Despite only being in its third year, Southport's "Love Folk" is being seen very much the opener to the festival season and is rapidly gaining a reputation for being prepared to take a risk on the rising generation of artists on the acoustic spectrum, something that has been enhanced with the introduction of Busk Love Folk, a stage in the foyer of The Atkinson, that's been curated by Love Folk Media sponsor, Fatea Magazine and which places the artists at the gateway of the multi-functional venue.
The Saturday is the mainstay of the festival, with three stages in operation and a morning workshop in the bar, but the festival actually starts on the Friday night with a headliner in the main theatre. This year the festival was kicked off by Fairport Convention, as part of their tour celebrating 50 years of releases.
If you're not familiar with the protocols, generally the rule for photography at a gig is first, three songs, no flash and more recently a tongue-in-cheek, no stage invasions, it can vary a bit during festivals, but that's pretty much the line, be it headliner or support. That of course assumes that the support slot is going to be the conventional, plays set, leaves variety, something the photographers assumed what Sally Barker of solo, Poozies and Fotheringay fame took to the stage, but there's a saying about assumed.
Sally took to the stage in solo artist mode and started her set, including songs from her new album, "Ghost Girl" and after three songs the photographers retreated, packed cameras away etc only to discover that various members of Fairport were joining Sally on stage before a full transition into what was Fairport's first set.
Fifty years leads to a lot of material and one certainty about a Fairport Convention set is that you never know what you are going to get and that was pretty much the case here. The one thing do know is that what you are going to get is going to be to a high standard, it was, and also going to be highly entertaining, likewise. I'm not going to pretend to be Fairport Convention's greatest fan, there were a great many in the audience that know the songs, better than I, but it was, without doubt, a great way to kick off Love Folk.
The Saturday is maximum graft day starting off with doing a workshop in the bar. With the collapse of so many record labels and the corresponding increase in artists managing their own career, there are so many more aspects that artists have to take responsibility for these days, not least managing websites and social media and using them to raise the artists profile.
The workshop is an informal way to discuss ideas about how to maximise that and how changes on the internet will make artists own websites, more important than they are already. I'll try and run a separate piece in our news section in the not too distant, but to distil an hours discussion to a single sentence, make sure you own your own website, keep it up to date and use social media to drive all your traffic through it.
At this stage the Fatea team split up with Mike Ainscoe heading off to review the Studio Stage acts and his review can be found elsewhere on the site, whilst I headed down to the lobby to curate the Busk Love Folk Stage, located in a different spot this year due to an A-Wing taking up last year's position, you don't argue with the rebel alliance.
The artists for Busk Love Folk were chosen following an online invitation to submit applications for the day, eight acts from far and wide were selected, though illness reduced the line-up to seven on the day.
Somerset's Sharon Lazibyrd had the honour of the opening slot and shifted during the set from supporting herself with a uke to fiddle and back again. Stylistically she falls into the more traditional aspects of the scene. Having first made a name for herself as part of the duo Lazibyrd, she's now carving a solo furrow for herself and has her debut solo album recorded, with a projected release date later this year.
In the meantime she's released a couple of singles, most recently, "Opium Of The Masses" which has seen her gaining airtime and was arguably the highlight of her short set.
Neil Stanton was making his second trip up from Hertfordshire to Busk Love Folk, having survived the scrutiny of the application process, he went on to establish very quickly why with his blend of folk and blues backing some damned fine songwriting. It gave Neil the opportunity to test some of the material from his forthcoming EP, "Raptor" and judging by the reaction, it sounds like he's got some well received songs to get out there. Songs that not only have a strong narrative, but also meet that key criteria of being entertaining.
Simply backing himself with guitar and, occasional gob iron, Neil Stanton really showed why music can reach so many people in so many different ways and that big bands and fireworks are not a necessity. Remember to keep an ear out for "Raptor", coming late spring.
By contrast Paula Ryan brought with her a number of different instruments, including a marimba, which confused me because I thought it was thumb piano, which it is if spelt mbira, so if nothing else I had added to my musical knowledge and you'll not be surprised to know, a lot more.
I first came across Paula Ryan via her award nominated "O My Blue Eyed One" and more recently her Amy Johnson dedicated album, "Let Me Fly" so I knew how good a songwriter she was, but hadn't managed to see her perform, so was really glad that she made the trek from Ireland to take part, as she definitely didn't disappoint. Quality of performance really matched expectation and there was a glint in her eye that gave the impression she was enjoying every minute of it. At the end of her set I found myself resolving to try and catch a full set at some point in the future and would humbly suggest you do something similar.
We broke our own rules for the next act, with Off The Grid being fifty percent bigger than we were looking for for the stage, so rules became guidelines a trio of young Cheshire musicians stepped up. All still at school, they were also the first act to suffer a technical issue with one of the banjos having di problems. Luckily having fully acoustic instruments allowed them to get around the problem, leaving only the vocals going through the desk. If they were phased by the issue, it didn't show.
What we got was a combination of self penned songs and covers that straddled the folk/Americana border, though with two banjos in the line-up the latter was definitely to the fore. What was really pleasing was that they were prepared to give it a go with material that they knew the audience would know, such as "Duelling Banjos" and be judged against it and they were judged well, to the point they managed to squeeze in an additional track by way of encore. They've got not formal recordings to their name yet, but performances like this would suggest that they can't be too far away and hopefully they can find venues that will help them hone their craft, certainly worth a Fatea recommendation.
From three we went down to two and Loreley took to the stage, stage being a relative term for them, well guitarist Simon James Chisholm anyway, taking advantage of a radio lead to head off in the direction of the X-Wing to rock out a little there before heading up the impressive staircase to rock out further whist a pair of bemused tourists looked on from behind.
Impressive was a term that could also be applied to the hastily re-arranged set that was afforded them by the illness afflicting another artist. Loreley, the aforementioned James and vocalist Maddy Glenn are caught between their debut album "Fortified" and their imminently forthcoming "The Frozen North". It meant we had the best of both worlds hearing tracks that we knew combined with songs that we are going to know. This was a set with verve and passion and an anticipation that the album is going to sound the same way.
That brought to the stage another artist with an album due imminently, Elfin Bow, a singer and artist, recently of Merseyside, but now residing in Wales. Her crowd funded self-titled album, due out in March has already been creating a stir. It features, amongst others Jamie Francis, who would be playing the Studio Theatre, with Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys later. A part of me wanted him to join her, but wasn't to be.
Not that that mattered, Elfin Bow is an excellent solo artist with a highly idiosyncratic delivery and a wealth of arts and music stories to draw on for her songs and also in the banter that joins them together. She explained how liberating it was being a full time artist and musician and you can really feel how it informs her performance, giving her a real warmth that reaches out for your attention and pulls you into the embrace. You know that there may be darkness in the words of some of her songs, but you reach for the flame and hope not to get burned.
Last, but certainly not least was another artist performing at the node where blues and folk interact, Chris Fox. Proir, to his application to play Busk Love Folk, he had been an artist that I had heard of but not previously heard, his name having come up in a discussion with a friend about Cambridgeshire artists that were starting t emerge and emerge he most certainly is doing.
At times he reminded me of Sean Taylor, with the way he weaves social and political themes into his material both with little and capital letters, but it's definitely not trying to imitate, just something about the way he comes at those aspects in his songs and it's a great repertoire of songs, covering topics as diverse as wage slavery and twenty first century murder ballads as he charts the death of someone's dreams and ultimately life after a move to LA. As with most of the acts, Chris Fox left me wanting more and thankfully a copy of his album "Parallel Crossing" came my way so that's a craving that can be taken care off.
That was Busk Love Folk for another year. Seven great acts that entertained one and all. Thanks to all who played, helped put it together and particularly Simon for the sound. There was time to nip upstairs and see Sam Kelly And The Lost Boys, covered in the other half of this review, before, finally, getting to eat with some old friends before making my way back to the big theatre and festival closer, Jon Boden.
This was the second time I'd seen Jon since he'd gone solo following the demise of Bellowhead. The first was at Cambridge last year, where he seemed a bit nervous, almost trying to find his feet again having been part of a large performing family, any of those traces have most assuredly gone.
Playing a multitude of instruments across the selection of songs and tunes he'd brought to the Atkinson he showed just why he has the reputation he does for performance. He focused everything into a small space he'd defined on the big stage, with darkness helping to define much of the atmosphere, allowing the angelic backdrop to create a wonderful juxtaposition that was a visual representation of the aural treats he was dishing out.
It was a fine way to bring the third Love Folk to a close, with so much decent music sandwiched between Fairport's fifty and Jon Boden's new direction. Roll on next year.
There are only so many hours in a day and only so many gigs we can get to. We'd really like to expand our national coverage of the live scene as it remains the life blood of music.
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