Last night around 18:30 I arrived in Derby for the 8th annual folk festival. A big change to the festival was the usual assembly rooms venue being out of action due to a big fire earlier this year. Instead of cancelling the festival, the organisers immediately had a marquee installed in the city centre marketplace, right outside the assembly rooms. As soon as I walked into the marquee I knew it was going to have a good atmosphere and we were in for a great weekend of music. The marquee also had heating which is great for a festival in October. At around 19:30 the festival patron John Tams came on stage to welcome all, John expressed his thanks to everybody who helped make the festival happen before introducing directors Mick Peat and Bob Rushton to the stage describing them as his heroes. After a few words of thanks, Bob handed over to Chris Sweeney the MC for the first concert of the festival. Opening the festival was Greg Russell and Ciaran Alger, It had been about 18 months since I first saw these two, and every time I do they seem to get better and better. They are now one of my absolute favourites and already on their second album. I think we heard a new song in the set so maybe we will have a third album in the not too distant future. Following this, another band of young folk musicians a local lot called Open Road featuring the lovely melodeon playing of Leah Morgan.
It started off with Coope Boys and Simpson with the new show called ‘In Flanders Fields,’ celebrating 100 years since the start of the Great War. The Trio have always written and sang songs about the war and this is a collection of the songs all together with poems written around the time. It was a sad subject, but it really made you think. A short walk over to the Bell Inn (another venue which the festival was using) for one of the events I had been most looking forward to, a discussion between Legendary local singer songwriter and aforementioned John Tams and Sheffield author JP Bean. JP has recently written a book called ‘Singing From The Floor – a history of folk clubs. JP has been going to folk clubs since the 1960’s and John has been performing in them since around that time. During the discussion the pair gave their own views on the topic and JP read extracts from the book. He has spoken to almost every folk artist on the English scene including Billy Connolly who used to perform in the folk clubs during the 60s, I found all of it totally fascinating. You can catch this show at the Showroom Cinema Sheffield, on Wednesday 15th of October as part of the ‘Off-The-Shelf’ Festival.
The afternoon concert was two very similar duos both English who play mainly American music. First The Carrivick Sisters, I’d heard a lot of good things about these two and I wasn’t disappointed. Lovely players with great harmonisation. Next Philip Henry and Hannah Martin, winners of Best Duo at the 2014 folk awards. It’s been great to watch this duo improve so much over the last 4-5 years. I remember seeing them first busking at Sidmouth Festival and I was absolutely knocked out by them. I still feel the same now, especially when Phil demonstrates his beat box harmonica and not forgetting his fabulous dobro playing. Hannah’s fiddle playing and singing is also tremendous.
On Saturday evening we were treated to 3 Great acts, first Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman fortunately were are able to step in at the last minute as Finest Kind from Canada were not able to make the festival due to illness. It’s always nice to see Kathryn and Sean and to hear lots of new songs in their set with the promise of a new album shortly. After this, a second set from Coope Boys and Simpson singing some happier songs this time. It’s good to catch this band at least once a year as they are probably Britain’s best a cappella trio and you don’t see them appearing everywhere – probably due to one of them living in Belgium now. Tonight’s set was a little more special than usual. Although Finest Kind were not able to appear as a band, some of the members still came over to England if only for holiday so it was fabulous when Ian Rob came on stage to join Coope Boys and Simpson. We all joined in a version of ‘The Larks They Sang Melodious,’ it was a stunning set. Finally for the Saturday night Devon’s finest Show Of Hands came on stage and immediately launched into the old favourite ‘Are We Alright,’ during the song Steve says “reassure me that we are alright” well the choice in the opening song soon reassured the audience that we were in for a great set. It was a real mixture of stuff including a reworking of one of their old songs ‘The Preacher,’ I have never heard them play this song live before so it was a lovely addition to the set. Also included, were a couple of songs from the band’s latest project Centenary, which was another project to celebrate the great war anniversary. There were also plenty more old songs that we know and love that we could sing along to when appropriate. You can catch Show Of Hands at Sheffield City Hall ballroom on Saturday the 15th of November. The evening finished with the ever popular Cousin Jack making it a perfect end to a Saturday night.
There is no better way to start your birthday than relaxing and listening to the wonderful Martin Simpson and what a nice choice of songs. He began with a version of Tom Waites ‘Hold On’. Other songs included my favourite version of the traditional song ‘The Cruel Mother’. I have always loved Martin’s version of this song and I’m pleased to say that after a break it seems to be coming back into the set. Martins guitar playing is always great but on this song it is simply amazing.
On Sunday afternoon we get to what became my highlight of the entire festival, the Lucy Ward band – Belinda O’Hooley (keys and vox), Heidi Tidow (vox and multi-instruments), Joy Gravestock (fiddle), Sam Pegg (bass) and Steve Maclachlan (percussion). Lucy has been touring with this group of great musicians throughout this year and they really bring her music alive. It’s great that Lucy is able to tour with a band, her latest album Single Flame is very band orientated and it’s nice that she’s able to play the songs with these arrangements in a live situation. My favourite songs from the set were Lucy’s own song ‘Velvet Sky’. I was really pleased to hear this song as I don’t think she plays it live solo, so I’ve never heard her play it before. Highlights included a rocking version of ‘Marching Through The Green Grass’ and a very lovely slowed down version of ‘Come On Eileen’. Lucy is great at choosing songs to cover and this was probably my favourite. I didn’t realise how beautiful the words to this song are! At the end of the set, Lucy got a very well deserved standing ovation – well done Lucy! You can catch the Lucy Ward Band on tour this month.
The final concert of the festival was Miss Kate Rusby and her fantastic band, with the new addition of an electric guitar player. Personally I didn’t think he brought much to the band but, It’s great to see Kate back with the new album Ghost. This is probably my favourite album that she has done for a while, there are lots more jolly songs then usual, and this was very reflective in the set. It also featured some old favourites too including ‘Awkward Annie’ and ‘I Courted a Sailor’. I mustn’t forget the final sing along from some of the leading Derbyshire folk scene, this sent everyone ‘Rolling Home’ with the John Times classic, overall a nice way to finish off the festival.