CAMBRIDGE CITY ROOTS FESTIVAL – Various artists/venues, 22 February – 6 March 2018

Cambridge City Roots Festival
Matt Hammond photographed by Su O’Brien

The City Roots Festival shakes open its umbrella (and hauls on its snow boots) for a second year of folk and roots events. As before, a loose collection of venues and artists are brought under the festival banner, from the already-scheduled to the specially commissioned.

New this year is an extended, two-week timespan. With something happening just about every evening and a few of the daytimes too, is there enough to keep fans busy? Well, it is hard to imagine it being a destination for the whole festival fortnight. But for those within travelling distance (admittedly a pretty wide area) – or those who don’t enjoy the whole festival experience – coming along to individual events seems to work well enough. The potential downside of this is that it tends to favour bigger names who might be touring here anyway. The challenge remains, as ever, to expose upcoming acts to wider audiences.

Inevitably, it’s also harder to keep up continuity across a multi-venue, multiple day festival. Branding is generally more visible this year, which is a definite plus. Some of the artists, though, seem barely aware that they are part of the festival – at least they don’t mention it. In fact, one act, busy lamenting a lack of inclusion (so far) in the summer Cambridge Folk Festival schedule, seems blissfully unaware that they are part of the winter one!

Last year’s closing acts, Sona Jobarteh and Muntu Valdo open the festival this time, bringing welcome African warmth. Haitian voudou from Chouk Bwa Libète goes head to head with a live interview at the University Union with Wilko Johnson. Other acts featuring in the main line-up include Megson, Tom Robinson, Rich Hall, Wildwood Kin and Ward Thomas. As with traditional festivals, there are overlaps, forcing a decision about which act to see!

Although headline acts have been flagged up for some time, a lot more, smaller, ‘fringe’ gigs are still being announced right up to the last minute. This means keeping in constant contact with the website is essential, to pick up on late changes. A lot of the smaller events are admirably free of charge too, cementing the impression of a confident local music-making community.

A family fun day at the Guildhall hosts live acts, children’s activities and a well-attended ukulele workshop. It’s heartening to see so many youngsters taking up their brightly coloured ukes. The downside is that they missed out on a superbly intimate follow-up gig by Muntu Valdo in the hall next door.

In this vast space, his tiny colourfully-dressed figure is surrounded by pedals, coaxing unexpected sounds from his guitars and building up intricate loops. He delivers an impeccable slide blues with an unmistakeably African slant – oh, and he plays a mean harmonica, too. It’s like watching Jimi Hendrix play a Sunday afternoon tea dance: thrilling and strange. As the sun streams in through the civic stained glass, it’s tempting to run out and drag the shoppers in from the streets outside to make them listen to this highly original talent.

Barbara Wibbelmann delivers some fine a capella Gaelic songs and finishes, accompanied by Quentin Rea on guitar, with a delightful ‘La Vie En Rose’. Martin Baxter’s Alternative Arrangements lend some mid-afternoon Americana as well as an upbeat ‘John Barleycorn’. The miles of empty space between seating and stage finally makes sense as ceilidh band Frog On A Bike whip up the dancers to wrap up the afternoon.

Buskers too, are apparently abroad on this cold and sunny day but, despite several slogs around town, they remain stubbornly invisible. Only stalwart singer-songwriter Matt Hammond can be found chilling his fingers, engaging passers-by with his percussive guitar style and promoting his new single, ‘Skylines’.

One of the hazards of a winter festival is always going to be inclement weather and, as with most of the rest of the country, the big hit of snow takes its toll on players and audiences alike. Still with a few line-up tweaks, it seems that all the shows go ahead, which is very impressive.

Following an afternoon masterclass in Miller’s Music shop, CC Smugglers (currently crowdfunding their new album), squash themselves into a tiny corner of the 1815 bar on a snowy evening. Playing a relaxed, mainly acoustic set, this cheery crew deliver their own bluesy, skiffly songs with some great join-in choruses, alongside lounge standards. The keyboard player in particular brings a distinct jazz style to the set, as a small crowd of Lindy Hoppers push back the chairs to whirl around the floor.

SJ Mortimer (now also performing with Morganway) And Her Flying Pigs bring lashings of country, the monthly New Routes night at the Junction features several Americana artists, and traditional music goes on in pubs and clubs across the city. Even the serious business of making a living is once again the subject of a workshop day to encourage musicians to focus further than the next creative impulse.

With such diversity of music to choose from, with venues from snug to cavernous, seated or standing, the organisers have plainly tried to cater for many tastes within the broad spectrum of folk and roots. There is something for everyone here and, as well as the national/international artists, it’s a valuable reminder of what incredible home-grow talents exist across the Eastern region at the moment. See you in 2019!

Su O’Brien

Festival website: www.cambridgelivetrust.co.uk/cityroots

 

She doesn’t seem amused.

Seth Lakeman – album reissue with bonus tracks

Seth

Seth Lakeman has re-released his Top 20 album Ballads Of The Broken Few, with five added bonus tracks via Cooking Vinyl. Recorded during the original album sessions, with producer Ethan Johns, the previously unreleased bonus tracks are: ‘Gambling Man’, ‘Everything’, ‘Days Are Longer’, ‘Wake Up’ and ‘Bury Me Deep’. The new album will be available on CD and digital.

This November, Seth will tour the UK as special guest with Robert Plant & the Sensational Space Shifters, where he will play as part of Robert’s band and also open the shows with his own set.

Looking forward to the dates, Seth commented: “‘I’m honoured to be touring and performing with such a fantastic band and one of the world’s greatest music legends.”

Widely-praised on its release last year, Ballads Of The Broken Few showcases Seth’s dynamic song writing and playing; his soaring vocals perfectly matched by the sublime harmonies of Wildwood Kin. An epic, soulful album of compelling songs, stripped back to their essence.

Since the Mercury Prize nominated Kitty Jay (recorded in his kitchen for £300), the follow-up gold selling Freedom Fields and his last, highly acclaimed offering, Word Of Mouth, a deft collection of mini musical biographies of colourful West Country characters, Seth Lakeman has relentlessly pushed his musical boundaries and those of folk and roots music. His innovative approach, ground-breaking albums and powerful live performances have put him at the forefront of the re-emergence of British folk and successfully steered it into the mainstream. With Ballads Of The Broken Few Seth demonstrated yet again that, far from being complacent, he is constantly exploring new and bold musical paths.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

‘Meet Me In The Twilight’:

The Folking Awards – the 2017 Winners

Folking Award winners

So here they are: the Folking Award winners of 2017.

First of all, a big thank you to everyone who voted – more than 20,000 votes were cast. Congratulations to the winners and commiserations to the runners-up, although all our nominees are winners to the writers who enjoyed their music, either live or on record, over the last year and placed them on the short list. Here are the public vote winners and now, may I have the first envelope please… no, not that one!

Soloist of the Year – Ralph McTell

Folking Award winners

Listen to the Darren Beech/ Paul Johnson interview with Ralph at Cropredy 2016 here


Best Duo – Show Of Hands

Read all about Show Of Hands’ Big Gig at the Royal Albert Hall here


Best Band – Harp And A Monkey

This was a very close vote but we’re delighted that Harp And A Monkey triumphed in the Best Band category even though they narrowly beat another of our favourites.

Harp And A Monkey bio


Best Live Act – Mad Dog Mcrea

In contrast, this was a runaway victory for the band from Plymouth.

Read Su O’Brien’s review of Mad Dog Mcrea live at Cambridge City Festival here


Best Album – Ballads Of The Broken Few by Seth Lakeman with Wildwood Kin

Read Mike Davies’ review of Ballads Of The Broken Few here


Best Musician – Phil Beer

Phil Beer bio


Folking’s Rising Star Act – Said The Maiden

Said The Maiden bio


Best International Act – Applewood Road

Applewood Road bio


As before, there are no actual trophies to present (but if anyone would like to tender for making some in the future please let us know). However, everyone on the long lists and on the short lists as well as the winners can rejoice that they made an impression on a lot of people during 2016.

Have another great musical year!

The Folking team


If you would like to order a copy of an album (in CD or Vinyl) of any of the artists featured here, download an album or track or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then type what you are looking for in the search bar above to be taken to that relevant page via our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Seth Lakeman and Wildwood Kin live at Derby Cathedral

Seth Lakeman live
Photograph by Simon Burch

If Seth Lakeman was feeling any road rage from having spent eight and a half hours in a car during a delayed journey to the Midlands – cancelling an appearance at a record store in nearby Nottingham along the way – then he wasn’t letting any of it show.

Indeed, he was apologetic that the start of the show had to be put back by a quarter of an hour, giving the audience a little longer to wait for the first chance to hear the songs from his long-awaited follow up to Word Of Mouth, Ballads Of The Broken Few, which was released that very day.

Shorn of his band – but with the trio Wildwood Kin waiting in the wings – Lakeman promised that the arrangement would enable him to play some songs that lent themselves to his solo performance and he gave a whistle-stop tour through his musical odyssey to date, taking in ‘The Herders’, ‘The Courier’, ‘Bold Knight’, ‘Lady Of The Sea’ and ‘Portrait Of My Wife’, for which he encouraged audience participation by helpfully running through the chorus beforehand.

About half way through the show he stopped to introduce Wildwood Kin, the young female trio featuring Beth and Emillie Key and their cousin Meghann Loney, who he had invited to jam with him after they released their first EP and then asked to share the top billing to support his change of musical direction with Ballads…

From the very first note their influence on the music was immediate, their Americana harmonies shifting the geography of the music across the Atlantic, and it was also clear in their faces how genuinely they were enjoying themselves – they didn’t stop smiling. The overall effect was akin to spreading honey onto the songs, smoothing the edges of Lakeman’s famously strident delivery.

Their first song was the only cover on the album – ‘Anna Lee’, written by Laurelyn Dosset – and it was followed by ‘Willow Tree’, ‘Stranger’, a beautiful performance of ‘Silver Threads’, ‘Innocent Child’ and ‘Pulling Hard Against The Stream’, the album’s last song which, we were told, nearly didn’t make it onto the record at all.

Ballads Of The Broken Few is simpler and more wistful than the barn-storming folk that has seen Lakeman step into the mainstream – although ‘Meet Me In The Twilight’, the next song, is currently enjoying daily airplay on BBC Radio Two – and the Cathedral, which is one of a number of churches lined up for the tour, lent itself well for the evening’s show, not least because the acoustics lent the delivery a gorgeous richness.

What helped was the effect the setting had on the audience who, sat bolt upright in their wooden pews, were hushed into reverential silence, allowing the music to fill the air and wash over them. It also meant that they were confined to head nodding and hand-clapping for most of the show’s more up-tempo numbers before casting aside their reservations to stand, bob and whoop through the crowd-pleasing ‘Kitty Jay’ and, the final number, the breathless ‘Last Rider’, which would still be better suited to the surroundings of a barn, with dust flying, rather than the ecclesiastical setting of Derby’s largest place of worship.

No matter, the concert was worth the wait and it was a coup for the Cathedral, whose claims to fame include the oldest ring of 10 bells in the world and the final resting place of Bess of Hardwick and a couple of former Dukes of Devonshire, who would doubtless have been tapping their ancient feet inside their crypt along to the songs of a modern-day Devonian very much at the top of his game.

Simon Burch

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.
Artist’s website: http://www.sethlakeman.co.uk/

‘Willow Tree’ – official video:

For details of more events at Derby Cathedral go to:
http://www.derbyfolkfestival.co.uk/venue/derby-cathedral/

SETH LAKEMAN featuring WILDWOOD KIN – Ballads Of The Broken Few (Cooking Vinyl COOKCD644)

ballads of the broken fewIn keeping with his determination to record in unusual and inspiring locations, Lakeman set up shop in the Great Hall of an unnamed Jacobean Manor House, recording the tracks for Ballads Of The Broken Few as live. On top of which, he not only enlisted the services of legendary American producer Ethan Johns, but, having toured with them, invited Exeter based female trio Wildwood Kin (Emillie and Beth Key and cousin Meghann Loney) to be part of the project in providing harmonies.

The end result is arguably, if not necessarily his best (depending on your viewpoint), then certainly his most immediate and haunting work to date, the pared back approach proving the maxim that less can be more. The pacing throughout is slow and deliberate, imparting a reflective, melancholic air, the sound drawing on both English and Appalachian folk influences. Indeed, on the opening track, a slow march rhythm rework of the traditional ‘Willow Tree’ with percussive snaps and fiddle, the girls’ spooked cooing harmonies evoke Alison Krauss’s version of ‘Down To The River To Pray’.

It’s one of three traditional broadsides, the others being the equally stark and Appalachian coloured ‘Stranger’, and, backed just by fiddle drone and a percussive strummed guitar note, album closer ‘Pulling Hard Against The Stream’, a 19th Century moralistic song encouraging folk to support their fellows in times of trouble. There’s also a cover version, ‘Anna Lee’, the backwoods hymnal tale of a mother drowning after ignoring storm warnings written by Laurelyn Dossett and featured on Levon Helm’s Dirt Farmer,  that features just mournful fiddle, Lakeman and the girls’ harmonies.

The remaining seven songs are all originals, first up being the spiritual shaded ‘Silence Reigns’, featuring Johns on hurdy gurdy, one of the many striking numbers that suggest Southern Gothic tones, followed, in turn, by the strummed ‘Meet Me In The Twilight’, another track which, with its slow sway tempo and thematic content, conjures riverside revival tents.

Collapsing relationship number ‘Fading Sound’ harks more to the darker shades of English folk, a nervy, ominous number backed by a simple electric guitar riff with occasional burst of fiddle and the drums kicking in for the final seconds. The title track comes next, another spare, brooding listen, its bluesy chorus driven by a handclap worksong slow march rhythm, that again gathers power towards the end.

The final self-penned batch opens with the hypnotic thrum and mandolin-tinged ‘Innocent Child’, another steeped in the dank and dark corners of English folk, the girls’ harmonies reminiscent of The Smoke Fairies at their most fog-shrouded. Rather more restful and contemplative, accompanied by viola and fiddle, with understated Kin harmonies, the five-minute personal portrait ‘Whenever I’m Home’ is a yearningly poignant thoughts from the road ache. Which leaves the plucked fiddle accompanied ‘Silver Threads’, a song about enduring love as time passes, its naked vocal intermittently giving way to such full blooded refrains as “Every year that passes you will be an evergreen all etched against the sky, every day that’s granted for you and for me a tangle and twist of my twine.”

Raw, profound, simple yet resonantly complex, both a consolidation and a move forward, this surely has to be one of the leading serious contenders for album of the year at the 2017 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: http://www.sethlakeman.co.uk/

‘Stranger’ – official video:

Video Wall 2

Here’s another selection of videos that have come our way recently, mostly with albums in the offing. First on Video Wall 2 is Seth Lakeman from his forthcoming Ballad Of The Broken Few. This is the title track live from Torre Abbey featuring Wildwood Kin.

This is ‘Free Range’ by Nottingham band Gallery47. It comes from their album Clean which is released in November.

Here’s Bendith, a new collaboration between Welsh bands Colorama and Plu. ‘Danybanc’ is the single from their eponymous album which is absolutely wonderful but you’ll have to wait until October to get your hands on a copy.

Shovels & Rope are a duo from South Carolina. ‘I Know’ is from their new album Little Seeds which is also out in October. This is fun.

In October 2015, the record-breaking cyclist James Bowthorpe set out to build a boat from the debris and discarded materials found on the streets of Manhattan. He then took the boat to the source of the Hudson, a tiny pond called Lake Tear Of The Clouds in the Adirondack Mountains and sailed all 315 miles of the Hudson River, through ice, snow, and grade-four white water to return the boat, made solely from New York City’s waste, to its place of origin. This film uses the single ‘Tides’ by Dan Michaelson And The Coastguards to illustrate James’ not always trouble-free journey.

Finally, this is all we have as a taster for singer/harpist Georgia Ruth’s new album Fossil Scale, out in November. This is ‘The Doldrums’.