It’s been a heady 12 months for The Conservatoire Folk Ensemble. Their acclaimed studio album, Painted, racked up a string of jaw-dropping reviews, and the collective also guested on Fairport Convention’s acclaimed 50:50@50 album.
Meanwhile, in their hometown of Birmingham the full band stunned commuters at Britain’s busiest railway station with a pop-up gig, and they wowed audiences at one of the biggest St Patrick’s Day celebrations outside of Ireland – for the second consecutive year.
Now the stage-shaking 50-plus ensemble is heading out for their annual summer tour (which includes the fifth edition of their very own festival, Power Folk), and are set to release a remarkable new mini-album, Sleepy Maggie + Remixes Reworkings and Rarities.
A four-and-a-half-minute instrumental, lead track Sleepy Maggie perfectly encapsulates the ensemble’s richly layered and powerful sound. With sweeping strings, rolling percussion, tight brass, a fleeting guitar solo, and an unexpected Eastern vocal incursion, it’s a dramatic track, both muscular and delicate, oozing global influences.
Says band leader Joe Broughton: “’Sleepy Maggie’ is a traditional tune which we’ve deconstructed and rearranged in typical ensemble fashion, pulling in ideas from various members of the ensemble to create something that sounds very very different from versions you might have heard before. The roots of the tune remain – which you can hear in the fiddles at the beginning – but the new arrangement heads off to some interesting and surprising places.
“It’s supposed to be deliciously over the top!”
The deconstruction continues with a series of surprising remixes and re-imaginings by various members of the ensemble that pushes Sleepy Maggie further into new musical territories.
“The idea of remixing the track is very much in keeping with the group’s approach to making music, of using what could be a straight-forward melody as the basis for a tune and seeing how that can be developed, or pushed, to create something that still acknowledges the original source, but is somehow transformed into something new and exciting,” explains Joe, adding the release took on a life of its own.
“This project started out as the single ‘Sleepy Maggie’, and after I mentioned the possibility of doing some remixes, in the pub after rehearsal one night, the ideas started flowing. Before I knew it I had club remixes, Chinese groove-monsters, full on drum’n’bass and more flowing into my inbox. I thought perhaps we could release a few of these with the single, but they just kept on coming.”
Hence it’s now a 10-track ‘mini-album’!
Formed in 1997 by fiddle player and arranger Joe (The Urban Folk Quartet, The Albion Band, Joss Stone), The Conservatoire Folk Ensemble’s energetic live sets are a sight to behold, featuring a 15-piece horn section, four cello players, five percussionists and four electric guitarists, plus fiddles, flutes, clarinets, euphonium, tuba, and accordion! They also all sing too.
Though rooted in traditional folk tunes, the personal influences and interests of each member shapes the set-list, pulling in everything from full-on rock grooves, to funk, jazz, hip-hop and reggae, to sounds from Eastern Europe and Asia. It’s a sound they’ve dubbed ‘Power Folk’.
In their 21 years, the band – based at the prestigious Royal Birmingham Conservatoire – have packed out the Royal Albert Hall, and played some of the biggest festivals in the UK.
2018 sees the ensemble return to Kendal Calling (with The Libertines and Run DMC) and Green Man (with The War On Drugs and Fleet Foxes), as well as bring together their full line-up for their one-day mini-festival, Power Folk 5 (10 June, Birmingham).
Says Joe: “Our main aim is to send people home a little happier than when they arrived.”
Sleepy Maggie + Remixes Reworkings and Rarities is released on 10 June 2018 (CD, digital download, streaming via SAE Records), and the band tour from May through to July.
Artists’ website: www.folkensemble.co.uk