Derbyshire stars at Derby Folk Festival

Derbyshire Folk Festival

Derbyshire is famous for many things to those in the know, but for the casual mainstream music fan the county that gave the world Rolls-Royce has added little to history’s record collection, aside from one hit wonders White Town and Candy Flip.

In folk circles, however, it is a different story and to mark the 12th year of the city’s folk festival it held its first-ever Made in Derbyshire evening, showcasing three of the county’s foremost talents.

It helps enormously that two of the talents are the festival’s patrons, five-time BBC Radio Two Folk Award winner John Tams and the highly féted Lucy Ward, with the trio completed by festival regulars and local favourites Cupola.

And so it was Cupola, the trio made up of Doug Ounson, Sarah Matthews and Oli Matthews, who kicked off the evening, good-humouredly persevering through the early gremlins in the sound system to showcase their mix of traditional three-part harmony English and European folk, drawing on a song list built up during their 10 year career.

Cupola are accomplished musicians with a worldwide following and this was just one of three different manifestations the band adopt. Later that evening they performed at another venue as DanceCupola, while halfway through their set they invited Lucy Ward on stage to form Cupola:Ward, performing the dark and twisted Willie’s Lady from their 2016 collaborative album Bluebell.

Their last song paved the way for DanceCupola by blending three up-tempo compositions written by Doug Ounson before the stage was set for John Tams, in tandem with long-time collaborator Barry Coope on keyboard.

Beginning with ‘Only Remembered’ from the National Theatre’s production of War Horse, John and Barry went onto deliver a virtuoso set interspersing their songs with easy and witty patter, passing comment on pretty much everything from John’s creaking limbs and forgetfulness to Teresa May and the parlous state of world politics.

Fitting to the geographical flavour of the night, John didn’t forget his roots, recalling a meeting 40 years ago at Sudbury Hall near Ashbourne with George Fradley from Cubley, before performing his song ‘Nowt Do To Wi’ Me’, with plenty of audience participation.

Later, he gave new life to Ewan McColl’s gorgeous ‘The Manchester Rambler’, inspired by the Kinder Mass Trespass of 1932, an act of civil disobedience on the slopes of Derbyshire’s highest peak which gave rise to the Ramblers Association. There was even time for a rendition of Lionel Richie’s ‘Hello’ – sung in a broad Derbyshire vernacular.

John and Barry brought their set to a close with ‘Will I See Thee More’ and ‘Over The Hills And Far Away’, earning a standing ovation and reasserting John’s status as Derby Folk Festival’s favourite eminence gris.

Lucy Ward

And so to Lucy Ward, the former local schoolgirl with four albums and a host of awards under her belt, who was back to the folk scene after a short hiatus.

Singing the stories of the people of Derbyshire is one of the joys of her career, Lucy had explained backstage before the show, especially her best-known composition Alice in the Bacon Box, which she has performed all over the world and which, inevitably, she performed in the heart of her home city too.

But first, with her customary greeting “Ay Up!” she began her set with material from her new album, Pretty Warnings, including ‘Silver Morning, Sunshine Child’, a tender and moving tribute to her 20-month-old son, and ‘Cold Caller’ – which, she explained, the audience was free to either interpret as a title inspired by the story within the song or by an unsolicited PPI inquiry.

Backed by her four-piece band, Lucy mixed up her set expertly, weaving in a jazzy feel to ‘Maria Martin’ and, by her own admission, a heavy glam rock influence on ‘Marching Through The Green Grass’.

And, just to keep the audience on their toes, she threw in a folk version of Elvis Presley’s ‘A Little Less Conversation’, a contrast to the heart-breaking content of ‘Mari Vach’, a bygone tragedy brought achingly to life.

Her performance was a prime example of someone totally at home – in more ways than one – and at the height of her powers, and as a showcase of Derbyshire’s musical talent, her triumphant return to action, John’s musicianship and storytelling and Cupola’s uplifting melodies, the evening was a resounding success.

Which makes it even more of a shame that such a friendly, well-run and increasingly popular event has to be held in large, slightly chilly, tent which, as John Tams had explained, is so because its usual venue, the city council-owned Assembly Rooms, is still closed following a fire in the neighbouring multi-storey car park in 2014.

“It stands like a large empty tomb,” he remarked, pointing out that to reopen it would apparently cost £10m, when, in his opinion, all it requires is a good going over inside with a dustpan and brush.

And so, while John wore a smart jacket and waistcoat and Lucy Ward looked every inch a star in a sparkling top, the audience who’d paid their money to enjoy their talents were doomed to sit hunched up in their coats to keep out the autumnal cold.

Fully four years after the fire, it all feels a bit embarrassing – the festival and its heroic organisers deserve so much better.

Simon Burch

Festival website: http://www.derbyfolkfestival.co.uk/

Here is the ‘dynamic duo’ performing “The Manchester Rambler” from the Gosport and Fareham Easter Festival back in 2007.

LUCY WARD – Pretty Warnings (Betty Beetroot BETTY03)

Pretty WarningsHaving been finally converted to Ward with her last album, I Dreamt I Was A Bird, I was unsure whether that was a one-off or if her follow-up would keep me on the path. Well, feathered friends again in evidence, with the opening, ‘Silver Morning’, Helga Ragnarsdottir on electric piano, a spare sketch of walking in the early dawn that treats a sense of wanderlust, any uncertainties were instantly dispelled.

Stu Hanna co-producing with Stewart MacLachlan, who also, respectively, provide guitars/keys and drums, it’s a mostly mellow and meditative affair, the title succinctly summing up its musical and thematic intent, mixing four traditional numbers bookended with self-penned originals. Breathily sung and etched on a repeated guitar pattern with Claire Bostock on cello, ‘Cold Caller’ moves back a few hours to a moon-lit evening of rain and wind and, bolstered by rumbling waves of drums and gathering psychedelic swirls of electric guitar, a witchily-atmospheric song of love (obsessive and possibly delusional) confessed to the night.

Daylight returns with ‘Sunshine Child’, Anna Esslemont on violin, for another delicate acoustic love in rapture number with lyrics scattering images of butterfly kisses, laughter, a dancing soul and sweet smelling blossoms and she sings “for a lifetime and beyond I’ll be singing our song”, though one suspects the golden haired Samson identified here may be more symbolic than actual.

The four traditional numbers are gathered together, opening with a near seven-minute, initially unaccompanied reading of ‘Bill Norrie’, the tragic tale of a jealous man killing the titular lad he suspects is his wife’s lover only to learn he’s actually her son, Ward Derbyshire-accented vowels subsequently joined by Ragnarsdottir’s suitably sparse and forlorn piano notes.

Sticking with murder ballads, ‘Maria Martin’ is her arrangement of the much-covered ‘Murder In The Red Barn’, Ward inspirationally recasting it as a hypnotically slow lurching blues carried on brushed drums, Sam Pegg’s droningly doomy upright bass and, as the horror is unfolded, cold shivers of keys and violin.

Another cautionary tale follows with the equally familiar ‘Fair & Tender Ladies’, again given a sparse, darkling ambience, dressed in atmospheric nocturnal robes with double tracked vocals, the persistent keyboard drone augmented by meditative acoustic guitar. For the last of the four, ‘Mari Fach’, Ward takes the tune of the lilting Welsh ballad ‘Mari Fach Fy Nghariad’, stripping it back and slowing it down considerably, and adds her own words for the tragic tale of a teenage girl made pregnant by a false lover who gives birth, kills the baby and then is hanged, “all alone”, from a willow tree “down by a Greenwoodsidey-o”.

The album closes with two further Ward originals, the gently waltzing ‘Lazy Day’ restores the sun in distracted, strings-washed thoughts of staying in bed to “dream my days away” rather than getting up and facing a day “bursting with intentions that never find their way.” The final number, backed by harmonium drone and minimal piano notes, has Ward showing her vocal flexibility, delicately swooping and soaring through ‘The Sweetest Flowers’ as she ends on an upbeat lullaby note, dusk drawing in, slumber making eyes heavy, sleep’s reveries and fantasies awaiting, a life “rich with possibility” and a “love that can’t be torn asunder” but “will bloom forever.” Take heed.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.lucywardsings.com

‘The Trapper And The Furrier’ – live at the Isle Of Wight Festival:

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Resound (Shrewsbury Folk Festival)

ResoundCurated by Hannah James and released by Shrewsbury Folk Festival, Resound is a multi-tasking album. Firstly, it’s a tribute to Alan Surtees, founder and organiser of the festival and secondly, it’s a fundraiser for the Alan Surtees Trust which aims to give grants to young musicians and new musical projects. All the music comes from artists who have been associated with Shrewsbury over the years, often through projects commissioned by the festival.

The album has been, for the most part, cleverly sequenced. It opens with Oysterband’s powerful acapella version of ‘Bright Morning Star’ which certainly makes you sit up and pay attention and follows that with Jon Boden’s mighty ‘Audabe’. The foot comes off the loud pedal just a little wiith Patsy Reid’s ‘Thugainn’. I like the way that ‘Song For Lola’ by Lucy Ward is followed by Fay Hield’s ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ – two unashamedly northern voices side by side. Perhaps living in those climes during my formative years has made me equate the accent with authenticity. I wish that Kefaya’s ‘Indignados’ had been placed beside Grace Petrie’s ‘They Shall Not Pass’ – two songs about Spanish politics, albeit separated by several decades should be available to compare and contrast. The Demon Barbers’ version of ‘Ranzo’ is as good as anything they do but perhaps it could have been saved for a big finish.

The album now turns to pastoral themes. ‘The Lincolnshire Song’ by Miranda Sykes is gorgeous (although I’m holding out for the Peak District, Miranda) and Leveret’s ‘Bagpipers’ is one of their gentler pieces. ‘Vanished Birds’, another fine song by Jack Harris is followed by the lightest version of ‘Neil Gow’s Lament’ I’ve ever heard. Hannah modestly saves her own contributions for late in the proceedings. First comes ‘Tuulikki’s Tune’ from her Jigdoll album and then ‘Order & Chaos’ by Lady Maisery.

Karine Polwart’s ‘We’re All Leaving’ makes for an appropriate ending although I can never decide if a record like this is better served with a period of reflection at the end or something rousing and defiant. Whatever you think, you should buy this album – you wiill enjoy it and you’ll be contributing to a good cause.

Dai Jeffries

Project website: www.shrewsburyfolkfestival.co.uk/more/alan-surtees-trust/

‘Tuulikki’s Tune’ – live:

Lucy Ward announces new album

Lucy Ward

Pretty Warnings is the captivating fourth studio album from Lucy Ward. Rich with tradition and exquisitely penned original songs, this album weaves its way effortlessly through matters of love, darkness, longing and joy. It confirms what we already knew – that Ward’s unique ability to inhabit the very heart of a song is bewitching, beguiling and beautiful.

Ward is a story teller at heart, concerned with expressing truth and the human condition. She can paint a picture with her words and this album is an expressive collection of true stories and evocative imagery.

As well as innovative arrangements of traditional songs such as the ballad ‘Bill Norrie’, Ward has delved into the tradition to come up with beautiful retellings of traditional forms. ‘The Cruel Mother’ is re-spun in her song Mari Fach (meaning Sweet Mari), the true story of a young welsh woman pregnant, unmarried and afraid. The archetypal rover becomes Ward’s yearning ‘Silver Morning’, a taste of her inimitable nu-folk originality. She has also addressed the recurring theme of the night visitor with the insistent ‘Cold Caller’.

Pretty Warnings has a sublime quality; an enchanting warmth that runs through it. It feels as though Ward’s song writing has evolved with a richness born from her experience and time away from the studio; songs like ‘Sunshine Child’ and ‘The Sweetest Flowers’ being prime examples of her exquisite skill in their quiet and involving beauty.

Produced by Stu Hanna & Stephen MacLachlan

Behind the scenes:

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A closer look at the songs

Silver Morning – L. Ward

A plaintive piano opens the album and sets a mood of wistful melancholy. The purity of Ward’s voice portrays the longing of the rover destine always to roam.

The sky turned into a fishermen’s boat/stole the clouds and left me alone’

Cold Caller – L. Ward

A night visitor song, drawing on the drama and changeability of the weather. What starts of as a sweet love song becomes claustrophobic as the darkness creeps in.

Hateful is the sun/her hurtful chiding eyes/she watched me come undone/I wait for the night’

Sunshine Child – L. Ward

A beautiful expression of pure unfettered love. The song conjures up echoes of surrendering to the inevitable lure of unconditional love.

I heard you singing our song/I knew you would come’

Bill Norrie – Trad Arr. Ward

Ward first heard this song supporting Martin Carthy in 2013, and was utterly captivated by this Child Ballad that tells the story of mistaken identity and murder.

He’s run home and home there down into his hall/Tossed Billy’s head to her, crying “Lady catch the ball”’

Maria Martin – Trad Arr. Ward

Found in the Davenport Song Collection ‘Down Yorkshire Lanes’, this brutal true story tells the tale of of William Corder who swung from the gallows for killing Maria Martin, the daughter of a mole catcher. The bluesy treatment of this gruesome tale showcases the power of Ward’s band and the full range of her sultry voice.

I went home to fetch my gun, my pickaxe and my spade’

Fair & Tender Ladies – Trad Arr. Ward

Learned from the raw and passionate singing of Peter Bellamy… The dark, deep richness of ward’s voice coupled with haunting close harmonies provided by Anna Esslemont and Helga Ragnarsdottir give the song a spell binding quality and a sense of captivating other worldliness.

But loves grows colder/As girls they grow older’

Mari Fach – Words L. Ward, Tune Traditional

Mari Fach meaning Sweet Mari in welsh was initially penned for EFDSS & TRAC’s project Beyond The Marches. In this reworking of The Cruel Mother, Ward has used the traditional form to beautiful effect, telling the true story of young Mari with a striking conciseness that cuts through the years, bringing this centuries old tragedy to life. To do justice to Mari and her baby’s sad fate (the time old tale of a young serving girl, pregnant by a lord, afraid, alone and out of options) Ward’s approach is one of sadness, and of challenging the way women are often portrayed in traditional song. The warmth of Sam Pegg’s electric bass provides a beautiful back drop for this plaintive tale.

The babe like a bird all covered in feathers/All alone and aloney-o’

Lazy Day – L. Ward

This song captures the sunny laziness of a slow day, and the joys of living in the moment. A fresh and blissful summer anthem.

Lazy day you always seem to start the same/Bursting with intentions that never find their way’

The Sweetest Flowers – L. Ward

Part lullaby and part love song, less is often more and this beautiful song is perhaps the pinnacle of this mantra, with Ward’s subtle concertina accompaniment and just a few well chosen hints of piano the pure joy of her lyrics shine out. The words feel as though they are an effortless stream of consciousness, charming and loving; they are truly born of Ward’s deepening maturity as a song writer.

It’s a fabric made from you and me/And light cascades from every seam’

Artist’s website: www.lucywardsings.com

CUPOLA:WARD – Bluebell (Betty Beetroot BETTY02)

BluebellCupola:Ward is a co-operative venture between Cupola – Doug Euson, Sarah Matthews and Oli Matthews – and Lucy Ward. All four come from Derbyshire, a county that’s on the rise in breeding singers and musicians, but only three of the songs originate there. The template for their debut album, Bluebell, comes from what some of us still think of as a golden age: some traditional songs and a couple of covers, nothing too outré but variations on the familiar.

The set opens with a high energy take on Julie Matthews’ ‘Crane Driver’, originally written for the 2006 Radio Ballads. It’s a great song and Cupola:Ward do it full justice. They follow that with Tucker Zimmerman’s ‘Taoist Tale’ paired with ‘Blew Bell Hornpipe’; a philosophical song enlivened with a sparkling tune . The first native song is ‘Jacob’s Well’ a version specifically from a Derbyshire collection and now we’ve had a touch of rock, a bit of thoughtfulness and unaccompanied four-part harmony. If you want to draw comparisons with Muckram Wakes I won’t stand in your way.

The band does odd things with the timing of ‘Sprig Of Thyme’ and mix it with ‘Playing For Thyme’, a tune of Doug’s. The song, like so many venerable compositions, can suffer from over-familiarity and Cupola:Ward’s changes draw you back to the text with new ears. The second Derbyshire song is ‘Damped In His Groove’ written, coincidentally, by an old school friend and musical cohort of mine, Geoff Convery. It’s about lead mining, a subject that Geoff has researched extensively, specifically the death of a miner who died where he worked – damped in his groove, as the saying went. The third local song is ‘Squire Of Tamworth’ a song which, while never actually falling out of fashion, is definitely back in again.

The medley of The Beatles’ ‘Nowhere Man’ with an 18th century dance tune is a pleasant diversion and there are three more contrasting traditional songs: ‘Willie’s Lady’, ‘Heather Down The Moor’ and ‘Gower Wassail’ before the set ends with ‘Normandy Orchards’ by the late and much lamented Keith Marsden. Keith (and Cockersdale) gave us a lot of fun over the years but perhaps this is a good moment in time to look again at his more serious work and for someone to revisit those songs.

Bluebell is one of the unexpected delights that comes with this job. It’s my sort of record so thank you, Cupola:Ward.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: https://cupolamusic.wordpress.com/cupolaward/

‘Crane Driver’ – live:

LUCY WARD – I Dreamt I Was A Bird… (Betty Beetroot BETTY01)

LUCY WARD I Dreamt I Was A BirdBorn and raised in Derby, Ward was a BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award finalist in 2009, won the Horizon award (for best newcomer) in 2012 and her recording of ‘Maids When You’re Young’ nominated as best traditional track and, last year, was nominated for Folk Singer of the Year. So, I’m a little embarrassed to say that I was somewhat ambivalent about her first two albums. However, I’ve no such reservations regarding her third, released on her own label and again produced by Megson’s Stu Hanna (who also provides keys and guitar), with all but one number being self-penned.

I was instantly taken by the haunting violin (courtesy Anna Esslemont) intro to ‘Summers That We Made’, conjuring images of sun kissed dusks over English country fields, Ward’s voice , with its hint of accent, arriving on a ray of light, sounding more assured and tender than before. It’s a gorgeous way to start an album and, potentially, a hard act to follow. However, ‘Ode To Whittaker Brown’ rises to the task, Lukas Drinkwater accompanying on double bass and Hanna providing subtle piano notes on a muted and moody song with clear Nativity imagery inspired by mother’s birth in a Nissen hut after being made homeless following WWII.

The country’s social history also fuels ‘Creatures and Demons’, triggered by a BBC Radio 3 commission to write a song based on Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel North and South, resulting in a slow march rhythm, fiercely swelling protest number about the great divide between rich and poor, the powerful and the helpless, its crescendo showing just how much her vocals have developed.

Her political conscience is also in evidence on ‘Lion’, a song inspired by the WWI execution of young rifleman Robert Loveless Barker for cowardice, originally commissioned by Billy Bragg for the 14-18Now project and performed at Glastonbury, here revisited and recorded in collaboration with the haunting backing of the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band. Likewise, the album’s closing track, a densely textured ‘Return To Earth’ with its banjo spine and witchy violin, is an environmental warning that the planet takes back what its spoilt children have wasted, inspired by the bronze age burial ground of Titterstone Clee Hill in Shropshire which is slowly sinking back into the earth.

On a lyrically relatively lighter note, with its moodily spare, siren call instrumentation, ‘Daniel and the Mermaid’, from whence comes the album title, is a musically shimmering slice of family history recalling the story of how her great-great uncle and his crew mates supposedly caught a mermaid off the Isle of Mull. Another true story is at the heart of the poignant, acoustic guitar and keys-based ‘Connie and Bud’ which tells the bittersweet no hope tale of two star-crossed lovers struggling to survive in 1950s Wales, living out of a car. Rather more lyrically upbeat, ‘Song For Lola’ is a dreamy acoustic sexually ambiguous ballad about a day’s chance encounter with a free spirit that again highlights Ward’s developed vocal range.

The only non-original is her version of the much-covered doom-drenched border ballad ‘Lord Randall’, Ward’s East Midlands accent clearly to be heard in an atmospheric arrangement that sets her breathy, sensual delivery against pensive guitar and keyboards backing that gradually swells and builds to a sonic storm climax. I may have been a little slow getting on board, but this album has made me a fully fledged convert.

Mike Davies

Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 


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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.lucywardsings.com/

‘Return To Earth’ – official video: