English Folk (EFEx Day 1)

I couldn’t think of a more cutting description for a band than ‘nice’. I think if I were in a band, I’d rather be described as f**king awful, at least that means you’ve pushed a button somewhere, even if does happen to be the big red button marked ‘Do Not Touch’. Nice is a featureless statue, nice is making do, playing it safe, nice is a package holiday, nice is a beige cardigan from top shop or a hotel room print of a scenic painting. Nice is drowning in shallow water, the oppressive absence of passion.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for nice, it’s just not really a place I want to be visiting too often, which is why it might seem strange that this weekend I’ve ended up at the English Folk Expo, where there is an abundance of really nice bands.

I must stress that I am a massive Folk fan and I think the English Folk Expo is a very important addition to the music calendar. It’s not just a cattle market for talent, it’ a social space for growth and collaboration. Plus it has to reflect what is happening within the world of English Folk, and what seems to be happening is nice bands.

That said I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I’d be able to find something more. As a music lover and especially as a music programmer I believe life is far too precious to be wasting time listening to bands just to pass the time. Music is the most potent form of energy and so if it doesn’t revitalise you in some way, whether that be mind, body or soul (preferably all 3), then really what’s the point? Hopefully that belief translates into what we do at BoomTown Fair – I don’t expect every band or DJ to reach every person, but so long as there’s something they can engage with, we’re doing the right thing.

So with that in mind, here’s a few of the bands that I have actually appreciated from the first day here.

‪Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker‬

Although I certainly don’t subscribe to the myth that depth can only be found in abject misery, there’s something about melancholy music that at least hints at an opening (or perhaps leaking) of the soul somewhere, and that is certainly the mood of this set from the last few songs I managed to catch.

By her own admission Josienne specialises in embittered break up songs, perhaps not the ideal for picking up lovers at your shows, but either way she does seem to excel in this area.

Perhaps having not been in a break up for a number of years, I have to admit I’m not totally sold but I’ll probably keep a copy of their album on standby just in case and this tune has had some heavy rotation from me over the past year. I’m not sure if it’s about a break up or not to be totally honest, but it’s certainly a beautiful song.

Harp & A Monkey

Although the monkey was seemingly absent, there was definitely a harp at some point. I’ve got a new found appreciation for the harp this year after seeing artists like Catrin Finch and most especially Low Leaf (actually the lovely Georgia Ruth helped me appreciate a little while ago come to think about it). These 3 fellas though definitely aren’t a trio I’d expect to bring out a harp, I’m not sure I’d expect a glockenspiel from them either, but one features fairly heavily in their set. Perhaps it’s these unexpected instrument occurrences that endear me to the trio, or perhaps it’s because I can relate more easily to the touch of ruggedness that makes such delicate instruments in their set seem out of place. In fact it’s both and more, it’s the fact they upset some traditionalists by using an electronic backing track, it’s the dark humour in their songs and it’s because they’re’s no pretence or separation from the audience in the music they play. Massive fan of these.

Rob Heron & The Teapad Orchestra

Now these guys I’ve already mentioned about a couple of times on this blog and we had them twice at BoomTown this year. A great American Roots band from Newcastle. I think this geographical fact might have upset a few of the traditional English Folkies and despite playing the late night bar they still had the most immobile and po-faced audience they’ve probably ever played to (that could just be this crowd’s natural state of course) – however they are truly impossible to dislike for long and they seemed to win everybody over in the end. I certainly enjoyed their set.

Spiro

Although not a band I’d listen to at home they who were hypnotising to watch (despite living in Bristol I think this might have been the first time I’ve seen them) and all of them fantastic musicians, whose 21 years playing together is definitely noticeable. There’s plenty of press surrounding their latest new release on Real World Records and another showcase due at Womex, so hopefully it should be a great year for them.

Special mention has to go to the fiddle player Jane Harbour’s dress too, which looked like it had been made by elves for a gypsy woman, absolutely stunning.

This is not to say I hated or would dismiss every other band I saw, but then I wouldn’t say so anyway, I’m far too nice for that 🙂 Let’s see what tonight has to offer!

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