Award Folk Music

Folk Phenomena’s – The Folk of 2016 – Award Post

Hi all,

I have been threatening for a couple of months now to do an award post to celebrate (in my opinion) the best Folk of 2016.

It is a cliche to say it was a fantastic year for folk music, so I won’t say that more than that once.

But what I can honestly say though is that I’ve have heard more folk than ever before, and the scene is certainly a well-filled blend of whiskies; a vibrant mix of old and new expressions co-existing. The scene itself is pretty vibrant in it’s different expressions and many stories are being told old and anew.

As a result I thought it only fair that Folk Phenomena gives some awards this year, apologies there are no awards going for live gigs (per se), or traditional/instrumental. Maybe I will hear more of these things this coming year and incorporate this into my next awards! Before I proceed let me explain how I will do this.

As many know, I have a bit of a fondness for whimsy so here are Folk Phenomena’s award categories, and an explanation as to what they entail…


THE BRIDGE AWARD: (Crossover Folk)

The Bridge Award symbolises the most accessible of folk albums.

This is not to say that an album is lacking in folk credentials or has strayed over to the side of pop or hip-hop (for example), but it’s delivery combines all the best sensibilities of Folk Music whilst through arrangement or delivery reaches an out-stretched hand to the uninitiated in the scene. Gateway albums are essential in any music form and particular for albums considered for the “BRIDGE AWARD” this year.




For artists with pizzazz who started the journey and reached this big milestone; this award honours those who not only were courageous to put this foot forward, but also did it with a sense of style. Having pushed open the doors to a glorious party, this award recognises the strength of vision for artists with a debut album launched in 2016. This is “THE GRAND ENTRANCE AWARD.”





THE MYTHMAKER AWARD (Folk/Myth Narrative)

Stories of old, spun in innumerable ways from the oral tradition that speak of things part history, part hearsay are some of my very favourite things.

Folk music often takes the mantel of talking about the more fantastic. Sometimes there is a legend or a famous person who did a wondrous feat, or maybe it’s just a touch of magic that is added too an otherwise unremarkable event.

For a sub-genre that is not everyone’s cup of tea, here it is “a cup of tea, bread and butter and chips coming out the chip pan”.

This award honours individuals who take a good tale and build something rather special with it be it something supernatural, folk-loreish or historical for the “MYTHMAKER AWARD”




There are music gigs, and then there are folk gigs!

For this first year of awards I will not strictly be running an award for best live performance, but there is the Grimm’s Gig Award. It is needed, for indeed there is theatre that gives flesh to stories, a memory presented under the hot stage lights for the world to see. I sometimes wonder, what if the Brothers Grimm were here today? What would they show? How would they choose to extend their presence in plays?

There are of course theatrical shows of Grimm’s stories but this award is not limited to these, it celebrates folk ideas and their presentation on the stage and makes us think for the “GRIMMS GIG AWARD.”



Collaborations bring a number of individual artists and elements together with the goal of making a substantial and interesting piece of work. The Musical Menagerie Award highlights the best of these works from the year 2016. Please note the award isn’t intending to convey the experience of sitting in a locked cage together thinking of the particular chords or words that convey what you are thinking (though this might or might not be the case), but rather recognises that as different creatures, we bring our own ideas, history, and experiences to the musical pot.





A focus on lyrics and words, this award goes to the group and album that demonstrates a huge affinity to their subject with. They will be albums where the words have a life of their own and follow you through to the quiet of the early morning or ring in your ears, inaudible to other unsuspecting parties.

Like a person toiling to shape some wood into a beautiful carving; in this award artists have moved and arranged words that in turn move us for the “WOODEN WORDSMITH AWARD.”




Politics has dominated a lot of discussions in this year that is for certain.

Folk music’s more than casual acquaintance with protest and debate is not itself a debate that is needed, it is a given. Certain parts of folk music quite rightly want to communicate a collective unhappiness, or speak out about the vulnerable or mistreated. The “SIGN OF THE TIMES AWARD” goes to the most impressionable albums with an overtly political stance released in 2016.






The Halo of folk is pretty much how it sounds.

It is music that can do no wrong, or if it does its so small that the light of it’s energy overcomes all.

An artist to receive the “Halo of Folk” award has persuaded many times over to play that album again, maybe even to deafening cries of your nearest or dearest for the “HALO OF FOLK AWARD.”






The Bridge Award (Crossover Folk)

WINNER – Nancy Kerr – Instar

Nancy Kerr’s “Instar” has a kind of swagger. It is true that the album covers no end of subjects that would be at home within a raft of folk albums: a song about birds (check), songs about social justice and equality(check), some songs about myth and stories (check), and these are my favourite things, very much so here but it certainly reaches out.

There is a firm, well-crafted feel to the album with an element of fun that peaks across many of the narratives on display here.

Kerr’s voice is interesting and engaging throughout, and in some places in a particularly playful way that oozes applicability of folk to modern living (i.e. Farewell Stony Ground is getting into Lily Allen territory with her slightly urban articulation). But it’s not just this, there are other “bridging” factors from Instar in arrangement such as a rock-influenced  medieval recipe song (Gingerbread) and Light Rolls Home, that feels a bit Beach Boys/Ramones in it’s  presentation. All-in-all an album which show ways of presenting folk songs/stories that the uninitiated listener could easily take hold of and embrace.

Highly recommended, and that is why this year Nancy wins the “BRIDGE AWARD”.

Instar can be purchased from many sources, including Nancy Kerr’s website here.

  RUNNER UP – Kelly Oliver – Bedlam

Hot on Nancy’s heels is Kelly Oliver with “Bedlam” released early in 2016.

Quite simply, Kelly deals with some big topics. As mentioned on my previous blog, “she wastes no time with wishy-washy politics” she goes for some big targets such as a song about an unmarried mother put in an asylum “Bedlam”, and “Die this way” about a young child at wartime. The music has an achingly youthful and authentic sound which finds time to enjoy itself in paces too (such as the upbeat track “Jericho”). You could call her the musician of the Olympics this past year as her love-letter to Brazil was delivered with fresh observation and some catchy rhythms, together it is cemented with her soft voice and demeanour.

Not “hard folk” in any sense of the word, but her lyrics and subject matters cover meaningful material and stories which folk is highly concerned about.She crosses genres, she can go in any number of directions and will find an audience following, which could one day find it’s way into John Kirkpatrick’s garden. This is why she is Runner Up for the “BRIDGE AWARD”



Kelly Oliver’s album “Born This Way” can be purchased here from Folkstock Records.

The Grand Entrance Award (Debut Album)

WINNER- Heg and the Wold Chorus – Raising the Fires

Heg and the Wolf Chorus remind me somewhat of all the elements of music I enjoy outside folk (except maybe Reggae and Ska).

They appeared from the edges much like the dry ice you see in 1980’s fantasy films and before you know it you are not sure where you are. There are elements of dark cabaret here (e.g. Amanda Palmer/Emilie Autumn), cello rock, Kate Bush, and a hint of Tori Amos. It is all of this and also none of this. The broad, powerful ensemble of musicians is like a beating heart which pulsates stronger and stronger with the best sensibilities of supernatural folk.

Be it the shrill, piano marching warnings of “Hide! The Storm is Coming”, the theatrical and fun “White Witch”, or the more medieval styling of “Fairy Hill” there is an unfettered, confident collection of songs here that is brought to life. It could have stepped straight out of a HBO fairytale programme. If you like a touch of fantasy in your listening cave, I heartily recommend.

Heg and the Wolf Chorus’ album can be purchased from their website here.

RUNNER UP – Jenny Sturgeon – From the Skein

The first of the quite myth-heavy albums in the winners list. Occasionally nautical (Raven, Harbour Masters) and often an interesting take or elaboration on legends (Maiden Stone, Selkie) the album is a solid breakthrough into the folk scene.

Not just that, there is some very nice fiddle work indeed throughout and Sturgeon has a breathy, “warden of the woods” sound to her voice that exudes a certain confidence within the work. In a sense it is quite traditional, and finds beauty in being restrained and alluring.

This is why she is the runner up of the “GRAND ENTRANCE AWARD”, well done.

Jenny Sturgeon’s album can be bought here from Bandcamp.

The Mythmaker Award (Folk/Myth Narrative):

WINNER – Fay Hield – Old Adam

I am a fan of Fay Hield, but in my ultimate opinion “Old Adam” excels above her other works and continues her ascent into the perfect combination of expert research, literary considerations and performance. Her works have always lent themselves to being like an explosion of energy from a medieval tome, it is very easy to see her academic interest and the joy she derives from all aspects of her interests.

Her powerful adaptation of “Old Adam” is an exercise is great pacing, a luxurious string accompaniment, and a moving emotive voice. Throughout there is a careful measure of energy which she varies throughout the songs going from dancing and ethnic (Raggle Taggle Gypsy), to regally melodic (Queen Elanor’s Confession) ,and even comedic (The Hornet and the Beetle), this variety adds a huge amount to what you hear and how you feel.

It is also delightfully morally ambiguous and unfiltered; it is mythic folk of the finest kind, and that is why she wins the “MYTHMAKER AWARD”.



Buy Fay Hield’s album here from her website.

RUNNER UP- Hannah James – Jigdoll

Connected at all points and moving track to track; Hannah James’ work directly mirrors the theme of travel throughout this conceptual album. The songs all form part of the “Jigdoll” show which Hannah has toured through the UK, an event that brings together her signature clog dance, accordion skills and distinctive voice. There are some amazing tunes in here including the warm “Coppicing Song”, the fleet of foot “Clog Jig”, and especially moving “The Carpenter.”

Cohesive and exploratory it conveys as much through what is not said as what is. It feels like a playground where one’s own mind can go wild, and is strikingly earthy like a pine glade. It only misses the winning spot through a feeling that seeing it all live as part of a full dance/puppet/song performance is probably the optimal experience, but nevertheless will leave you with your hairs standing on the back of you neck as an album in it’s own right.



You can buy Hannah James’ album here from Rootbeat Records.

The Grimms Gig Award

WINNER- Karine Polwart – Wind Resistance

Karine Polwart amazes on every level in this monologue combining music, stories, and movement.

Like a lush terrarium, the set is incredibly detailed in the number of items on display, several of which come to life in the performance; no space is wasted and Polwart is a warm, beloved storyteller here.

Not being sure what you will see, “Wind Resistance” offers a masterful commentary on humans’ relationship with nature, history and society. There is a segment of her show when she describes the plants of the land and how they were made into remedies, linking their historical with their modern uses; but this is just one insightful example of how the play intersects history. A pairing is made between a figure of the past and Karine herself as she describes the experience of giving birth, and how in a sense we are still at mercy to fate, and that advances only go so far.

Deeply personal, and with great flair Wind Resistance wins the “Grimms Gig” Award.

RUNNER UP – Adverse Camber’s – The Shahnameh

Based on stories from ancient Persia, Adverse Camber’s “The Shahnameh” delights and gives a generous sense of time and place.

Thoroughly entertaining, the cast of two manage to tell the stories from the heroic age that spins a tapestry of lore as we hear of a magic horse, Rustam a powerful man hundreds of years old, and the Simorgh, a beautiful bird of the imagination, and many more. The characters keep coming, the stories keep enthralling and the evening sales through, and you really do get lost inside.

A very good use of the minimal stage props and an extensive personal array of postures and mannerisms from the narrator (Xanthe Gresham Knight) sit alongside a gentle but persuasive approach to engagement with the audience. Highly memorable, “The Shahnameh” wins RUNNER UP for the “Grimms Gig” Award.





WINNER – Various Artists – Songs of Seperation

Songs of Separation for myself was like a seismic event from very early on in 2016.

On the magical Isle of Eigg a veritable powerhouse of folk musicians assembled to combine the finest elements of English and Scots traditional influences into an enduring legacy of an album that speaks of separation from personal and historical experiences.

Too many great artists to give credit to it is like an etching in diamond. The sense of history from the Gaelic songs echoes from the past and sees many voices, many talents and stories preserved for time to come.


There is very little I can say to endorse it more, give it a listen if (for some reason) you hadn’t in the previous year. Now.



Song’s of Separation can be bought here from Navigation Records.


RUNNER UP –  The Furrow Collective – WILD HOG

The Furrow Collective comprise of Lucy Farrell, Rachel Newton, Alasdair Roberts and Emily Portman.

Their second album is like the beast on the horizon, or rather it seems to be and then it leaps on you in the broad daylight. A  legendary creature this work is relentless and piercing, and quite rightly it should be too.

With some of the finest harmonies I have heard this year the album is melodic and with a sorrowful edge. Their version of”Wild Hog” is an unbridled joy of an interpretation and elsewhere the banjo further glitters amongst the marsh reeds in immensely deep additions such as “Many a Night’s Rest” and their “Queen Eleanor’s Confession”. It is swamp folk at it’s very, very best but also an example of collaboration and great performance to others who are only seeking to accomplish half as much.

Eerie but not overly miserable and macabre this is like a well-balanced dagger. A great outlet for the dark folk leanings of this membership it rightly wins runner up for the “MUSICAL MENAGERIE” award.


The Furrow Collective’s “Wild Hog” can be bought at the Hudson Records website here.


WINNER – Lady Maisery – Cycle

Lady Maisery’s music is rather special.

Their latest album, “Cycle” fulfills that folk itch for natural wonder as it gallops through the Wheel of the Year, the seasons of the world and beyond in a dizzying spectacle that is something to see. Their last album “Mayday” was very good, this is even better.

Even before you get to considering the strength of their songwriting you have a chance to link arms with comrades through quite a few mindful and pertinent song entries such as “Honest Work” and “Digger’s Song”. With one eye on history, and one of the song-sheet they continue (in my mind) to lead within their particular folk niche.

But to award them the “Wooden Wordsmith” we look beyond performance and to original words. Though there are several on the album, two are of such dazzling quality it propels them to these heights. Firstly there is “A Father’s Lullaby”, a mind whirring ode to children’s homes of history, and lone fatherhood due to the risk of death in childbirth. I cried so much during a live performance of this, endlessly moving, very sad. The other rather stellar song is “Order and Chaos”. Self-described as a song about Atheism, the world and cosmos and it’s wonder. Referencing birth and death it puts everything into perspective and reaches far wider then you might imagine. This is why through excellence in songwriting, Lady Maisery win the “WOODEN WORDSMITH” award.

To buy Lady Maisery’s album, please visit here at Rootbeat Records.



RUNNER UP –  Ange Hardy and Lukas Drinkwater – Findings

Ange Hardy has teamed up with Lukas Drinkwater in this quite meta, lightly thematic album.

Beautifully crisp in recording, elegant in delivery, “Findings” excels in a number of ways.

As an album concerned with the fastening between links, the new forged connections between artists, and even an innovative look at pairing up the audience with the #Findings Game, the duo continue to make interesting additions to the folk music toolbox as if from the ether.

Time-hopping it manages to situate itself in the present with considerations of migrants risking their lives (By the Tides) and the difficulties of young carers (Invisible Child) with pronounced and worthy versions of older numbers (The Trees They Do Grow High and Bonny Lighter-Boy), and these fit together with enviable ease. In findings other to perform alongside, they have also found the words to match their ambition that celebrate several sections of society including mothers (True are the Mothers) and daughters too (Daughter Dear Daughter) which highlight a proactive, confident approach to songwriting.

Somehow being fairly traditional but with a spirited youthful voice, “Findings” wins Runner Up for “WOODEN WORDSMITH” award.


Buy Ange Hardy and Lukas Drinkwaters’ album here.


WINNER – Merry Hell – Bloodlines

Before the final sprint of unusual events and developments towards the later part of 2016, Merry Hell had managed to forecast a great need for unity due to huge gulfs in opinion and feelings that developed from our “post truth”. “Bloodlines came at the right time but saying this alone is quite badly underselling it as an album.

Merry Hell are known as spirited, energetic live performers and this album whilst could not possibly contain all of that flow of showmanship, comes as near to it as possible. The songs could be to unthinking ears mere blunt instruments of patriotism and anthems (hell there is nothing wrong with anthems), but there is a certain gentle care within the construction of each song that points towards the band’s wish for unity and gentle acceptance of each other rather than more radical means. Some tracks take this to the apex and pull on the heart strings (When we are old) or even on our love for the Countryside (Come on England). A favourite on the album is definitely “Over the Wall”, a three part, high-octane song that lets loose in all the right ways leading up to (and following) a prison break.

Merry Hell have translated their signature well-written lyrics, thumping tune and passionate delivery to go all political in 2016. This is why they win the “SIGN OF THE TIMES” award.

But Merry Hell’s album here.

RUNNER UP – Steve Pledger – Somewhere Between

Steve Pledger is a political creature indeed.

Following on from his previous album “Striking Matches in the Wind”, “Somewhere Between” takes a similar forest path to his debut. You could be inclined to say that it is “Somewhere left-leaning” but Steve Pledger seems to be an artist that is willing to lampoon both sides for their extremes in political behaviour.

Probably gentler still than Merry Hell’s winning entry, Steve Pledger’s acoustic offering is in some ways how you would expect. Quite minimal in instrumentation and backing with his voice the forefront as if playing his album one-on-one to you in the corner of a milkshake shop. It is stripped and with this comes a kind of honest purity.

With this kind of torch and strength he deals with discrimination (Other), history and duty (The Louisa Miner) and hypocrisy throughout the album in a non-judgemental, Carl Rogers  psychotherapy kind of way.

It works though and generates as many thoughts in oneself as it gives, and for this reason it wins runner-up for the “SIGN OF THE TIMES” award.

You can buy Steve Pledger’s album here.




WINNER – Leyla Mccalla – A Day for the Hunter, a day for the prey

Leyla dedicates this album to the human spirit and without reservation this album reaches and finds parts of the soul you might not be aware of.

Breathtaking strings throughout, it made me fall in love with an instrument enough to want to learn this year, which really takes some doing.

Enough about my reasons, why might you like it?

It is indeed a burning, Cajun flame that could have easily been included as a gateway to this world of music. The title track is a chase much like the prey and the hunter themselves venturing into the thicket, the second track “Les Plats Sont tous Mis Sur La Table” is beauty in itself with the fiddle sounding like a call to the dance, the instrument almost cries with laughter and encourages you along.

Part in French, part English, part Haitian Creole it is folk, but it also jazz and soul and resonates a rich and meaningful message. It has a delightful waltz to the heart of joy and optimism within music. For that reason it wins the “HALO OF FOLK” award.


Buy Leyla McCalla’s album here.


RUNNER UP – Kate Rusby – Life in a Paper Boat

Kate Rusby needs no introduction, instantly recognisable with a gravitas of voice that has seen folk through a number of phases and fashions she is not carving her place in folk history but rather having her own shelf for the works she has contributed over the years.

Her 14th album, “Life in a Paper Boat” is as poignant as ever with a hearty mix of more fantastical elements (The Mermaid and The Witch of Westmorland) but also similarly to “Findings” a deeply seated social conscience around the issues of travelling across the sea looking for refuge (Life in a Paper Boat).The album opts for a modern arrangement that sits her as a hugely listenable artist to all, especially as she proves she can spin a story from the unlikeliest sources to great comedic effect (Big Brave Bill- the superhero from Barnsley).

Sometimes slight, sometimes more complex there is a lot to enjoy from this album, a great achievement in Rusby’s continuing career.

Kate Rusby’s album can be bought here from Pure Records.


And that my friends concludes my yearly awards for Folk Music in 2016.

Please get in touch on Twitter, or comment on this post and let me know what you think and what alternative suggestions you would make.

Thank you to all the artists and your time, more posts coming soon!

Folk Music Music Video

Ani DiFranco – Play God (Video/Track Review)

America’s presidential elections are big news.

Whether you adore the red, white or blue in the form of stars and stripes or if you are more a rectangles kind of person; the outcome of the election will undoubtedly have some bearing on your life, and not just if you are a US citizen.

Up until last week the competition seemed fairly close between Clinton and Trump. I truly do not want to say what will happen in the end, but the recent news coverage and found footage of Donald Trump boasting about his attempts to have sex with a married woman  at best upset harmonious living between the sexes and Donald Trump’s image, and at it’s worse damage society and reinforce the horrendous attitudes that prevail in some people’s minds (it depends on your interpretation). He might not win now because of it. Whatever the final outcome brings to the world there are alongside it people with things to say, songs to sing and politics to dance, tap and speak out about and Ani DiFranco is one of these people.

With a career that has grown into a success over 27 years, Ani has put the hours through the release of over 20 albums and fairly recently a recipient of the Woodie Guthrie award confirming that she is in every sense a being of politics. Since her early work in the 90s to now,she has clearly seen a lot, feels a lot and represents a certain moral fiber as a juggernaut of unflinching, self-aware musicianship. She has portrayed folk and the rest of the melting pot of her musical influences to the world as an agent of change and is a deeply grounded individual who continues to stand for social justice and her latest video “Play God”  (released 7 October) doesn’t show any signs of cashing in anytime soon.


As part of her current tour “VOTE DAMMIT” she burns with a flame of fortitude that crackles with blue gusto in her attempts to sway the minds of the disillusioned and apolitical to get them to practice the rights that were hard fought for in times past. Ani’s own production company Righteous Babe in collaboration with Aveline Records steps out to add to these voices, broadening the message in an ever narrowing political debate through society. She whips up her crowd into a psychedelic, retro funk which entertains and informs at the same time.

This funky mastery “Play God” comes at us with gnarling lyrics and a slightly scratchy, purposeful video that is both the swinging spirit of political marches for pro choice as well as a more personal melody in some scenes (where she is alone in the church). Her lyrics reflect the political but also highlight the fully personal nature of these decisions, “I pay my taxes like any workin’ man and I feel I’ve earned my right to choose”. It grooves and sports a thick layer of defiant blues protest that in it’s feminism has shades of Aretha Franklin’s “Think”, Hendrix’s guitar-play, and aspects of modern singer-songwriters (e.g. Ruth Theodore) spliced with Woody Guthrie’s indomitable purpose. In vibe it undeniably succeeds at the difficult task of not sounding as a pastiche of earlier works and rather than building on older rock founders sounds like it’s equal or perhaps the glimpse of an alternative if time and space had dropped Ani at the feet or Rock and Roll originator, Sister Rosetta Tharpe. It’s mixing (Tchad Blak) and mastering (Brian Lucey) also gives it the feeling of shifting sands with a general sound combining many elements with it’s hotbed of older rock baselines that chew through political resistance in a persuasive, essential way.

just one thing that a man needs
to be truly free
this is the modern world
and that one thing is money
but there are two things
that a woman needs
control over her own body


A great song that argues for a necessary link between a woman’s freedom, and her freedom over her choice to carry life. Throughout it has a hypnotic guitar line and a shrewd, clever, political singing voice that brings clarity during a time of confusion and flux over civil liberties. Check this song out, it will make you think. It might not make you decide, but it will give you the everyman/everywoman/everyperson’s experiences of diminished rights and ask you to make your placard and let your voice be heard.

“Play God” is  a sample of what is to come in Ani DiFranco’s upcoming studio album, see her website here and checkout the video for yourself below.

Festival Folk Music Gigs PR

Derby Folk Festival 2016 – Some of the Happenings – Megapost

Hi all.

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.


The Rattlers

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

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.