Reflections on FolkEast

Just where do I begin to begin, I’ve not been to this Shindig before which, probably, shows a great lack of judgement on my part, for it really is a jolly thing. I’m sure you know the feeling, that feeling you get when you turn up somewhere new and just know that all is going to be well, it’s a rare thing and is always something to remember.

Preamble over, I’m supposed to be reviewing the musical events that I witnessed, and it’s all too easy to be carried away by the arts, crafts, food, drink and displays on display. I’ll do my best and pick the many highlights otherwise I will ramble on forever much like the ancient mariner. Here goes, Friday:

Sunset Stage opening act Kevin Walford and Kelly Pritchard – lovely Americana style folk carried by the wonderful voice of Kelly. To the Broad Roots Stage for Ross Couper and Tom Oakes – the first named being the fiddle player of the wondrous Peatbog Faeries and the latter being a splendid guitarist. Predictably the set majored on tunes from Scotland and Shetland in particular, which is no bad thing at all and the whole thing was rather joyous. A brisk walk back to the Sunset Stage and The King Driscolls, a four piece band who’s fab harmonies had me in their thrall. However they lost several bonus points with their cavalier version of Richard Thompson’s “Beeswing”.    Tir Eolas unfortunately found themselves a man down as their percussionist was finding himself far too familiar with the inside of a hospital. Not having seen them before I, honestly, couldn’t say how much of a difference that made to their sound. But, sadly, they didn’t really grab me by the throat or move my foot in any rhythmic manner.

But Friday’s highlight deserves a paragraph all of its own, a FolkEast arranged unique, thus far, pairing of Peter Knight and John Spiers. For the uninitiated Peter Knight’s claim to fame is as the fiddle player in Steeleye Span, and John Spiers, similarly, as the melodeon player will the recently defunct Bellowhead. It was standing room only in the marquee that housed the Broad Roots Stage as we were all regally entertained by a collection of self-penned and tradition jigs, reels, hornpipes and much else besides. Suffice to say that the hour was far too short and the crowd reaction would suggest that, if desired, there are many miles left in this collaboration. And for reasons far too boring to contemplate I had to slope off for an early night on all three evenings, so see you on Saturday.

Saturday found the back garden of Glemham Hall wrapped in the tight embrace of a persistent gale, at one point Grapevine HQ threatened to become, simply, part of a field – but were we downhearted, don’t be stupid. First highlight of the day was Sam Carter on the Sunset Stage; it was the first time that I had seen the gentleman in question. Armed with nothing but an acoustic guitar it took him, at least, half a song to win me over, his set was heavily weighted in favour of his current album “How the city sings”, since ordered via internet, coupled with a few songs from the forthcoming Sweet Liberties project which focuses on all things democratic, a fairly narrow furrow to plough!

For my money the highlight of Saturday was the appearance of the incomparable Chris Wood, a master songwriter of the subtle and the bleeding obvious, deceptively musical and poetic, all around good egg. And if he ever gets around to releasing his promised new album it will be an absolute belter, I’m especially looking forward to owning his tale of the scandalous goings on in minor league football. Can you tell that I’m a fan?

Just time for a nightcap with the Sunset Stage  headliners Blowzabella, who seem to have been around since before I first expressed an interest in the many headed beast called folk, and they still seem to be far from the bottom of the originality well and all credit to them for that. I guess they are best known for their sinuous and complicated sounding dance tunes, of which many are sourced from the continent, although my first hearing, this eve, was of the British folk song known as “The Blacksmith” which they followed with the dance tune “Lovely Joan”. My final tune of the evening was “The origin of the world” composed by their fiddle player Dave Shepherd, what a graceful way to depart.

Sunday brought sunshine, a pleasant breeze and a hint of warmth. Musically I made my first trip to the artfully designed bohemian enclave that is otherwise known as the Soapbox Stage, but there was no hectoring from the delightful Lisa Redford with her embracing Americana all the way from Norwich. Stylistically drawing upon Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris and Neil Young her song “Dragonfly” was without doubt the star of the show.

For those knowledgeable in the wiles of east Anglian folklore the tale of “Black Shuck” will be all too familiar, for those not it is the tale of a ghostly black dog whom is a portent of death for those, or their kin, unlucky enough to stare into its blazing red eyes. The poet Martin Newell has conjured a majestic cycle of poems from this tale and performed, in its entirety, with musical backing from a top notch Hosepipe Band. Thoroughly enjoyable.

The word legend is thrown about with gay abandon, but I am going to use it with very good reason   – for forty years Andy Irvine has been a mainstay of the Irish music scene, mainly as a solo act but also as a vital cog of many ground-breaking bands of which there are far too many to list. It is also a rare event to find him in our neck of the woods and he certainly had an audience worthy of the event. Again an hour was nowhere near enough and it would be invidious to choose individual highlights from a set of sparkling songs and bonhomie, but do please come this way more often.

A return to the Soapbox Stage for some fine singer songwriter stuff from the ever lovely Jess Morgan and the other two members of her trio. It has to be said that the addition of bass and dobro do bring an extra dimension to her songs, although it was the older ones that still do it for me, especially “Annie of Greyfriars”.

I may be showing the age of both of us but I do remember John Ward doing floor spots in various folk clubs many years ago, usually in tandem with Mario Price. However, this Sunday evening, he is performing with his regular band and it is lovely to hear him once again. Although a Suffolk man he opens with the north east standard “Byker Hill”, but such is the quality of his own songs that he really has no need to borrow. Yet I shall be called a liar for I am a Woody Guthrie fan and John’s version of “Deportee” was the highlight for me.

A quick dash, I wish – well it had been a busy three days, to the Sunset Stage to catch my last act of the festival, Sam Kelly and The Lost Boys. I have seen Sam grow from solo act to trio and now The Lost Boys are as ass-kickin’ six piece band that a more traditionally minded Frank Turner would be proud of. Needless to say they produce a fabulous racket of which I hope we will hear more of when radio realises that they have appeal beyond the folk ghetto. Their set highlight is still their mind boggling version of “Sultans of swing” which led to a spontaneous outbreak of teenage dancing at the bottom of the hill, and all too soon it was time to go. Is it really a whole year until we are back again in the place where the magic happens.

Save the date, FolkEast returns to the village of Eastfolk on 18, 19 & 20 August 2017