Joe Broughton’s Conservatoire Folk Ensemble – 25th Anniversary Tour and album, Not Leaving Quietly
It’s no exaggeration to call the Conservatoire Folk Ensemble the UK’s biggest folk band.
With a stage-challenging 50 members in its touring lineup, and nearly twice that rehearsing each week, the most immediate distinguishing feature of the ensemble is its sheer size. Among them are fifteen horns, four cellos, five percussionists, five electric guitarists, plus fiddles, flutes, clarinets, electric bass, acoustic guitars, an accordion… they sing too.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the last two years have been particularly challenging for a band that is a ‘mass gathering’ before it even leaves the rehearsal room.
Thanks to the dedication and ingenuity of the young people involved, the band managed to rehearse online every week whilst its home at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire was shut down. What’s more, they hosted two online festivals, streamed to their fans around the world, each member providing content filmed from home to make up an epic digital concert experience.
Formed at Birmingham Conservatoire in 1997 by fiddle player and arranger Joe Broughton (The Urban Folk Quartet, The Albion Band, Joss Stone), 2022 marks the band’s 25th anniversary. This milestone is all the more remarkable and reason for celebration, as the band embrace the chance to bring two years of virtual energy back into the real world.
Over its quarter century, The Folk Ensemble has established a reputation for creating energetic and powerful shows.
Their increasingly popular live appearances – especially at such festivals as Cropredy, Towersey, Shambala, Green Man and Kendal Calling – have left audiences ecstatic and even (at Towersey) moved to tears.
With membership coming from across courses at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, the personal influences of each member shapes the set-list, as traditional English and Celtic reels slide into full-on rock grooves, funk, jazz, hip-hop, ska and reggae.
Eastern European and Asian flourishes can also be heard, reflecting the rich cultural heritage of the group. This is very much 21st century folk. Or as they’ve titled their hometown self-produced festival, now in it’s 9th year – ‘Power Folk’.
Not Leaving Quietly was recorded in early March 2020.
As Joe explains in the liner notes:
“We began the ‘19-’20 year by playing a concert in The EU Parliament in Brussels for an event organised by the amazing Ellie Chowns (then an MEP) called Not Leaving Quietly. It was a very emotional experience, playing at the heart of Europe at a time like that and, being one of the noisiest bands on the planet, we were certainly geared up to not go quietly.
“After 6 months writing and rehearsing new material, we set about recording this album on March 6th, 2020. I had made the decision that we would go for a very live feel, all playing together in one room for just one day. This was an ambitious plan with a tight schedule.”
In a dramatic turn of events, a fire alarm went off in the middle of the day and as the ensemble left the building, many still playing the tunes as they went, I had a flash back to the band singing on the way to the coach in Brussels and smiled to myself, thinking – this band never leaves anywhere quietly! We returned to our recording with even less time to get everything done but somehow that gave everyone an extra boost of energy that you might just hear in the tracks.”
The album received a ‘soft release’ in 2021, with CDs being made available directly to the band’s loyal supporters, who helped ensure the ensemble’s survival.
Now, as the 25th Anniversary Tour is set to go ahead, the band is beyond delighted to make this album more widely available, as they hit the road with more of their trademark energy than ever!
Artists’ website: https://joebroughton.com/the-folk-ensemble
‘Sleepy Maggie’ – live (is there any other way):
Anniversary Tour Dates
14th May 25th Anniversary Reunion, Bradshaw Hall, RBC Birmingham
9th June Alexander’s Live Chester
10th June Huntingdon Hall Worcester
11th June Sutton Village Hall Bedfordshire
12th June JB’s CFE Present POWER FOLK 9 Birmingham
18th June The Junction Goole
10th July New Forest Folk Festival Hampshire
29th July Kendal Calling Cumbria
1st August As You Like It Festival Stratford-u-Avon
18th August Green Man Festival Wales
25th August Shambala Festival Kelmarsh
full gig details: folkensemble.co.uk
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