Meet the folkers
Autumn is my favourite bit of the year – ambling through the park in on-point knitwear; Strictly back on the telly – but also a time when I embrace one of my very favourite live music weekends when the life-affirming Hartlepool Folk Festival gets into full swing. This year’s looks extra special.
And let’s start at the end because I literally can’t wait to tell you about one of the very special events that is set to light up the Sunday, and final day, of this year’s festival: The Barrack-Room Ballads. These are a series of poems by Rudyard Kipling that were published 125 years ago and include some of his most well-known works including Gunga Din, Tommy and Danny Deever. It’s also 40 years since folk legend Peter Bellamy set those poems to music on an iconic album. To mark both anniversaries, Hartlepool Folk Festival are bringing together an all-star cast to breathe new life into these songs including Martin and Eliza Carthy (pictured), Jon Boden, Damien Barber and The Wilsons, as well as a ten-piece orchestra, inspired by the concept of the ‘Indian wedding band’. New arrangements will be a feature of the night along with specially written incidental music to conjure the atmosphere of the period, from rousing brass to evocative strings and percussion of Indian classical music. Of course, Kipling was very much a product of his time and this performance will also feature broadcaster, writer and actor Hardeep Singh Kohli who will counterpoint the songs with spoken-word narration drawn from a range of Kipling’s writing, including his later anti-war poetry.
And – pleased to report – some of the stellar cast performing The Barrack-Room Ballads will also be featuring in their own right over the weekend. Jon Boden, for instance, a man who, as lead singer and one of the principal arrangers with Bellowhead, took the form into uncharted waters, nabbing the band eight (EIGHT!) BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. He’s now emerged as a solo artist of real distinction, with a vast repertoire of traditional and original songs.
Father and daughter Martin & Eliza Carthy, of course, hail from the UK’s leading folk dynasty with Eliza also winning multiple BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards as well as two Mercury Prize nominations. Her father is one of the legendary ballad singers and guitarists and has influenced everyone from Paul Simon to Bob Dylan. (Note: Their Saturday evening appearance will feature an exclusive set with American traditional music legend Tim Eriksen, his only UK date this autumn. He combines hair-raising vocals with inventive accompaniment on banjo, fiddle, guitar and bajo sexto – a twelve string Mexican acoustic bass – to create a unique sound.)
Festival patrons The Wilsons – and favourite sons of Teesside – are noted for their glorious harmonies (they performed with Sting in his The Last Ship) and will, once again, be flying the flag for traditional Teesside song, with good humour and joy.
I’m particularly excited that Jolie Holland and Samantha Parton, the two founding members of Americana stalwarts The Be Good Tanyas, are on this year’s bill. The pair will be playing fresh arrangements of their material, as well as songs from their individual catalogues and newly written originals.
Andy Cutting, Sam Sweeney and Rob Harbon are each regarded as masters of their instruments and Leveret is their exciting new collaboration. Together their performances combine consummate musicianship, compelling delivery and captivating spontaneity.
Another collaboration - or collective, if you will – worth getting excited about is The Furrow Collective, the critically acclaimed English/Scottish quartet consisting of four distinctive and talented performers: Lucy Farrell (fiddle, viola, voice), Rachel Newton (harp, fiddle, voice), Emily Portman (banjo, concertina, voice) and Alasdair Roberts (guitars, voice). The group formed in 2013 and were drawn together by a shared love of traditional song and balladry and an open, intuitive approach to collaboration.
One of the leading squeezebox players in the UK, John Kirkpatrick, has gone on to become one of the most prolific figures on the English folk scene. Performing solo, in duos, acoustic groups and electric bands, he has established an enviable reputation as an instrumental virtuoso and session musician, as well as a leading interpreter of English folk music.
In a folk scene currently bursting with bold and innovative music, vocal trio Lady Maisery shine brightly. With their unique approach to harmony singing, intelligent and thoughtful arrangements of both traditional repertoire and original composition, the trio harness and celebrate their united voice, whether unearthing a feminist twist hidden in a traditional tale, delivering a poignant anti-war ballad or showcasing their immense multi-instrumental skills.
I’m beginning to run out of space here to cover all of the acts – and the programme is particularly packed this year – but I must mention Jim Moray (one of the real innovators of the folk scene), Jackie Oates and Megan Henwood (who meld their love of storytelling, songwriting and melody with their voices and instruments), Hannah James (one of the most versatile and prolific musicians on the scene today), Taffy Thomas (the UK’s first storytelling laureate – oh yes!), Grace Petrie (folk singer, songwriter and activist who exploded onto the national protest scene in 2010 with the emotive anthem Farewell to Welfare), and Cath & Phil Tyler (playing Anglo-American folk music using guitar, banjo, voice and fiddle).
I’m merely scratching the surface of this year’s programme so be sure to check the website, below, for the full caboodle. What I do have room to impart is that, once again, the festival site will be based at the National Museum of the Royal Navy Hartlepool, home to the 18th century-themed historic quay and HMS Trincomalee, the UK’s oldest floating warship. There will be various venues around the quay for concerts, workshops, talks, dance displays and sessions – including, yes, aboard the Trincomalee itself – with the main-stage concerts taking place at the nearby Town Hall Theatre. New this year is indoor camping – and that’s the kind of mud-free camping that I can really get behind – with full details on this, again, from the website below.Hartlepool Folk Festival, Friday 13-Sunday 15 October. hartlepoolfolkfest.co.uk