Live review: Love Folk Festival
Date: Friday 13th & Saturday 14th February 2015
Venue: The Atkinson
Reviewer: Peter Cowley – FATEA Magazine
Love Folk? Who doesn’t Love Folk? The invitation from The Atkinson was to “spend the most romantic weekend of year with us dancing, singing, drinking, eating and generally loving folk”.
How could anyone resist an invitation like that? I didn’t [resist it, that is] and I am glad to report that the weekend was a tremendous success, with some of the best folk music that anyone could wish for from the six illustrious “name” acts, whilst in the theatre bar Southport’s own Bothy Folk Club kept us entertained whilst celebrating its 50th Anniversary, having been founded in 1965.
The all-under-one roof festival kicked off in spectacular style with an incendiary concert on Friday 13th by cutting-edge pipers Ross Ainslie & Jarlath Henderson, accompanied by Ali Hutton on guitar. Ross, from Scotland, plays border pipes and whistle and also plays with Salsa Celtica and Treacherous Orchestra, whilst Jarlath, from Tyrone, plays Uilleann pipes and whistle and also plays with Capercaille and his own trio. Ali is also a member of Treacherous Orchestra. Ross and Jarlath play together with such intensity and almost telepathic precision that they reminded me of rock bands, like Wishbone Ash and The Allman Brothers, which employed twin lead guitarists to play off each other. The border pipes and Uilleann pies blend seamlessly and fluently together and we were treated to succession of glorious sets of tunes including compositions by Paddy Tunney, Gordon Duncan, The Scots Guards and even AC/DC [“Thunderstruck”]. We also enjoyed tunes from Asturias in Spain and from Bulgaria.
Ross and Jarlath are not only masters of their respective pipes, they can also blow a mean whistle ,as on “Hi Ya Pal /Friend’s Advice” and “Trees” [from their latest album “Air-Fix”], which also featured some sterling guitar work from Ali. Jarlath is also a fine singer, as demonstrated on his lovely version of John Martyn’s “Over The Hill”. This was a thrilling performance from this highly accomplished trio and started the festival off with a bang.
We all reconvened at 1 pm the following day [Valentine’s Day] for the second day of Love Folk. And what a way to start it, with the brilliant singer-songwriter John Smith. I had seen John perform only nine days previously, when he played at Liverpool Philharmonic as part of the fabulous Transatlantic Sessions. What I heard of John then certainly whetted my appetite for his performance at Love Folk. And I was not disappointed as he turned in a wonderful set which had the sold-out crowd captivated.
John lives just up the road in Liverpool and this was his first solo gig near home for some following tours with David Gray and Transatlantic Sessions. With a voice that ranges from soft and sweet to gruff and powerful, and his dexterous guitar style, John reminds me of a young John Martyn in his acoustic troubadour days.
Naturally, John played a selection from his latest album, the superb “Great Lakes”, which, by the way, is highly recommended. Songs like “England Rolls Away”, “Town To Town”, “Perfect Storm” and “Great Lakes” are proof, if any was needed, that John is one of our finest singer-songwriters. John reprised one of the songs he sang so well on the Transatlantic Sessions tour , namely, “Freezing Winds Of Change”, only this time he didn’t have Jerry Douglas and Danny Thompson playing behind him! Nevertheless, it was a fine performance of a great song.
Another “Session” that John was involved with recently was the all-star “ The Elizabethan Session” along with Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr, Jim Moray, Bella Hardy, Emily Askew, Hannah James and Rachel Newton. For this ambitious project John wrote a song [“London”] about the hardships and dangers suffered by the simple working man in Elizabethan times. Described by John as a “cheery number” it tells of the fear of what might happen if he goes out on the road and how he dare not walk into the dark. On a somewhat lighter note, John recounted how he had played with his songwriting hero Jackson Browne and sang Jackson’s “These Days” in his own highly distinctive voice.
John’s “Salty And Sweet” refers to the town in Devon where he grew up and John amusing recounted how his mother heard her son’s song whilst buying discounted ham in a supermarket!
This set by John Smith got the second day of Love Folk off to a fantastic start and the relaxed and happy atmosphere continued with the next act, the wonderful 3 Daft Monkeys.
My advice is that if you want to get a party started, book this band ! With their infectious blend of Cornish/Celtic folk, Romani, Balkan, Latino, Reggae and Punk styles, they are the perfect festival band and are incredibly danceable, combining fiery Gypsy jazz fiddle [Athene Roberts]; wah-wah-guitar [Tim Ashton]; frenetic Middle Eastern percussion [Rich Mulryne] and bass guitar [Lukas Drinkwater].
The band spelled out their intent with opening party-anthem “Hubadillia”, a Cornish word that means “the noise from a party”. 3 Daft Monkeys draw upon spooky Cornish folk-tales for some of their material, so we had the ghostly “The Lovers Of Porthgwarra Cove” and the tale of a marriage made in hell “Sarah, The Devil & Jack”. Continuing the supernatural theme was “Astral Eyes”, which developed from a penny whistle and violin intro into a psychedelic wah-wah guitar wig-out with lyrics about witchcraft.
I was most taken with the song “Days Of The Dance” which tells the extraordinary story of the Dancing Plague of Strasbourg in 1518 when the whole town danced in a ghost-like trance to the sound of nothing at all. This starts off as a waltz, beautifully played on the violin by Athene before speeding up to a frantic dance tempo. Speaking of dancing, 3 Daft Monkeys clearly appeal to all ages as a troupe of young children took to the stage to dance [most impressively, it has to be said] to the infectious reggae beat of “World On Its Head” which sounded like Two-Tone colliding with Gypsy Jazz.
3 Daft Monkeys certainly know how to have a good time but unfortunately that time had to end as they needed to head off back down to the South West for a gig in Bristol this evening!
In contrast to the frenetic good-time music of 3 Daft Monkeys, the next act on stage was singer-songwriter and melodeon maestro Luke Daniels, who was accompanied by Ian Stephenson on guitar as the Luke Daniels Duo. Luke is best known as an in-demand melodeon player who has played with Ian Anderson, De Dannan, the Riverdance Band and the Cara Dillon Band but recently he has established himself as a guitar-playing singer-songwriter. This afternoon, Luke and Ian played a series of songs from Luke’s album “What’s Here, What’s Gone”. His powerful songs deal with serious subjects such as our common source of power [“In Our Hearts”] and suicide [“All My Dreams”]. On a more romantic note, Luke took the grand piano to sing a love song for Valentine’s Day [“What She Means”].
Swapping his guitar for a rare zither-banjo, Luke sang his composition “A River Runs Through Her Name”, which is dedicated to Shannon, the fiddle player with The Paperboys. Returning to the instrument with which he is most associated, Luke took up his melodeon for a pair of tunes called “Wings Of Desire” and “Good Morning Mr. Magpie”.
I was looking forward to see the Jackie Oates Trio as Jackie’s album “Hyperboreans” is a particular favourite of mine. Accompanying Jackie were Mike Cosgrove on accordion and Tristan Seume on guitar. I am pleased to say that Jackie sang several songs from “Hyperboreans” ,including “The Miller And His Three Sons”, “The Pleasant Month Of May”, the title track “Hyperboreans” [written by Alasdair Roberts] and parting song “May The Kindness” by Exeter songwriter Dave Wood. “Hyperboreans” was produced by Jackie’s brother Jim Moray, who also wrote for her the lovely “Wishfulness Waltz”, which Jackie sang beautifully tonight.
Jackie’s most recent release is the recorded-in-Iceland [the country not the shop] “Lullabies” album and from it she performed the lovely “Dream Angus” concerning the Celtic god of dreams and “The Posey Rhyme”, a playground song from Ilminster. From lullabies we were taken to a grisly murder ballad, specifically Child Ballad No.88 or “Young Johnson” as it is known and which appears on Jackie’s 2011 album “Saturnine”. Jackie’s spirited delivery belied the grim nature of the story.
Mike Cosgrove apparently has a penchant for writing Finnish-style Tangos and the Trio gave us a set of these quirky tunes called “Finnish[Ish]” which incorporated Mike’s “Well Done Nigel”and “The Humours of Berry Pomeroy” and which featured some great interplay between Jackie on fiddle, Mike on accordion and Tristan on guitar. I understand that the “Nigel” referred to is the vicar of Berry Pomeroy, a village near Totnes.
Jackie played tribute to the Incredible String Band with a rendition of Mike Heron’s morning hymn “Sleepers Awake” on which she accompanied herself on a shruti box that “someone left at my house”. This was a most enjoyable and warmly received set from Jackie, Mike and Tristan. Jackie is currently working on a new album and I, for one, can’t wait to hear it.
Can it really be thirty years since I first saw Oysterband here at The Atkinson [then Southport Arts Centre]? Yes, it is and it was great to see them again.
It was particularly good to see the band’s charismatic front man John James. John has recently undergone major surgery and this was his [and the band’s] first gig since he was taken ill. John told the appreciative crowd “it is good to be back on stage” but that he “wouldn’t be jumping off the stage tonight”. It was clear from John’s face that he was delighted to be back with the band, even if he moved a little gingerly.
The last time that I saw Oysterband was here at The Atkinson at the 2008 Folkport Festival [the forerunner of Love Folk]. Since then, cellist Chopper has left the band to be replaced by new member Adrian Oxaal [also on cello] and they have released [in 2014] a superb, critically acclaimed new album “Diamonds On The Water”. Tonight’s set was a mixture of songs from the new album and a good number of Oysterband “classics” from their extensive back catalogue.
The show began, appropriately, with the title track “Diamonds On The Water”, an upbeat, optimistic anthem which recounts that whatever bad things happen, good things follow and that mantra must resonate with John after what he has been through recently. Adrian excelled on this song with a superb cello solo. Guitarist Alan Prosser took centre stage for “Walking Down The Road With You”from 2007’s “Meet You There”album and this was followed by a set of tunes, including Benji Kirkpatrick’s “Quernstone Reel”, featuring some great interplay between Alan on acoustic guitar and Ian Telfer on violin. The band then delved back into the past for “Molly Bond”, one of the first traditional songs that they recorded.
Oysterband specialises in mid-tempo, big-chorus, folk-rock anthems and they played a sensational trio of these after the interval- “A Clown’s Heart”, the classic “Native Son” and “A River Runs”. Great stuff.
In contrast, we had an acoustic version, sung by Alan, of Si Kahn’s “Mississippi Summer”, which June Tabor introduced to the band and which contains the title of the band’s first album with June, “Freedom And Rain”. Following this acoustic interlude, Oysterband fired off a volley of their classic songs in rapid succession – “Not Like Jordan”, “The Deserter”,”Another Quiet Night In England” and the seminal “The Oxford Girl”. As if this were not enough ,the band then launched into a scorching version of Leon Rosselson’s classic song about The Diggers, “The World Turned Upside Down”, which was made famous by Billy Bragg.
A rousing second set ended with “When I’m Up I Can’t Get Down” from 1993’s “Holy Bandits” album [ Interesting fact : This song was covered by Newfoundland folk-rock band Great Big Sea and reached number 6 in the Canadian singles chart !].
For a richly deserved encore, Oysterband switched off the electrics and played acoustically. Appropriately enough for Valentine’s Day, their choice of song to close the first Love Folk Festival was “Put Out The Lights” which includes the lines “the dark is warm, let me take you in my arms”.
And so ended a great, and sometimes emotional, performance by Oysterband. It was great to see John Jones back on stage looking fit and well and in such good voice.
In terms of the performances by the six headlining acts [and let us not forget the sterling work of the members of The Bothy Folk Club], the first Love Folk Festival at The Atkinson was a resounding success. Congratulations to Emma Lloyd and her team for all their hard work in making this highly enjoyable event possible. Roll on 2016!
Review © 2015 Peter Cowley – FATEA Magazine
Republished with kind permission
Live review: Love Folk Festival @ The Atkinson 13th & 14th February 2015
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