Tag Archives: Fay Hield

The Full English at Great British Folk Festival 7/12/14

The Full English archive has been a major cultural heritage exercise pulled together by the English Folk Song and Dance Society, resulting in a gigantic online resource of songs, tunes and dances that were originally assembled by some of the most renowned late Victorian and Edwardian era folk song collectors. There have been numerous spin-offs from the project, including study days, schools programmes, not to mention an album and a live band.

Academic and performer, Fay Hield, was commissioned to pull the musical project together and assembled a band with some of the key figures from contemporary folk.  Joining Hield were Seth Lakeman, Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr, Ben Nichols, Rob Harbron and Sam Sweeney. A successful tour and album followed, so successful in fact that they’ve all got together again a year later for another tour which culminates in tonight’s performance at the Centre Stage venue at Butlin’s Skegness. Although this is very much a folk gig rather than a folk-rock gig (acoustic instruments, no drums), it is impossible to overstate the sheer instrumental power of the band on stage tonight.  The quality of the musicianship and the singing is absolutely superb but the Full English was always about celebrating the songs and they have the most brilliant set of songs to offer.

As with the album, the band opens with Awake Awake. The sound (which had caused problems for other acts over the weekend) was perfect, the atmosphere was electric and it became clear that this performance would be the definite highlight of the 2014 Great British Folk Festival.  I have played the Full English CD over and over again this past year but those watching the live show are treated to additional songs as well that are not on the original album. This includes a wonderfully eccentric version of King of the Cannibal Island sung by Nichols. Apparently, 19th century missionaries had a vested interest in whipping up public hysteria about cannibalism as it was great for the fundraising for future missions. This song has its roots in such propaganda. I Wandered By a Brookside and High Banbaree are other welcome additions. Fans of the album, though, will have been pleased to hear Simpson sing Creeping Jane, Portrait of My Wife sung by Lakeman and  Hield and Kerr’s wonderful duet on Arthur O’Bradley, the traditional tale of the archetypal wedding from hell.

Not all of the songs are actually from the original archive. Fol-the Day-o is a new song written by Kerr to celebrate the traditional songs and music in the archive while Linden Lea (a song I remember learning at primary school for an evening of patriotic songs to celebrate the Silver Jubilee) the William Barnes poem that Ralph Vaughan Williams set to music. Both are there to demonstrate that folk music survives and thrives well beyond the era of the golden age of Edwardian folk-song collectors.

Coming back on to rapturous applause they encored with Man In The Moon, an old music hall song who’s lyrics and tune somehow became separated but were re-united once more thanks to the Full English archive. It’s one of the most memorable songs on the album and this long lost song is well on its way to becoming a modern-day folk classic. We were all encouraged to sing along enthusiastically, perhaps demonstrating Cecil Sharp’s maxim that it’s the selection for community singing that makes a song a folk song, rather than the format for which it was originally written.  Or maybe an out-of-season performance in the main show-bar at Butlin’s isn’t too far from music hall anyway. Whatever, it was a great song to finish a spectacular performance of one of the most significant folk music projects in many, many years.



Fay Hield & The Hurricane Party at Kings Place 4/4/14

Kings Place is a plush new contemporary arts venue near Kings Cross. Situated underneath the Guardian/Observer HQ, my gig partner for the evening described those present as a “classic Hampstead dinner party Guardianista audience”.  That meant they were possibly a little bit restrained from when I last caught Fay Hield & the Hurricane Party, at a Great British Folk Festival appearance at Butlins. But she and the band went down well and they were called back for an encore at the end.

Fay Hield was the main mover and shaker behind The Full English, the folk “supergroup” that was put together to delve into the new online archive of early 20th century folk collections and which recently scooped prizes at the BBC folk awards. Two of the songs from the Full English CD, sing-along The Man in the Moon as well as the lovely Awake Awake were performed tonight, some of the highlights from both the album and tonight’s performance. This wasn’t a Full English performance, though, so Hield delved elsewhere into her wide traditional repertoire. Naughty Baby is a traditional lullaby which goes into great detail about threats of beating, dismembering then eating the subject of the song if it won’t stop crying. (With lyrics like that this could only be either a traditional English folk gig or a Norwegian death metal gig). For some unfathomable reason this song fell into obscurity  compared to other popular lullabies which we still hear sung to young children today. But Hield delivers a memorable version of the song’s gruesome lyrics. Other songs tonight include Grey Goose and Gander, King Henry, both from her first album.

Hield has a strong, characterful and distinctive voice, perfect for traditional material of this type. Her blunt Yorkshiresque banter between songs goes down well with the audience and she also has a fine band of supporting musicians. This includes the hugely talented Sam Sweeney on fiddle. One niggle about tonight’s performance is that the band, although they got to perform a number of instrumentals, never got the benefit of a proper introduction. I hope that’s put right next time.

During the show, however, Hield did announce she will be returning with the Full English line-up for a tour in the Autumn – and that will certainly be something I’ll look out for.