Tag Archives: Sam Kelly

Live review: Fairport’s Cropredy Convention August 2018

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Day one: Thursday

Cropredy 2018 kicks off with Fairport Convention doing a brief twenty-minute acoustic stint. We’ll be hearing a lot more from them later on in the weekend, of course, but a short opening set from the hosts has become something of a Cropredy tradition.

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Fairport are then swiftly followed by Smith & Brewer. Ben Smith and Jimmy Brewer met a few years ago while on tour with Joan Armatrading and their Americana-infused acoustic playing, combined with August sun and a few beers is the perfect way to get us into the festival vibe for this most friendly and laid-back of festivals. Next up and on a similar sort of theme is Police Dog Hogan. Guardian readers will perhaps be aware of them through Guardian writer, Tim Dowling’s regular exploits as banjo player for the band in his regular Saturday column. No reflection on Tim or the rest of the band but your GRTR crew departed at this stage for a bit of chill-out time back at the campsite ahead of the evening’s headliners – 80s folk rock veterans Oysterband and surf supremo, Brian Wilson.

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Oysterband are as good as ever but for me, and many others, it’s Brian Wilson’s night. A visibly frail Brian Wilson took to the stage assisted by a walking frame and a couple of roadies. Seated at his huge white keyboard in the centre of the stage, however, he was master of all he surveyed giving us an hour and a half of sheer magic. He’s accompanied, of course, by a stage full of top class musicians and amazing vocalists and hit after hit of Beach Boys classics come thick and fast, followed by a rendition in full of the masterpiece that is Pet Sounds, followed by yet more hits. Wilson these days is also often accompanied by his old Beach Boys colleague Al Jardine. At 75 his voice sounds almost as fresh as it did at 20. Jardine’s son Matt, blessed with equally amazing vocal abilities, is also part of the line-up. If there comes a time when the last surviving Wilson brother becomes too frail to tour I would happily pay good money to see Jardine and his son continuing the Beach Boys legacy. Definitely one of the highlights of the weekend for me.

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Day Two – Friday

Festival-goers will be familiar with those days when the skies are grey, the temperature drops, the rain is relentless and everything – just everything – becomes an ordeal. Friday is one of those mornings. None of our group can face the thought of standing in the wet and cold all day and we head off to explore the ‘Cropredy Fringe’. Although Fairport have resisted the pressure to go down the route of other festivals and introduce multiple stages, a mixture of local pubs and enterprising landowners have put together their own programmes of entertainment to compliment (or compete with?) the action on the main stage. We therefore spent the first couple of hours in a marquee full of soggy festival-goers drinking cider and looking out on some truly depressing weather. Missing the first two acts on the main stage we were contemplating whether to brave it for the third when the sky brightened, the sun shone and we made it back to the main arena on a glorious August afternoon just in time to catch The Travelling Band begin their set. This talented band’s brand of Mancunian Americana was the perfect tonic as the day morphed from a horrendously cold and wet morning into a beautiful lazy sunny afternoon.

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I assume that a big chunk of this year’s artist budget had been blown on securing Brian Wilson (a decision I thoroughly, thoroughly approve of by the way). In consequence, compared to other years this year’s line-up was perhaps a touch lighter on household names. However, even if it lacked many big names we did have the likes of Jim Cregan who had an 18-year stint with one of the biggest names ever – Rod Stewart. A talented musician and songwriter Cregan co-wrote a number of Stewart’s hits and Cregan and Co turned out to be one of the unexpected highlights of the whole weekend. 20,000 people up dancing and singing along to the likes of Baby Jane, You’re In My Heart and Tonight I’m Yours as hit followed hit followed hit. Cregan also reminded us he’d done a stint with Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel – before launching into a wondrous Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile) which sent the crowd even crazier. We even got a special treat right at the end as the Fairport boys came out en masse to do the mandolin part on Maggie May.

Larger than life Quebec folkies Le Vent Du Nord never disappoint and they wowed the crowd at Cropredy, just as I’d seen them wowing the crowd at Womad a couple of years earlier. Then it was the former Marillion main-man, Fish, but sadly coming on for that early evening slot where, once again. we really needed some chill-out time if we were to keep going until midnight.

We did make it back to the arena to see an utterly stunning set from Kate Rusby. Witty, passionate and engaging, with beautiful voice and deeply emotional songs the Barnsley-based folkie absolutely stormed it, in a time-slot where, to be truthful, I’d seen other female folkies struggle a bit to keep the crowd’s attention in the past.

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Then came Friday headliners, The Levellers, who I found to be a real disappointment to be perfectly frank. I’d seen them only a few weeks ago where they have been completely reworking their material in a sit-down, mellow, acoustic set accompanied by a string orchestra. Now while that was well-received in a medium-sized theatre with an audience of devoted fans, it is really not what you want for a festival set – certainly not when you are headlining and it’s late at night, it’s getting cold and the majority of the crowd were probably expecting to warm themselves up bouncing around to a full-on, rocked-up, classic Levellers set. A huge missed opportunity for the band – an innovative idea but just completely the wrong approach for a festival.

Day Three: Saturday

No relentless rain to put a damper on things on the Saturday morning, we have bright sunshine for Richard Digance, who has become quite a Cropredy institution over the years. His sentimental and gently humorous songs may not be everyone’s cup of tea but his set is worth it alone for the surreal sight of 20,000 white hankies waving in the air when Digance finishes his spot each year by getting the whole crowd on their feet for some mass morris dancing.

With a brief interlude from singer song-writer Eric Sedge, it’s time for yet more insanity, this time from the Bar-Steward Sons Of Val Doonican. Their formula isn’t a million miles away from the path trodden over many years by the likes of the Baron Knights, the Wurzels et al – humorously silly alternative lyrics to well-known pop songs. But the Doonicans dress it up with a bit of very twenty-first century surrealism including, at one point, the lead singer launching himself off the stage to surf above the crowd in a rubber dinghy. I spoke to people who had been crying with laughter and had them down as one of the absolute highlights of their weekend while my brother (and GRTR’s official photographer for the weekend) was adamant that they were the worst act ever to appear at a festival in his entire existence. I quite liked them.

Next up is young singer-songwriter Will Varley. A great voice and superb musicianship I felt at times, that he perhaps has to develop a bit more as a writer in order to give us some truly memorable songs – but I’m sure that will come. Then it’s time one of the weekend’s highlights for me was a cracking set from Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys. Putting a modern edge on traditional folk, Kelly and his band-mates really get the crowd up and jigging. Definitely one of the most exciting bands to emerge on the contemporary folk scene in recent years.

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Then it was back to the van for a big long snooze, missing both Afro Celt Sound System and Al Stewart. In my mitigation I thought the Old Speckled Hen mini keg that I’d polished off that afternoon contained five litres rather than five pints. Still, I was up bright, refreshed and rested for Fairport Convention’s Saturday night headline slot and, even more impressive, I’d completely missed out on all the heavy rain.

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Fairport Convention always strive to give us something a bit different with their mammoth Saturday night set each Cropredy festival. Last year was very much a celebration of the band’s fiftieth anniversary, with surviving former members from each era reuniting on stage. This year the two stand-out sections of the set were a lengthy and poignant tribute to former lead singer, Sandy Denny, who died forty years ago this year, and an emotional and amazingly touching tribute to another former member, multi-instrumentalist Maartin Allcock. The latter’s musical input was a huge part of the band’s renaissance as a touring, recording, functioning outfit in the 80s and early 90s. A couple of months before this year’s festival, however, Allcock announced on his website that he had been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer, was unlikely to be around for very much longer and that Cropredy would be his final public performance. An incredibly brave way of facing the final chapter of his life but what a performance it was and what love for him in the assembled crowd. Playing the rocked up ‘Metal Matty’ version of Fairport’s traditional classic. Matty Groves, that Allcock helped create back in his days with the band and, finally, taking centre stage to play out the encore Meet On The Ledge he said goodbye to the Cropredy Fairport family in true style with grace, dignity and some stunning playing. Certainly one of the most emotional moments I’ve ever experienced in thirty-odd years of festival-going. Thank you for your contribution Maartin and may your final days be full of love and free of pain.

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All photo credits: Sam Reynolds

Related reviews:

Fairport Convention at Cropredy 2017

Fairport Convention at Cropredy 2014

Album review – Fairport Convention ‘What We Did On Our Saturday’

 

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Folk: EP review – The Changing Room ‘The Magic of Christmas’

My review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

It’s been quite a year for The Changing Room, the Cornish-based folk duo of Tanya Brittain and Sam Kelly. Kelly picked up the Horizon prize at the BBC Folk Awards, the duo’s second album Picking Up the Pieces was released in the summer and there was also a collaboration project with The Lost Gardens of Heligan. So what better way to round of the year than with a Christmas EP.

Though neither originate from Cornwall (Brittain is originally from Sheffield and Kelly from Norfolk) they have undoubtedly helped give a greater profile to the Cornish language in folk music. Once formally classified “extinct” by UNESCO, Cornish has undergone a remarkable cultural renaissance in recent decades, thanks in no small part to the musical contributions of outfits like The Changing Room.

From June Tabor and Oysterband’s cover of Love Will Tear Us Apart to Richard Thompson’s spirited cover of Britney Spears, there have been some great folk makeovers of rock and pop classics in recent years. This EP continues that tradition with a cover of The Pretenders 1980s seasonal hit 2000 Miles, in Cornish, of course.

Even if one never learns or understands a word of Cornish it’s a beautifully expressive language and Kelly’s vocals, as fresh and contemporary-sounding as we have come to expect, handle the song equally beautifully.

The second track is Brittain’s own. Her ethereal Enya-like vocals give depth and beauty to this moodily atmospheric piano and vocals track, this time in English, all about the magic, brightness and calm of Christmas eve.

For the final track, the duo present their take on Silent Night. Anyone thinking they have quite enough versions of this song amongst their Christmas folk CDs already, can be reassured that this is something quite special. Again sung in Cornish, Kelly’s vocals are set against a mandolin backing that is as warm and melodic as a set of Christmas chimes, without a trace of overdone Christmas cheesiness or seasonal cliche.

For those looking for something striking, fresh and a just little different for their seasonal folk playlist this year The Magic of Christmas EP from this talented duo is well worth a punt.

Released November 2016

http://www.thechangingroommusic.com/

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Related review:

Sam Kelly Trio at Green Note 2015

Sam Kelly Trio at The Green Note 23/2/15

While I like to experience new acts, particularly new folk acts, I usually discover them as part of a festival line-up, or as support act to someone I do know or because I know one or more of the musicians from another project. It’s rare that I’ll go to a gig for someone I’m completely unfamiliar with, purely on spec. But the Sam Kelly Trio gig at Green Note in Camden caught my eye and here we are.

Singer and acoustic guitarist, Kelly, is joined by Jamie Francis on banjo and Evan Carson on drums/ bodhran. Although Kelly is clearly a talented singer song-writer, the trio set-up gives a real extra buzz to the performance. And although there’s a wide-range of material, from traditional English folk, to self-written, to country to traditional blues and more, the banjo gives the band a nice kind of Americana feel while at the same time remaining very, very English. And it gives the trio a clearly identifiable sound across the different types of material.

Tonight is the EP launch for their five-track release, Spokes. And for an event like this what would make more sense than performing the whole thing from start to finish in full? So after an initial selection of songs, ranging from country to blues, Kelly announces that this is precisely what the band will do. Highlights include a brilliantly lively version of traditional sailor’s song On Board a 98, which tells of a young man press-ganged into a life on the sea. The Kelly-penned Healing Hands is much gentler but a really beautiful song in the set. After performing all but the last track on the EP they do a couple of instrumental numbers and a Dylan cover then, called back for an encore, Kelly takes the stage alone to perform the final track from the EP. This is The Unquiet Grave, just him, his lovely vocals and beautiful acoustic guitar.

Tonight was a complete punt on a (to me) hitherto unknown act. But I’m glad I’ve become acquainted with the Sam Kelly Trio and I can see them going down a storm on the summer festival circuit.

http://www.samkelly.org/

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