On Tuesday 29th October the Full English tour arrived in Sheffield, to the beautiful and intimate setting of Firth Hall Sheffield University.
‘The Full English is a groundbreaking project sponsored by the English Folk Dance and Song Society that draws together for the first time the early 20th century folksong collections of Harry Albino, Lucy Broadwood, Clive Carey, Percy Grainger, Maud Karpeles, Frank Kidson, Thomas Fairman Ordish, Cecil Sharp, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Alfred Williams. The result is the most comprehensive searchable database of British folk songs, tunes, dances and customs in the world.’ – Fay Hield
An extremely talented bunch of musicians have been put together to perform songs and tunes from and inspired by the Full English archive. Musicians included Fay Hield, Martin Simpson, Seth Lakeman, Sam Sweeney, Nancy Kerr, Ben Nichols and Rob Harbron. Arriving on stage to a great reception the gig was underway with Fay and Seth leading the rest in some fabulous harmony singing, it quickly became clear how much work had been put into this entire show, the band sounded fantastic and very slick. As well as the music there were also pictures and film footage of the collectors displayed along each song. A memorable example of this was when Rob and Sam playedThe Princess Royal while a clip of Maud Karpeles performing a morris dance was being shown on the screens either side of the stage. My favourite piece from the first half came from Mr Lakeman with a beautiful song he found in the archive from Frank Kidson – Portrait of My Wife, with an additional chorus from himself.
It’s worth pointing out at this stage that this is very much a collaborative project and not just each individual getting up to do their own thing separately. The selected musicians have spent time working on each song together and arranging the material as a band. The hard work has paid off, as during the interval, inevitably there was a discussion between folk about the performance they had just seen so far and how amazing and inspiring they thought it was, many people commented saying it was like having a concert in their own front room, I have to agree. The atmosphere was relaxed, friendly and everyone was completely spellbound by the musicians in front of them.
Time for the second half, kicking off with the traditional song Linden Lea which in fact is not part of the archive but a song Fay thought was just too beautiful to miss out of the show, I again have to agree. The only other song in the performance not from the Full English was a contemporary piece written by Nancy Kerr – Fol The Day-O. ‘This was written as a homage to Joseph Taylor (1882-1961), in which Nancy examines the interplay between folk song’s ancient rural imagery and the modern world, and the transporting, transformational capabilities of a great singer.’ Without the introduction to this song, you would have easily mistaken it for a long surviving traditional song.
It was hard not to notice how much fun the band were having on stage, I’ve seen the individual musicians perform their own material on various occasions, however you could really tell the difference, they all sounded as if they had been playing together for years. It was a tight performance and the relationship between the band was glowing. Martin Simpson came off stage evidently buzzing, Seth Lakeman was stamping and tearing his fiddle apart as usual. The second half seemed to fly by, before we knew it the show was coming to an end, the audience however had a different opinion, with such a raucous applause the band came out to do the perfect encore led by Fay Hield, a song she found after a long day trawling through the various notations at the library she told us she was feeling tired and bored or searching through bits of writing she couldn’t read when she came across a beautiful song called Man in the Moon a perfect chorus song joined by the band and the entire audience raising their voices in appreciation to the hard work by Fay for putting together this brilliant project that will hopefully continue for many more years to come, and the outstanding talent of the band for recreating the life of all these songs that should never be forgotten and the people who sang them all those years ago.
Well done and congratulations have to go to everyone involved in this project. The tour itself its merely a percentage of the project, as there are many strings to its bow. Please do go and check out the website and look up more about the Full English online. You are missing out on an absolute treat and we are very lucky to have such hard working and inspiring people in our folk community.
Review: Sam Hindley
Photos and Editing: Kirsty Bromley