The behemoth that is Joe Broughton’s Conservatoire Folk Ensemble return with their sixth album, Twenty-Five, and a string of live appearances.
The album documents the band’s official 25th Anniversary Reunion Concert, which took place in May 2022, at their base of operations, the renowned Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.
Consisting of seven tracks (including a three track medley), it captures the ensemble in their element, with a series of raw visceral tunes powered by infectious, liberating rhythms.
Opening Twenty-Five are ‘The Victor’s Return’ and the ‘Frank’s Reels’ set, which – in one form or another – have been part of the ensemble’s set-list for over 20 years.
Elsewhere, other selections take on a political tone: ‘Arthur McBride’ was chosen for its anti-war sentiment, while ‘Rights Of Man’ touches on themes of mortality, nationhood, ownership and human rights – recalling how the remains of 18th century radical Thomas Paine were exhumed in the US a decade after his death, to be scattered across continents.
The collection ends on a high, with the spectacular and celebratory ‘Fiddle Castro’s Reunion In Birmingham’, in which the 71 members of the full ensemble – all wielding their brass, wind, string and percussion instruments – jostle on stage alongside over 50 previous members (also armed with their instruments of choice).
To mark the arrival of Twenty-Five, the Conservatoire Folk Ensemble is also heading out for their annual tour, which includes a run of festivals, such as Jazz Sous Les Pommiers in Normandy, France (with Femi Kuti), and The Secret Garden Party (with The Libertines and Underworld). They also host the tenth edition of their own Power Folk mini-festival, in Birmingham – featuring a full set from the ensemble alongside invited guests, jam sessions, and solo spots.
Says musical director Joe Broughton: “We can’t wait to get back on the tour bus. After celebrating 25 years of the ensemble in 2022, and now a decade of Power Folk this year, everyone feels very powered up – it’s going to be a joyous summer.”
Discussing the new album, Joe adds: “Twenty-Five presents a vivid snapshot of the ensemble, capturing the 2022 line-up at their exciting peak. But the recording also acknowledges the rich heritage of the band, as well as demonstrating how the ensemble never sits still: it’s forever moving forward, building on the past, always reflecting the shifting diversity and interests of the skilled musicians on stage.”
With a full contingent of some 70 musicians, the Conservatoire Folk Ensemble is the UK’s largest ‘folk big band.’ Formed in 1997 by multi-instrumentalist Joe Broughton (The Urban Folk Quartet, Dempsey Broughton, Joss Stone), the stage-busting ensemble’s unfiltered approach to music-making has pushed the boundaries of what is thought of as ‘folk’ and ‘traditional’. Though still rooted in those genres, the musicians embrace Latin, Eastern European and Asian influences, as well as more contemporary genres, creating a sound they’ve christened ‘Power Folk.’
Over a quarter of a century, the ensemble has performed at many major music festivals, including Shambala, Kendal Calling Green Man and Cropredy; made international news by playing for the European Union Parliament, in Brussels; transformed an M6 traffic jam into a viral musical jam; and now released six albums.
Providing a launchpad for generations of young musicians and composers, the positive impact of the ensemble has undoubtedly contributed to Joe’s inclusion in King Charles III’s first New Year’s Honours List, receiving the British Empire Medal for his services to music.
For more information on Twenty-Five and the Conservatoire Folk Ensemble’s 2023 tour, see: folkensemble.co.uk
‘Fiddle Castro’s Reunion In Birmingham’ – live:
2023 Tour Dates
Friday 12- Sunday 14 May 2023 – Jazz sous les Pommiers 2023, Coutances, France www.jazzsouslespommiers.com
Wednesday 24 May 2023 – Leek Arts Festival, Foxlowe Arts Centre, Market Place, Leek, Staffordshire ST13 6AD foxloweartscentre.org.uk
Saturday 27 May 2023 – Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, 200 Jennens Road, Birmingham B4 7XR
Album Launch. www.bcu.ac.uk/conservatoire/events-calendar/
Monday 29 May 2023 – Chester Folk Festival, The Morris Dancer, Chester Road, Kelsall, Tarporley, Cheshire CW6 0RZ www.chesterfolk.org.uk
Friday 9 June 2023 – Huntingdon Hall, Crowngate Shopping Centre, Worcester WR1 3LD worcestertheatres.co.uk
Sunday 11 June 2023 – POWER FOLK 10, The Spotted Dog, 104 Warwick St, Digbeth, Birmingham B12 0NH www.powerfolk.co.uk
From 2pm, featuring Joe Broughton’s Conservatoire Folk Ensemble and special guests.
Saturday 17 June 2023 – Sutton Village Hall, 1A High Street, Sutton, Bedfordshire SG19 2NE www.suttonvillagehall.org.uk
Saturday 8 July 2023 – Furness Tradition Festival, Ulverston, Cumbria furnesstradition.org.uk
Saturday 22 July 2023 – Secret Garden Party, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire www.secretgardenparty.com
Monday 28 August 2023 – Towersey Festival, Claydon Estate, Buckinghamshire www.towerseyfestival.com
For tickets and more information, see: folkensemble.co.uk