Tag Archives: Nancy Kerr

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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Nancy Kerr & Sweet Visitor Band at Cecil Sharp House 20/11/14

One of the most distinctive voices on one of the most significant folk collaborations of 2014, Nancy Kerr’s incredible song-writing and memorable performances on the Elizabethan Session have already made it a folk classic. And she does bring something unique to contemporary folk. No-one loves the pure, crystal clear vocals from the likes of Sandy Denny and Jacqui McShee more than me. They were always an intrinsic and essential feature of the late 60s folk revival in England and their influence rings out to this day. But as beautiful as those voices are, I’ve often wondered how many female vocalists in past centuries really went around delivering folk renditions in Received Pronunciation. Nancy Kerr, on the other hand, has a different vocal style altogether. Earthy and wonderfully expressive, with echoes of an old-time music hall singer thrown in, her voice is no less beautiful and utterly enthralling.

Tonight there is a good turnout for Kerr and her band in the main Kennedy Hall at Cecil Sharp House. The band begin with Never Ever Lay Them Down, the opening track from Kerr’s new album, Sweet Visitor. Described by the vocalist/fiddle-player as a song about city life and love in and age of austerity it is the perfect vehicle, not only for Kerr’s distinctive voice, but also for the rocked-out folk backing from her incredibly talented band. Joining Kerr on fiddle and lead vocals are James Fagan on guitar; Tom Wright on drums, electric and acoustic guitars; Tim Yates on double bass; and Rowan Rheingans on fiddle.

Other highlights tonight include Where Jacaranda’s Grow, Kerr’s reflection on the increasingly hysterical immigration debate in Australia whose lyrics, she noted with sadness, were now also equally relevant to Britain. She also gave us fabulous renditions of a couple of songs she was commissioned to write for the BBC ahead of the 2012 Games. The first, Apollo on the Docks, talks of the coming of the Olympics to the “banks of the Lea” and “Old Silvertown”. With its catchy melody and instantly memorable chorus, even though its subject matter is only a little over two years old, it sounds like it could have been written a hundred years ago and could well become a modern sing-along folk classic.

Kerr reflects warmly on her experiences as part of The Elizabethan Session earlier this year and one of the songs she performs from that tonight is the brilliant Broadside. Those expecting a carbon copy rendition of the original, however, are in for a surprise. This is very much the heavy metal version and Fagan lets rip on guitar. “Why try and compete with Martin Simpson?” he explains.

The band encore with Now Is The Time from the new album, a secular hymn for all those campaigning for a better world, with poignant harmony singing from the whole band. To experience such an illustrious band, talented singer and wonderful songs at Cecil Sharp House, the iconic home of English folk music, is a real delight. The main hall is in need of a bit of TLC these days (there is a restoration appeal) but when the house lights dim it provides a wonderfully atmospheric setting for a very memorable performance from Nancy Kerr and the Sweet Visitor Band.

http://nancykerr.co.uk/

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Related reviews: The Elizabethan Session and The Full English

The Elizabethan Session at Cecil Sharp House 22/3/14

It could almost be an idea for a trashy reality TV show. Get eight musicians confine them to a country house and set them the challenge of writing some songs that they would all perform live together a week later. Oh, and the musicians would all be folk musicians and the music would be inspired by the music and personalities of the Elizabethan era…. In some ways I was wondering what I was letting myself in for when I saw this advertised. But catching sight of the line-up of musicians involved I had little doubt that it was going to be something worth watching. And it was. An absolutely stunning evening.

I can’t pretend I know much at all about sixteenth century music. But anyone thinking an Elizabethan session was going to involve an evening of twee songs about Merrie England, perhaps performed in the style of the theme music from Blackadder, would soon be disabused by the first song.  Shores of Hispaniola, a haunting but beautiful song reflected on Elizabethan England’s gruesome and sordid involvement in the early transatlantic slave trade. Remarkably, we were told, Nancy Kerr had the thing written before breakfast on the very first morning, following a talk to the musicians from an esteemed Elizabethan historian the night before.

The Elizabethan Sessions project was initiated by those behind the Folk by the Oak folk festival working with the English Folk Dance and Song Society. They brought together an amazing line-up of established and up-and-coming artists: Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr, Jim Moray, Bella Hardy, John Smith, Hannah James, Rachel Newton and Emily Askew.  A packed out main hall at Cecil Sharp House was there to see them.

As well a great collection of new songs, including ones evoking Shakespeare, a “feminist sea shanty” and Martin Simpson’s beautiful song about “brawling, murdering, gay, atheist playwright” Christopher Marlowe’s untimely death in a Deptford bar, we also got some amazing instrumentals, too. Early English music specialist, Emily Askew, brought out and played a weird and wonderful collection of Elizabethan-era instruments throughout the evening.

It was incredible to think that a week before the performance at Cecil Sharp House none of these songs or tunes even existed. But hearing them for the first time and ordering the soon-to-be-released live CD of the sessions immediately after the show, I do know that the music performed tonight was going to become just as familiar to me over the coming months as the songs from another recent stunning folk collaboration, the Full English, have become.

http://www.folkbytheoak.com/TES

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