Tag Archives: Great British Folk Festival

Fotheringay at Great British Folk Festival 6/12/15

Having seen Fotheringay on their short summer reunion tour (after a modest break of some 45 years) one of the most delightful things about tonight’s performance is, founder member, Jerry Donahue’s assertion that what started as a temporary project to promote the band’s retrospective box set is now set to become permanent. So the band that was formed by the late Sandy Denny, her late husband, Trevor Lucas, and the still very much alive Jerry Donahue, Pat Donaldson and Gerry Conway lives once more.

Donahue talks with great fondness tonight about his time in Fotheringay. But, given a band whose overlap in membership with Fairport Convention was often mocked by critics back in the 70s, Donahue managed to commit the ultimate faux pas by getting his two former bands muddled up and referring to the band on stage as Fairport at one point. Pat Donaldson, the only member of the original Fotheringay never to have ended up in Fairport, made to leave the stage in mock disgust. The spirit of Fotheringport or Fairport Confusion clearly lives on…

What a wonderful show we get though. Some of Sandy Denny’s most beautiful songs brought to life once again and performed live for audiences in the 21st Century. Between them, both Kathryn Roberts and Sally Barker do an amazing job handling Sandy Denny’s vocal parts with passion, beauty and respect. I was terribly dismissive about Sally Barker’s vocals when she sang a Sandy song during a guest slot at Fairport’s Cropredy appearance in 2014. But after seeing Fotheringay twice now I happily own up to being completely, absolutely 100% utterly wrong about Barker, my guilt being compounded even more because, not only did she give us such a wonderful performance tonight, she also took the trouble to personally run around backstage for me to ensure I had all three surviving members’ autographs on my Fotheringay CD. Sorry Sally!

PJ Wright also does a fine and convincing job handling the vocals originally sung by Sandy Denny’s late husband, Trevor Lucas, as well as delivering some beautiful pedal steel guitar on a couple of Sandy Denny solo tracks the band perform tonight.

Song highlights: there were so many. Nothing More, John The Gun, Knights of the Road, Solo, Peace in the End and many more, even though they have to trim their planned setlist slightly due to time pressures.

Had she lived would we now be seeing Sandy Denny joining her erstwhile folk-rock contemporaries, Jacqui McShee and Maddy Prior, at Butlins folk festival this weekend? That we’ll never know. But we have got Fotheringay brought to life once more. There have been various tributes to Sandy Denny (arguably the most gifted female singer-songwriter that Britain has ever produced) in recent years. In addition to the boxed sets and the various books we’ve had the all-star The Lady tribute show put together by Andrew Batt, we’ve had Thea Gilmore’s interpretation of Denny’s newly unearthed lyrics and, of course, we can always expect some sort of tribute in any performance of Denny’s old band, Fairport Convention. But of all the tributes, and they’ve all been wonderful in their own way, for me the one that has been the most special, the most authentic and the most spine-tinglingly, amazingly beautiful has been this current Fotheringay reunion. Long may they continue.

http://www.fotheringay.com/

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Previous review: Fotheringay in London

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Tom Robinson at Great British Folk Festival 5/12/15

Amidst those stalwarts of early 70s folk-rock (Steeleye Span, Fotheringay, Pentangle) this year’s Great British Folk Festival at Butlins Skegness, also had a bit of late 70s new wave protest-singer vibe to it, with both Billy Bragg and Tom Robinson on the bill. Apart from seeing him do a guest spot for one song at Fairport’s Cropredy festival, I’d never seen a full Tom Robinson set until this evening. Robinson is one of those artists that I’ve long been aware of but I’ve only really ever been familiar with a handful of his songs. I remember being amazed (and pleasantly surprised) hearing Glad To Be Gay on the Secret Policeman’s Ball album as a young teenager. I remember his early 80s hit War Baby being on the juke box when I had a job collecting glasses in my local. And, of course, I was familiar with the wonderful 2-4-6-8 Motorway which we all sang along to at Cropredy when he did his guest spot with Fairport there a couple of years ago. But beyond that, my knowledge was pretty thin. We had a bit of a crash course from one of our number who is a serious fan on the way there and got to hear his new album in the car on the way up.

So what did I find? A really engaging performer. A singer and musician whose passion and sense of justice burns as brightly now as it did thirty-odd years ago. Some great entertaining songs – new and old. A really amusing and often hilarious raconteur. And a sincere and convincing advocate for the power of music as a force for good. In short – he impressed.

Songs from his new album, Only The Now, sat well against older material. Tracks like Risky Business, railing against the bankers, exhibited much in the way of both the style and passion of the 70s era Tom Robinson Band material, yet the subject matter is bang up to date. He didn’t disappoint in performing all of the songs I actually knew, either. A stripped-back acoustic War Baby. A mass-singalong 2-4-6-8 Motorway. And, of course, the song that was such a political statement for the mid to late 70s…

A quick scan of our Grindr apps (purely in the interests of demographic research you understand) would suggest that early December at Butlins in Skegness is perhaps not the gayest of venues. But what the folk scene lacks in diversity, it certainly makes up for in tolerance. One of the absolute highlights in a weekend of many highlights was seeing the massed ranks of the Bulins crowd bellowing out each chorus to Glad To Be Gay. I’m certainly glad to have seen Tom Robinson. And I look forward to exploring further.

http://www.tomrobinson.com/

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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.

http://www.thefullenglishband.co.uk/

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The Young ‘uns at Great British Folk Festival 7/12/14

A bit of humorous banter between songs and a few amusing anecdotes do often help bring a folk gig to life and allow the artist to interact properly with the audience. But all too often the off-the-cuff “spontaneous” banter starts to become a bit repetitive when you see the same artist trotting out the same old carefully rehearsed lines gig after gig. No-one could ever, ever accuse the Young ‘uns of doing this, however. So side-splittingly hilarious are these three twenty-something Teesiders that a gig like tonight’s at times threatens to descend into riotous chaos. The music they produce together, though, is to be taken very seriously indeed. The three, Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Michael Hughes, got into folk in their teens and have been performing together ever since. Beautiful harmony singing with simple accordion and acoustic guitar backing they are definitely one of the highlights of this year’s Great British Folk Festival, which comes to Skegness’s out-of -season Butlin’s holiday camp each December

Traditional sea shanties, juxtaposed with songs reflecting the north-east’s industrial heritage, mixed in with some biting but elegantly-written social commentary, together with a few well-chosen covers – it all makes for a varied and fascinating set-list. And given it’s almost Christmas we also get a few traditional wassailing songs thrown in as well. Tonight’s performance saw them introducing some songs from their forthcoming album (to be released next Spring). When a film crew from the notorious Channel 4 show, Benefits Street, descended on one street in Stockton-on-Tees they were physically chased away by local residents. You Won’t Find Me on Benefits Street appears on the album and is performed tonight – celebrating proud defiance in the face of grinding poverty and humiliating set-backs.

Having already released three albums, the trio have now gathered a strong back catalogue of material to draw on.  One song that always goes down exceptionally well at live shows is Cooney’s Love in a Northern Town, documenting not only the true story of how his grandparents met but also the wholesale decline of the Wearside shipyards “where all her ships and men are gone.”

Well-written meaningful songs that are beautifully sung it is well worth getting hold of the Young ‘uns albums. But for a real taste of the trio’s infectious humour and brilliant stage presence you have really, really got to see them live as well.

http://www.theyounguns.co.uk/

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Previous review: Young ‘uns at Cecil Sharp House

Ray Jackson’s Lindisfarne at Great British Folk Festival 6/12/14

The appetite for band resurrections and reunions appears undiminished, sometimes with a worrying lack of quality control and often with the use of an old band name (or some variation of it) aimed at maximising ticket sales over any genuine consideration for the band’s legacy.  One of the latest returns to the gig circuit is Newcastle-based folk-rockers, Lindisfarne. No-one can deny how popular this band were in the early 70s and no-one can deny the huge affection there still is for this band, especially in the north-east. But although they were one of the Saturday night headliners at this year’s Great British Folk Festival at Skegness Butlins, I was more than a little sceptical. They are billed as Ray Jackson’s Lindisfarne for starters, always a tell-tale sign that you are unlikely to be seeing more than one original member on stage. The programme advertises them as “containing former members from all three past eras of the band.” This was not actually a reunion of bandmates who had actually worked on stage together in the same band at the same time therefore. Indeed, one could be forgiven for thinking that Jackson had merely worked his way through a list of ex-members in his old address book until he had almost assembled a full set (but scratching his head when it came to locating a drummer and having to recruit ex-Roxy Music drummer, Paul Thompson instead).

However, as the band start playing it is clear that Jackson has assembled a very strong line-up of musicians who actually gel together really well. The atmosphere gets better and better as the gig proceeds and the mood in the crowd gets ever livelier and ever more celebratory.   Classic songs like Lady Eleanor, Meet Me On The Corner as well as what was introduced as a song you may have heard of about “weather conditions on a river”, their most famous number Fog on the Tyne.  Vocal duties are shared between Jackson and Dave Hull-Denholm, son-in-law of the late frontman, who sings the songs written by his father-in-law, Alan Hull in a vocal style that is very reminiscent of the original.

The band sound good. My scepticism was indeed misplaced. This is an affectionate, credible and highly enjoyable celebration of one of Newcastle’s most loved bands, fronted with conviction by one of their founder members. When the band resurrected their famous annual Christmas show at Newcastle City Hall last year it is not difficult to see why it sold out in just six hours.

http://www.lindisfarne.co/
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