natural eye that looks to traditional folk for songwriting and themes which goes beyond most indie folk artists; and this for me is pretty exciting stuff. Many an hour can be spent debating what “folk” is and lamenting on the state of live music or volume of young audiences but truly a band like Isembard’s Wheel (in my mind at least) has the potential to be the bridge or even reception room to the vast, varied and interesting genre of folk music.
Before the group takes the stage we are treated to some support acts. Acoustic singer/songwriter Jordan Wrigley took the stage first.
Jordan Wrigley, from Wakefield is a student of Law at Sheffield Hallam. He has performed during SHUfest (a celebration of talent at the University) and a few other places too. There are no dusty tomes to be seen or any interrogation of witnesses, for his knowledge of performance is up for judgement on this night.
Wrigley has an enthusiasm and also brings a quiet sensibility to his set and character. A good and practised voice, his cover of “The Banjolin Song” from Mumford and Sons benefits from being a more stripped down version of the song. I prefer it to the hit number which is more buried in layers of reverb and production and in hindsight too many expected conventions. Wrigley’s effort draws in more attention to the lyrics and celebrates the acoustic form as much as a bear celebrates honey. He also plays Paulo Nutini’s “These Streets” too laying down a consistently positive attitude throughout the course of the songs. All this being said, in the best possible way, his own songs overshadow the covers and hint at a deft hand for folk writing; for example “The Charge”, a song heavily influenced by the Charge of the Light Brigade. Quite persistent in how it grabs you, there are some interesting storytelling elements within and of the soldiers’ lived experience. With a little more instrumentation and arrangement that could bring the deeper boom and impending doom of this subject matter further to the listener’s consciousness, the song’s could shine even more and would not be out of place on a veteran folk artist’s album. He also shares an original song based on Wuthering Heights, and some more familiarity with a bit of Springsteen. It is good to see consummate ukelele play and a positive reception to this set from the audience. In sum a refreshing amount of variety, a good opening and an artist to keep an eye on.
The second warmup act is The Idolins. Somewhere between the Cranberries and The Corrs the group occupy a scene within pop-folk with a seasoning of rock. Coming to the stage with candor and some Nottingham charm thrown in, The Idolins have got a long reach and appeal to listeners who enjoy different genres; their talents have not gone unnoticed by BBC Radio 6 for example. They have a lineup that includes original member Karen Smalley-Turner (vocalist, songwriter, guitar), Nick Scott (guitar, harmony), Mark Rice (percussionist), Dukes (bassist) and Hannah (cello). “The Idolins” have a sweet sound, the voice is not syrupy in-your-face sweetness but rather an ambient sweetness; like the marshmellows in a Rocky Road. They previewed “Refuge” adding some banjo to this as yet unrecorded number. Rolling in bass there could be some comparisons made with this song to Natalie Imbruglia, though with a more social-issues subject matter, it is quite thoughtful and enchanting. A favourite for myself is their new single, “Seasons.” More of a ballad, the fiddle sounds especially good and the lyrics tangle themelves around the concept of seasons of the relationship’s temperment and life. Nicely worded and like a quiet blustery day it captures the idea and gently spins a story of colour, intensity and sadness; worth an exploration. There areplenty of other tracks to be enjoyed too including the self-professed “Skunk Anansie-like” track “Safety Net” with it’s heavier rock and “Nothing Missing” where slight world influences with great rhymes and an anthem to sing along to. A lot to like on the way to Isembard’s Wheel, check out the Idolins website here with details of purchasing “Seasons”, their most recent single.
Before we get there though I would like to give some applause for “Jackdaw Circus” who provided some fire-based entertainment on the evening. I don’t think I’d seen a firewhip before, the closest I’ve ever come to it is the energy whip in the 80’s He-Man film (I was young and my taste went astray). It was great, I’ve seen a few circus acts in the past, but these guys were something else; you can tell that they have performed in Edinburgh Fringe in the past. Funny and political and really practised, the duo of this fire-taming group entertained between artists and as performers some of the friendliest people you can meet. Their skit around different Countries was particularly good. If anyone reading needs to book some entertainment; you can’t go wrong with these contemporary Denis the Menace, fire bard types. Check out their site here.
Isembard’s Wheel- Album and Gig
So this brings us to the main act “Isembard’s Wheel” launching their album “Common Ground.”
Comprising Alexander Isembard, Edward Young, Toby Morris, Rebekah Foard, Joss Mann-Hazell we get a great combination of lyrics, guitar, banjo, double bass, and fiddle that shakes the Shakespeare, sparks the light fittings and generally throws both feet forward into the world of folk and live performance.
“Rauccous” is not the right word, but there is a lot of energy here and for a debut album from a relatively new group there is a fearless attempt to try and cram in a number of genres, and like a pirate who has ransacked the sinking ship, the gamble pays off. The positive qualities of young musicians is sometimes attributed to a lack of restraint over genre and previous traditional material, I would say here that “Common Ground” doesn’t fit this mold. It instead is a large showcase of musical forms and niches that are performed very well within their own genres and then brought together here. It is quite sharp about how the group does it, it is not an album that feels like it stumbles at any point and whilst reverent of different works, it never slows to catch it’s breath. For example they do a more than serviceable cover of “Adieu, Sweet, Lovely Nancy” with an Americana influence and layers of strings making it more of an anthem than you might imagine. As it progresses it goes a bit mad and just after the middle we arrive at Sydney Carter’s “Lord of the Dance”. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes but it bursts out and gets the crowd going, for younger readers there is actually a bit of Green Day going on in this performance (yes, I am aware they aren’t a new band ha ha). The good thing you feel from their performance and the disc is that these are not token references, there is a love for what has come before.
“Ask the Time Away” is similarly nimble number leaving with little time to gasp with a rewarding and almost pop voice awash with like the light flashes from artist’s palette, “I could make the finest work of art, it would soon fade.” More dancing is inbound with “Turner’s Bones” which has the youthful energy of indie folk of kicking a positive beat to life with it’s characteristic big drum, it’s a song that enjoys itself it reminds of that first hint of sun in the Spring that laps at your door. They are certainly adding something to the folk genre. Their sound has a lightness of touch in lyrics that reminds me of the rather prominent group at the moment “Ninebarrow” with the dwelling on the influence of the rocks, the birds and the green landscape that gives rise to inspiration and celebration. “Isembard’s Wheel” take introspective lyrics and take them down on a whitewater raft. Their sound seems very much to be situated in the Sheffield with influences from the Peaks and their songs have a naturalistic feel to them like the Green Man himself is roaming the Damflask reservoir or pottering across rocky outcrops at Mam Tor. As a local there are a lot of different landmarks and energy of the land that they have in their collective musical aura.
There is versatility in the album tracks that comes across on stage. Taking the group somewhat out of Sheffield and perhaps with Westward eyes looking back in time, “Sowain Tul” is an A Capella joy, a frontier kind of reflection of life and death that you might find being tackled by someone later in life. You can almost feel the hot wall of Arkansas air and the spirit of contentment wash over “So when I stand over my bones, ever more beneath the leaves.” It’s harmonies are top notch and percussion, foot stomps and thumps really vigorous and catchy. “Horse on the Hill” is one of my favourites with it’s adventurous and zesty series of strings, banjo, fiddle, guitar all coming together to express the burning candle of love,”you are the dawn on my day.” Possibly a prehistoric love with the “Horse on the hill” being one of the giant figures of a horse carved into the hillside from ancient civilisation, the song does what the band does best; mingling the old with the modern and making something very interesting from it. The voice is uplifting and sounds great alongside the rich soundscape and some nice touches of lyrics and melody that is inescapable, “I thought myself a man before I became a boy.”
In the flesh they are an enthusiastic group who had a large mixed-age audience. There is a lot of crossover appeal with their songs concerning all matter of subjects that are held together by a coursing tide of nature and history in it’s discourse. Their set is quite loud as a vehicle for their creative energies, the crowd are equally enthusiastic and engaging; a quiet set of folk ballads this is not. But then not everybody does that, and the folk industry should be happy indeed with a band such as this which has faceted a musical sculpture which is not just indie-folk but has a place in myth-making and traditional folk music too. Quite fearless with musicianship that combines energy and sensitivity, Isembard’s Wheel should be on your radar.
Isembard’s Wheel have a tour coming up, check out their website for details and where you can purchase their new album, or check out their Facebook Page for more details
Some emotionally grey, but not dismal tones as Yorkshire local Andy Whitehouse launches his thoughtful solo piece in Sheffield.
The Heeley Institute is a like a small crab, delicate yet intricate and versatile with a beauty in it’s design.
It isn’t the largest space but it has hosted some of the biggest acts. Recent winners of the Radio 2 Folk Awards, “The Furrow Collective” performed there last year (I luckily managed to get tickets for this) so it’s not just me who finds the place magical. You can’t get much more intimate, it’s like a pub but without the potential for loud interlopers during the set (definitely a bugbear of mine). Put simply, the Heeley Institute is a rather special place and while it is home for the night for big artists, it is also a venue for local musicians. On this night in March it is the launching pad for Andy Whitehouse’s solo album “Almost Home” alongside some supporting acts.
Residing in Sheffield Whitehouse usually plays in the band “The Silver Darlings” with a jazz rock and blues edge. Going solo, his sound has changed a little. It is moving a bit more towards the sullen than it might have done before and while doing it, it still retains it’s introspective angle that characterises “The Silver Darlings”. Like black silk moving across a dressmaker’s table, the songs roll through the sewing machine of music as the artist negotiating the edges of genre, creating stitches in the leathery Blues of the album. Not bright and cheery in the everyday sense it is a moody set that invites comment and reflection; if this appeals to your sensibilities then the music from the whole event will be right up your street .
On the night, Andy Whitehouse is joined for the festivities by a couple of support acts: the pretty dark Richard Neuberg and a fairly new, acoustic duo Mike & David.
Mike & David bring an early bit sensationalism and cabaret to the evening kicking things off. Playing a few tracks to get the crowd going there were some joys to be heard. The pinnacle is a rather delicious cover of Pete Burns’ “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record).” One cannot really argue with a great stage presence and more sass than a sarsaparilla smoothie. As a cobra ready to strike, you get the feeling that there is some untapped potential here, a duo with more places to go. Richard Neuberg was less of a cabaret motorshow and more a lone bounty hunter doing laps around an inky, dangerous pit. Dark clouds descended as he sang, his words almost slow clap to the man in black himself. Some great songs ensued like the swirling “Summertime” and it’s grim words, “what we burn we betray” and the chasing, affecting guitar and song of “Gold in the River.” There is more that can be said, but check out his website and have a listen to his work (here). At this point the seeds of melancholy have been cast and the grim rider has mounted his steed as Andy Whitehouse launches into his album.
“Almost Home” starts and ends with the sound and feeling of travel; it’s opening track looks inwardly and folkily to the nearby places of Yorkshire with “The Daleman’s Litany.” Previously tackled within the genre by Tim Hart & Maddy Prior, Christy Moore, and Roy Bailey to name just a few, Andy Whitehouse’s version can be described as being despondent, downtrodden and pained in feeling. Throughout the song there is a kind of chamber harmony, bringing a spiritual dimension to the song and making the man who has seen and done many things more of a living pilgrim than anything else. There is a feeling of weariness too; the guitar has the odd scratchiness to it and the song feels a bit detached like that the floating feeling of sleep from the lorry driver speeding through long roads of neon lights. Whitehouse lists the well known Yorkshire towns of the song “Hull”, “Halifax”, and “Keighley” to name a few with him being like the “eternal wanderer” who is never at peace. Some good exploration and it’s own stamp of identity, Andy’s first track is a banner for tracks to come.
If “The Daleman’s Litany is broad and spiritual “Beauty Before Darkness” is like a mirror ball that casts light and shadow on a relationship. Whitehouse wrestles with the starkness of the song. displaying shades of grief and angst throughout the lyrics. It could be the notion of love between troubled people, it also be the finality of one’s own life; Whitehouse’s delivery allows the audience judgement. It takes its time savouring the storm. With it’s waves of emotion from Whitehouse’s delicate vocals combined with the dark night mood guitar we get a poignant number with sad undertones, “Love is like a sunset, it’s beauty before darkness.” One of my favourites on the disc, a good second track and an enticing number, with it’s inner eye working overtime.
“Cherry Blossom” also has quite a bit of charm being is an off-beat song with bass and light touches of percussion that sound like the dropping of crystals. Much like “Beauty Before Darkness” it is laced with possible undertones. This one is like a song of addiction calling of loves past, occupying a kind of space between the waking world, the world of memories and the one of dreams. “as the sun comes up again, nothing soothes the pain.” If it isn’t obvious Whitehouse’s album and performance seems to call from quite a macabre and sulking place deep in a the middle of a goth gathering; though it never feels like posturing of for it’s own sake and there aren’t any elements of pretension. If it just a good fit of mood to lyrics. The sweet spin of brown sugar as it is swallowed by a frothy coffee I love the austere edge of the song, the deliberateness of the performance and places that Andy reaches for.
There is a brief interlude with “Jessica Faith” as a lighter instrumental and “Like the tide” has some more joyous moments too. “Almost Home”, on the other hand is like a late night drive over Sheffield’s local snake pass with the fog rolling in. Guitars harass from all angles and the darkness creeps in, the guitars work really well on this track; something about the whole sound, the atmosphere gives a shiver of timelessness, of thought melting into the road and dead of night. An extremely, evocative track it is the mind racing to the unknown wilderness, the sharp noire and stillness that you find in Murakami’s “After Dark”novel. Great, I love it.
If there are similarities between this and Whitehouse’s work in “The Silver Darlings” it is the joy for the blurry edges of genres and the murkiness of some of the songs. It is a blue splashing of paint blending into obsidian, a delightfully inner world being dragged out of the depths of the mind. It is not the album for those that prefer their world-view through the lens of a rainbow and sunshine, it instead it hangs out with Reece Shearsmith in the woods with a blues guitar and a sense of parnioa. Check it out if this sounds like your kind of thing, “Almost Home” is available on Amazon (here) as well as Bandcamp (here) for purchase.
Steamchicken is a universally fun and energetic band boasting shamelessly soulful vocals and a catchy, booming brass-line.
Somewhere between a smoky jazz outfit and a blues brass extravaganza, “Steamchicken” are a group who set out to entertain, and do so in spades. Much like the wise, old traveller from a Western or the steely glare of a a wizened sensei in a martial arts movie, it feels very much like the band has seen and experienced a lot; their music reflects a fusion of life experiences, musical history and stage presence. As a result it’s very hard to dislike the work they are doing here and there is a lot of widespread appeal. Comprised of a huge roster (or is that rooster?) 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) and Amy Kakoura (Vocals) it is clear there is a large brass influence to the mix, (which I love to bits). It also means that there should a bit of instrumentation for everyone (though maybe not shruti box enthusiasts). The addition of Amy Kakoura’s voice is like the aroma of flowers in a beautiful display collection that draws the crowd in and fitting along the steely harmonica and chasing piano quite nicely.
It is always a pleasure to see the chickens in action, and on this day they certainly were poultry with a purpose. “Steamchicken” come to the Bury Met to perform in the smaller space at the venue; not quite the scene from a New Orleans club basement (the seats are too comfy for example) but certainly an event and show with energy, pizzazz and a rather enviable lineup of songs to influence and entertain. It is an intimate space and like the friend you knew at school that smoked menthol cigarettes in the rain, it is rather a cool companion to the larger concert room upstairs; it felt like hanging out in the world’s best basement conversion with friends as you set the worlds to rights. On this day it was the album launch for their latest collection called, “Look Both Ways”, sensible advice for chickens and humans alike.
One of the joys with the group is that they tread not too softly upon a number of genres and gladly share in the fun with the audience. On entry to the gig, Steamchicken gave out a number of stickers (some were left pointing, others right pointing). This was not obviously apparent but whichever way you pointed (ooh err) had a bearing on how you participated in one of the songs, either as the train klaxon or some wheels rollin’ on down the track. Lets say I rolled alongside a lot of others, fun was had all round and we certainly were getting somewhere. From their years doing ceilidh and previous band reforging with Amy Kakoura, they are definitely ploughing ahead. It was a fun show, it really doesn’t take an over imagination to work out that they would fit well at a number of folk festivals. What of the music they played on the evening?
Their songs ranged from folkier numbers to full blown blues and jazz, an instrumental number and doses of the musical influences for ska. Whilst showcasing some tracks from the new album there were some numbers drawn from the band’s previous works too. Of the folkier stuff they tackle there is the folk classic “The Oak and the Ash” with some wonderfully sad piano with a voice like an expressive vine wrapped around a tree, a tightening and heart tugging presentation. From the new album, “Big Tin Horn” is a further example of them working with a sound that crosses genres. Somewhat a folk shanty, somewhat swing and also ska/jazz backing it reminds just how fun music can be. Like the friend who is centre of attention at a gathering who also drags up the mood, the energy; it is breathless, the gentle breeze and sun of Spring. The brass takes on a life of it’s own and the nautical interludes are truly exquisite, “dance to the rhythm of the marching band, dance to the coming of the dawn” (probably my favourite track from the new album). “Mary and the Soldier” was another track from the new album, one of most expressively old-world numbers sounding like it is running through a forest of expressive accordion and deep, longing song (a song Dylan and others had recorded in the past). The most committed song to the idea of folk on the album, it is folky jazz at it’s best; if they were children stealing biscuits from the biscuit barrel they would leave no trace, likewise here folk is combined with their jazz instrument leanings in a seamless way.
Another track “Jericho” is something else altogether though exactly as you would imagine with a hallowed call, soulful wall shattering melody from the brass and Old Testament name dropping, “Joshua”, “King Saul” and all the other big names from the time and place. War-like in tempo it is the heavy cavalry within a medieval army, especially so as other artists with songs that call upon this event from the Bible (K.D. Lang, Hilary Duff, Kelly Oliver just for starters) take either a more oblique, saccharine or personal narrative approach to the imagery (in that order). Steamchicken’s take was kind of “in your face”, a confident cousin telling you to take the risk to swing across a stream on a rope or the artillery firing in a Napoleonic regiment. “Western Approaches” remains a favourite, transplanting you from the certainty of things to a storm brewing on the open sea and the quickening of pace. Starting in a swing fashion, the drums call out the certainty and ebbing of the sea; then as it progresses the band blows left and the band blows right, as it takes off and picks up pace. It certainly brings the adventure of sailing forward and revels in the joys and fears of this ancient pastime and trade.
The band have put in a scattering of covers to their new album, they all fit remarkably well though and their spin on things are always interesting and add something to the track. “When I get Low, I get High” is a streetwise, urban rumble of a song, a mindful cover to include on the new album. Though a cover of a 30’s track, it does do it’s own thing and their performance showed a smoldering Amy Kakoura. It is high kicking, it growls and pounds the burning sidewalks with it’s presence, and whilst it isn’t Ella Fitzgerald’s signature bite, Kakoura’s voice reaches around and brings a class of it’s own, “My man walked out, now you know that ain’t right, well he’d better watch out if I meet him tonight.” If you wanted a snapshot of Kakoura’s versatility in soulful voice, this might be the track that you go to first. Quite possibly a monumental influence for the band name, “Ain’t Nobody here but us Chickens” is one their finishers, a swing mainstay of a song and an indicator of their vintage soul their cover is up there with the best (and their chicken impression is one of the best I’ve ever heard).
A fun evening for all really. There are always several head nods to yesteryear but the band themselves carry a fresh, vibrant strength of voice and backing. There is a lot of variety here, a very good fit in musicians and throughout the set several “spotlight” moments where an “old time” glamour is presented on stage and you lose a little sense of the present. A great venue, a great band, a great night (for everyone).
Steamchicken’s new album “Look Both Ways” (released on 10th Feb 2017) can be bought here and they are doing a few dates later in the year (check here)