Thursday 13th – Saturday 15th October 2016
Various Venues, Bury, Lancashire
With a Christmas number one (The Justice Collective’s He Ain’t Heavy) and an appearance on the new Robbie Williams album, the hardworking Will Pound has emerged as the UK’s leading harmonica player. But his first love is, and always will be, playing folk tunes loud and fast. With three albums to his name since leaving Steamchicken, his most recent pairing is with accordionist Eddie Jay, and the duo brought their inspired mayhem to the Automatic Café in Bury on Thursday night.
Jay is a one-man rhythm machine: a twitching vortex of chords and runs, hair flying everywhere, as the powerhouse Pound rips traditional melodies out of the past and slams them into the present. Hours later Will and Eddie were still there, jamming acoustically with Paul Hutchinson from Pagoda.
So began this year’s Folk Expo, with jet-lagged and bleary-eyed delegates from all over the world sampling the best of English folk music, and northern hospitality, in five venues in this historic Lancashire town.
On Saturday, Ange Hardy (harp, whistle and lead vocal) and Lucas Drinkwater (vocal, bass and guitar) gave a thoughtful and well-constructed set; Hardy’s voice is warm and knowing, and her use of a loop pedal effective, on both whistle and voice. Her writing is incisive and relevant. Invisible Child, which deals with the plight of child carers, was a stand-out track.
The Changing Room were efficient and well received, but less than the sum of their considerable parts, including as they do the magnificent Sam Kelly Trio. The excellent Wor delivered a set of 18th‑century Flemish dance tunes, reimagined for a mix of contemporary and traditional instruments.
Three Cane Whale are an ambitious project: ambient tone poems based on locations around the UK, echoes of the Penguin Café Orchestra and Terry Riley, on a bewildering variety of instruments, including trumpet (great control!), glockenspiel, bowed psaltery and zither. Guitar played upside down and left handed sounds like a different instrument, with the bass notes prominent. The gentle and subtle shifting chords and patterns of light and shade were incongruous in the sunny autumn afternoon; this is late‑night music to get stoned to.
Nancy Kerr’s set drew extensively from her new album, Instar, which disappointed fans of the brilliant Sweet Visitor and Twice Reflected Sun. The new material shows Kerr continuing to develop as a thoughtful and insightful writer (Gingerbread was particularly strong), but was occasionally over complex rhythmically. The band missed the absent Rowan Rhenigan on second fiddle and harmony vocal.
The festival saw reviewers scuttling between venues to try and catch as much as possible of the rich bill. Moulettes were reported as playing a show-stopping set. This reviewer regrets missing the intriguing jazz of The Waal – echoes of Dave Brubeck and Moving Hearts – and Jim Causley is always worth seeing.
The well‑regarded Marry Waterson showed that her family’s legacy is in good hands. Elsewhere, Flats and Sharps brought high‑speed bluegrass bedlam to the Fusilier Museum before Holy Moly & The Crackers rocked the crowd with their mashup of fifties good-time music. The popular Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (who have, of course, spawned dozens of imitators) brought in the biggest crowd of the weekend.
The main festival was brought to an apt close by the legendary Steeleye Span, enjoying an artistic renaissance in late career, led by the redoubtable Maddy Prior and Rick Kemp. Never content to rest on their laurels, the band have continued to write and develop and put together a superb set for the event, starting with classic track The King. The trademark Steelyeye vocal harmonies are made all the richer by a second female voice, fiddler Jess May Smart playing a full role. Tracks from new album Dodgy Bastards (due for release on 18th November) sat well alongside old favourites. The performance was full of light and shade, from moments of gentle beauty to muscular rock.
A fitting finale to a superb weekend from a top band that continue to entertain and delight.
As exhausted delegates ended back in the Automatic Café, Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith silenced the noisy crowd with their wistful and melancholic Americana.
Artist: Eddie Jay, Flats and Sharps, Holy Moly & The Crackers, Jim Causley, Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith, Marry Waterson, Moulettes, Nancy Kerr, Sam Kelly Trio, Steamchicken, Steeleye Span, The Changing Room, The Waal, Three Cane Whale, Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Will Pound, Wor
A sample of the best in English folk music, and in northern hospitality, across five venues in the historic Lancashire town of Bury.