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Music Editorial

hartlepoolfolk18.jpg Time to get your Hartlepool folk on

The Hartlepool Folk Festival returns for the fourth time in October with a line-up that sends shivers up and down my spine by just looking at it. Stand by your villeann pipes and Russian accordions and get ready for rare thrills.

The festival doesn’t actually land until 19-21 October, but we’ve decided to write about it now just in case you want to make plans – like many folk fans are increasingly deciding to do – to stop over in Hartlepool to catch as many of the acts as possible. There are plenty of hotels in the area, spots for caravans and motor homes, and, once again, the festival will be providing facilities for indoor camping at the Bellevue Centre. (Indoor camping! Is there nothing this festival can’t do?)

But on with the acts, and, if I may, can I begin with someone who might not be the biggest name at the festival, but is someone I have seen before and absolutely adore: Sandra Kerr. She, along with co-writer John Faulkner, wrote the fabulous music for the greatest children’s TV show of all time, Bagpuss (and was also the voice of Madeleine the Ragdoll). She has had a long and distinguished career in folk music since her days with Ewan MacColl’s Critics Group and directs folk choirs including the award-winning Northumbrian Choir Werca’s Folk, who are also visiting the festival. She’s also recognised as one of the loveliest people working in folk, and that really shines through with every performance she gives. 

One of the biggest names on the current scene is Lankum and this four-piece traditional folk group from Dublin are sure to be kicking up a real storm when they pay the festival a visit. Deploying four-part vocal harmonies along with villeann pipes, concertina, Russian accordion, fiddle and guitar, their repertoire spans Dublin music-hall and street-songs, classic ballads from the traveller tradition, Irish and American dance tunes, and their own material. They’re raw, uncompromising and one of the best live acts currently working today.

Blazin’ Fiddles are another outfit who have been racking up stellar reviews on the contemporary scene and with little wonder. The multi award-winning outfit has drawn its members from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and mix fiddles with wonderfully sympathetic piano and guitar arrangements for a fiery blend that goes down like a rare single malt.

Paying her first visit to the festival is one of region’s favourite daughters Kathryn Ticklell (pictured). Widely acclaimed as one of the foremost exponents of the Northumbrian pipes, she will be joined by accordion player and clog dancer Amy Thatcher for what is sure to be a real show-stopper and festival highlight.

Another band who have nabbed a mantelpiece expanding amount of awards are Elephant Sessions who last year trousered the BBC Scots Trad Music Awards Album of the Year for ‘All We Have Is Now’. The band hail from the Scottish Highlands, but actually met at the Newcastle University Folk degree, and have really exploded onto the scene, not just in the UK but worldwide, with Rolling Stone magazine frothing: “Passionate about their culture and their origins, these Scots are using their instruments like weapons to destroy clichés – we love them.”

False Lights have transcended their original aim to make ‘folk-rock for the 21stcentury’ to become one of the UK’s most exhilarating acts. Their debut album, ‘Salvor’, was released to a string of five-star reviews in 2015, but that was only a taster for what was to come with this year’s incredible ‘Harmonograph’ release which had many critics proclaiming them as the best folk-rock band working today.

One of the most exciting duos on the live circuit are Edgelarks, a BBC Folk Award-winning pair (and 2018 nominees), featuring Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin. They combine British traditional music, ethereal vocals, Indian classical slide guitar and stomping-roots-beatbox-harmonica (oh yes!) into an utterly captivating party of a live show. 

Kitty Macfarlane is a singer and songwriter and her lyrics combine honest snapshots of everyday humanity with the bigger questions that have connected minds and voices for centuries, driven by her own finger-picked guitar.

Macfarlane is arriving from Somerset, but there is plenty of local talent performing too including festival patrons The Wilsons from Billingham. These vocal powerhouses have been singing the songs of the region in their own inimitable a capella style for more than 40 years and, as you might imagine, always go down a treat at the festival.

A couple of local acts I’d particularly like to flag up are Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra and Harri Endersby. Rob Heron and his band play an intoxicating mix of American country blues and ragtime hokum (they call it “north-eastern swing”) with knowing lyrics. I’ve included Harri Endersby in our Local Scene section before and this Durham based lass switches with ease between the acoustic and the electronic, blurring the lines of folk as she goes, while drawing inspiration from both contemporary and traditional music.

The festival will be once again mainly situated at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, with the historic, 18thcentury-themed quayside and the beautiful HMS Trincomalee as its centrepiece. Wander the buildings and find music round every corner. There are two function suites that host midscale concerts, while the Trincomalee herself features the Captain’s Cabin, for small-scale shows, and the Mess Deck, which is great for sessions and workshops.

You’ll find activity in other spaces too, from the atmospheric dry dock of Pressganged to the cosy café on the paddle steamer Wingfield Castle. New this year are concerts at Hartlepool Borough Hall, a fantastic evening venue which trebles their concert capacity (and – don’t worry – it has a handy pub inside the building). 

We’ve not even mentioned half of the acts that are appearing this year in this preivew, so be sure to check out their website for the full programme.

Hartlepool Folk Festival, Friday 19-Sunday 21 October. hartlepoolfolkfest.co.uk