Tilston and Lowe
Wednesday 8 November, 7.30pm
£14 | £10 under 26s
Steve Tilston and Jez Lowe, two of the UK acoustic/folk scene’s finest songwriters join forces for a concert filled with songs and music, chat and banter and intimate insights into their approach to their craft. Listen in as they rekindle the spontaneity of their late-night living-room song swaps.
An Evening with the Seeger MacColl Family
Thursday 16 November, 7.30pm
£18 | £10 under 26s
The Seeger MacColl family are one of folk music’s most loved dynasties. Singer, songwriter and feminist icon Peggy Seeger performs with Neill and Calum, her sons with Ewan MacColl.
Peggy long-awaited memoir, ‘First Time Ever’ will be published in October. To celebrate, Peggy, Neill and Calum will be touring a special related show in which she’ll mix extracts from the book with the songs that have meant the most to her over the years. Expect anecdotes from her long and remarkable career together with performances songs new and old.
The Stray Birds
Saturday 18 November, 7.30pm
£15 | £10 under 26s
The Stray Birds started as a duo of acoustic buskers when Maya de Vitry and Oliver Craven met with their instruments, their voices, and their songs. It didn’t take much convincing to get bassist Charlie Muench on board, and with the addition of a third unique and powerful voice, the group began to define its captivating sound. Since taking America by storm in 2013 they have gone on to win a huge fan base following appearances at big festivals around the world.
Trad Night – Thomas McCarthy
Wednesday 22 November, 7.30pm, £10
Thomas McCarthy is a man steeped in the tradition of Irish song, intoxicated by the music and passionate in his sensitivity towards them. He comes from a considerable dynasty of traditional singers, song-makers and musicians, and grew up surrounded by the singing of his late mother, her father and aunts and uncles. Having spent his life learning the songs of his family, in 2008 Thomas sang publicly for the first time at the folk club at Cecil Sharp House. By the following year, he had sung at the most prominent folk festivals and clubs in Ireland and England and had appeared on BBC radio.
Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys
Wednesday 29 November, 7.30pm
£14 | £10 under 26s
Sam is one of the most exciting young prospects in the folk scene, having gained a reputation for an incredibly high class and dynamic live show.
Coming from a family largely made up of Norfolk dairy farmers has left Sam with an unmatched experience of singing in front of hurtfully disinterested Friesians, and his meandering musical journey has ranged from reaching the final of ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent as a teenager, to being selected for the first ever EFDSS Artist Development Scheme. Whether playing to 13 million people on prime-time television, or to 10 people in a tiny pub, Sam’s child-like fascination with music shines through.
Jess Morgan & Kitty Macfarlane
Wednesday 6 December, 7.30pm
£12 | £10 under 26s
Jess Morgan is a songwriter’s songwriter. Her performance is a tumbler of unfancied folk-roots music, with heart, passion and gusto.
Kitty Macfarlane’s songs are charged with a sense of place – more often than not her home county of Somerset – and her lyrics combine honest snapshots of everyday humanity with much bigger questions.
India Electric Co
Wednesday 13 December, 7.30pm
£12 | £10 under 26s
Sometimes folk, sometimes not. India Electric Company use traditional instruments in contemporary styles to explore diverse themes from Eastern Europe, Irish traditions and urban alienation to end up with something “quirky and glittery – a veritable musical magpie’s nest” (Mary Ann Kennedy, BBC Radio 3). Belshazzar’s Feast
Thursday 14 December, 7.30pm
£15 | £10 youth
On tour with a Christmas-themed show that mixes traditional folk music, seasonal material, added to their usual touch of classical and jazz, with a bit of pop and music hall, all topped off with lashings of wry humour. Paul Sartin (of Bellowhead and Faustus) and Paul Hutchinson (of Hoover The Dog) together wow audiences across the UK with their eclectic and eccentric mix of tunes and between songs chat that always sends audiences home with smiles on their faces.
Join for us our ever-popular, annual celebration of yuletide, with a chance to join in on the songs and merriment.
Cecil Sharp House Choir, led by Sally Davies, will perform joyful a cappella arrangements of traditional, seasonal songs, carols and wassails from the British Isles and beyond, sung in glorious harmony. Folk dancers, singers and musicians will fill Kennedy Hall – the main space at Cecil Sharp House – with seasonal cheer.
The idea of holding a folk festival in Skegness in December probably raised a few eyebrows when it was first mooted. The suggestion that it should be held at Butlin’s may have caused a pursing of lips but it makes perfect economic sense. The artists have a major venue and a captive audience to add to a winter tour and the camp and its staff gets extra use and revenue. There are two main venues, both are very large and both were packed on Friday evening.
Entering the Pleasure Dome, sorry, Skyline Pavilion trying to figure out where everything was it was nice to be greeted by the harmonies of Said The Maiden on the Introducing Stage – the third open venue in the middle of the pavilion. It was nearly the end of their set, unfortunately, but we stayed to hear Kings Of The South Seas before insinuating ourselves into the Centre Stage for False Lights. Live, they are less reliant on Jim Moray’s synth wizardry and proved themselves to be an exceptionally good folk-rock band in the classic style. They may prefer to think of themselves as mould breakers but they are actually doing what some bands seem to have forgotten how. Their attempt to perform ‘How Can I Keep From Singing’ without PA was not a success, however; the natural acoustics of the room are not as good as they believed.
At an event like this you can’t hear everything so I was now faced with a decision – Eliza Carthy And The Wayward Band or Billy Bragg? The fact that we now had decent seats settled it and we stayed put for the first half of Eliza’s set. Her twelve piece band are set to be the next Bellowhead (whatever anybody says) and are more than up to the task. As well as old favourites, including a “duelling fiddles” interlude with Sam Sweeney in ‘My Boy Billy’, there was a new song, ‘Devil In The Woman’, slated for their first studio album. Bragg called, however, and we arrived for what seemed like the mellow end of his set with ‘Levi Stubbs’ Tears’ and ‘Greetings To The New Brunette’. No! Amongst the polemic he sang ‘Between The Wars’, still powerful and relevant, and ‘There Is Power In A Union’. I reflected that the latter needs some revision with the unions battered down. We may discover that there is power in unity. ‘A New England’ wrapped up his set perfectly.
CC Smugglers followed with the sort of set that only a band as youthful as them could have the energy to play but shouldn’t have the chops to pull off. They have played so many gigs since I first saw them, even ones they weren’t invited to, and have become so tight and slick. Richie Prynne prowled his stage like a circus ringmaster, never still and rarely silent, cajoling and haranguing the audience, the songs and even his band-mates like a true showman. If the idea of the last set of the night was to wind the audience down then CC Smugglers were not the right choice.
The first and last time I heard Moulettes was at very uncomfortable gig and I was looking forward to hearing them in a nice chair. Actually, the best seating for the band is a bean bag with a lava lamp, joss-sticks and a guy dishing out small squares of blotting paper. Sadly the only mind-altering substance available was a pint of Hobgoblin. This was the final gig of the Constellations tour and Moulettes were also previewing their new album, Preternatural, with songs which, for want of more specific titles, we’ll call ‘Octopus’, ‘Nematode’ and ‘Behemoth’. I love the sound of the band, I love their instrumentation and their style but I really don’t know what they are about a lot of the time. “Surreal dreamscapes” were mentioned and I guess that’s about right.
I chatted to Ruth Skipper after the set to ask her impressions of the festival. It turned out that they had only just arrived and gone straight on stage, which accounted for some of the sound man’s problems. At their simplest Moulettes can be two guitars, bass and fiddle but at various times will be added electric cello, bassoon, autoharp, some meaty drums and keyboards and a balance that’s right for the beginning of a song may be wrong by the end. I did discover that the band were looking forward to the water-slide and hearing more music later which proves that I have no future as an investigative reporter.
Next up were Magna Carta. Chris Simpson on-stage is pretty much the same as Chris Simpson off-stage – he’s a raconteur, discursive and philosophical and Doug Morter is his perfect right hand man. Chris has surrounded himself with some very fine musicians but the set felt loose and the decision to give Morter a solo of one of his own songs seems questionable. Back on the firmer ground of The Fields Of Eden things were much more sure-footed and ‘Airport Song’ was a nice encore.
The queue for Tom Robinson curled twice round the pavilion and things were clearly running late so what might have been another difficult decision was made easier and we settled in to hear Sam Carter. He opened his set with ‘Yellow Sign’, the song he began with when I first heard him, and I was shocked to realise that that was six years ago. He has grown as an artist so much. Just when we were settling into the style of his own songs he switched to ‘The Wife Of Ushers Well’, which he sings with False Lights, and ‘Rocking The Cradle’. He played a superb set which showed the power of one man and his guitar. Sam was probably the highlight of the weekend for me.
We got back just in time to catch the end of Tom Robinson’s set so I did get to sing ‘2-4-6-8 Motorway’ again before The Unthanks appeared on the Centre Stage. With the full ten-piece band on stage it’s easy to overlook the contribution of Niopha Keegan to the group but her trumpet playing was the fondant icing on several songs. The technical problems rolled on so The Demon Barbers XL were thirty-five minutes late on stage, almost taking the gloss off their excellent set which began with traditional songs and ended as a dance display featuring hip-hop, interpretative dance and a fearsomely fast rapper. It’s quite disconcerting to see a stage bare of wires, mic stands and other clutter but they needed all the space they could get. I got to bed by 2.00 am, more or less – it was a long day.
By midday the pace was beginning to tell and the queues for the afternoon sessions were noticeably lighter and some people I spoke to were planning a power nap in preference to more music. No such luxury for your man on the spot.
TradArrr were excellent. They can really rock and with Marion Fleetwood on lead they can turn in a bittersweet ballad like ‘My Laggan Love’ or ‘Silver Dagger’. Between them they boast five lead vocalists, a full string quartet, a keyboard player who frequently added unexpected flourishes and two drummers, one of whom plays cornet. There were hints of high camp as PJ Wright planted a foot on the foldback and Guy Fletcher prowled the stage hunched over his mandolin but they restrained themselves well. It was then a choice between waiting for Jacqui McShee’s Pentangle or scurrying off to catch The Band From County Hell – sorry Jacqui.
The Band From County Hell are a Scots/Irish group from Lincolnshire and are huge fun – ‘The Day My Granny Died’ is a song everybody should hear at least once. They have been around for a quite a while, with six albums to their credit and it seems odd that they aren’t better known – although they don’t lack for support. The first notes played by Blazin’ Fiddles were on keyboard and guitar which is, I’m sure, their little joke. It’s not logical to find them restful but they are so tight and their music is so hypnotic. I promise that I didn’t nod off but I was definitely on a different plane of existence for a lot of their excellent set.
I returned to the Introduction Stage to hear Chris Cleverley whose debut album, Apparitions, I really like. His set, mixing traditional songs and his own compositions didn’t disappoint and he’s already working in new songs including ‘All I Want’ which will send me back to Joni Mitchell’s Blue as soon as time allows. I stayed for Polly And The Billets Doux, who won the day’s vote for a main stage slot next year, and The Black Feathers, who really needed a more sympathetic environment.
The Ric Sanders’ Trio have finally come out as a fun band with their new album and set of old blues, string band and swing numbers. It might be called the Vo Fletcher Trio since it is his guitar that forms the foundation and his voice that sings the songs but when the singing stops it is Ric’s flights of instrumental fancy that take their music to another place. The album is a lot of fun and their set reflected that. Then it was decision time again. I’d been told that Fotheringay would be playing the same set that they had toured all year “only better”. That was true but I missed the excitement of the earlier gigs when the band were still finding their way into, or back into, the music. Nevertheless, theirs was the set everyone wanted to hear.
Since they lost Messrs. Knight and Zorn I really wanted to hear what Steeleye Span would do. With two new musicians to induct the answer was to go back to first principles so ‘All Things Were Quite Silent’ was followed by ‘Blackleg Miner’ and ‘Weary Cutters’ was teamed with ‘New York Girls’ featuring Maddy Prior on ukulele. And they rocked. Julian Littman added a rap to ‘Boys Of Bedlam’ and Spud Sinclair played the sort of electric guitar that we haven’t heard in the band since Bob Johnson’s time. As a final touch they closed with an a capella version of Rick Kemp’s ‘Somewhere Along The Road’.
There is no getting away from the fact that playing the final set of a festival after Steeleye Span have gone off to rapturous applause is a daunting task but Folklaw threw themselves into it with energy and aplomb. Fiddler and songwriter Nick Gibbs was joined by Gaz Hunt on a minimalist drum kit, Martin Vogwell on bass and mandolin and Bryn Williams on guitar and bodhran – not to mention crossing the venue floor on the backs of chairs! They sent the crowd off exhausted but happy.
So does a December festival work once you get over the culture shock of rocking up at 5.00 pm on a Friday in the dark? This is still Skegness and with Storm Desmond blowing around us “bracing” just didn’t begin to describe it but when the wind dropped on Sunday it was mild and pleasant. The accommodation and facilities were excellent and the unsung stars of the weekend were the Butlin’s staff who were friendly and helpful and worked long hours. However, this was folk music adapting to Butlin’s not the other way round. The artists existed in a bubble of stage/backstage/ accommodation or arrived, performed and left and there were quite a few I would have liked to have spoken to so I apologise to them. A bulletin board for messages or to arrange meetings wouldn’t take much to set up and would be a big help, too. But, yes, it works and if you have considered going but not done so I can recommend it.
You may have strong views about the whaling industry and when it comes to the 21st century model I’d agree with you. But when it comes to the practices of two centuries ago go and read Moby-Dick and we’ll talk about it. The point is that all the songs on this album relate to whaling throughout the 19th century.
That fact may call to mind visions of horny-handed sons of the sea in sailor caps and roll-neck jerseys but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Kings Of The South Seas are led by Ben Nicholls, best known for his rôle in Seth Lakeman’s band along with Richard Warren (The Hybrids, Echoboy, Starsailor) on guitar and Evan Jenkins (Neil Cowley Trio) on drums. Rock and jazz alongside modern folk – this is nothing like you were expecting.
To be fair, some of it is fairly conventional, with Ben’s duet concertina as the melody instrument and a few bars wouldn’t scare your granny. Some songs have been heavily re-written from broadsides and other sources and any bowdlerisations have been deftly removed. The traditional nature of the songs remains even when Richard’s guitar is doing its best to obscure it so ‘Weary Whaling Grounds’ is dark and grim, offering an entirely new view of the song. There are oddities, too. The opening ‘I Never Missed My Home’ comes from a broadside collected in West Wittering but sounds not unlike an American hymn. One highlight is ‘King Of The Cannibal Islands’, which I’d previously known only as a dance tune, rendered here in all its unlikely glory and which is followed by ‘The Great Sea Snake’, another improbable tale.
On the first hearing Kings Of The South Seas can come as a bit of a shock but familiarity breeds both acceptance and understanding. You really should get to hear it.
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