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Love Folk - Studio Stage

Venue: The Atkinson
Town: Southport
Date: 10-11/02/17

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.

Theatre Stage & Busk Love Folk - Studio Stage - Gallery

Aside from the old guard providing the main theatre bookends, the series of four gigs in the Atkinson Studio highlighted essentially what Cliff Richard (and Rik Mayall) might have termed 'the young ones'. Tiered seating providing a small balcony cum circle view while on the floor, decorated candle lit tables provided quite an unusual ambience for a folk gig. All very tasteful and respectful. And a radically early start for Luke Jackson having signed off on his last gig of a duo tour with Amy Wadge the night before in London, travelled halfway overnight and arrived fuelled by caffeine and energy drinks. "Good morning," was the greeting as he walked on at 12.30. No wonder he was confused, but you can forgive him once you hear his increasingly familiar deep and rich tones fill the Studio.

His warm up (a storming bit of Marvin Gaye - posted online, as you do) showed he wasn't suffering. Probably more a case of what don't kill you makes you more strong. A strength it is too that has seen his star continue its rise. One in which he's becoming one of those on the road, fully formed and hard gigging troubadours. He continues too, to tease on his social media pages with an alarming rate of covers, musical doodlings and curios, building up a repertoire of which 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' stirred the soul on a wet and cold grey afternoon on the Fylde coast.

With his guitar case sitting open by his feet, the image an epitome of the travelling musician on another whistle stop, his guitar becomes his tool which highlights a growing awareness of not so much what to play, but when and when not to play - adding to the drama which makes something like 'Fumes & Faith's 'Sister' remain as the rock on which the set is built. Capable of ramping it up like a howling (or howlin') Mississippi bluesman or softly enunciating about the car keys and a coke on his passenger seat, the Jackson songbook and delivery is becoming than the lad who a few years back was singing about climbing trees in Bakers Wood. What's most exciting though is the journey, not where he's travelled from or where he is now (and that's not meaning London to Southport), but where he's heading and the thrill of being part of the ride.

Lady Maisery in contrast offer a delicacy in both an elegance and fragility and in treats and tasty morsels which take the form of songs and tune sets all marked with their trademark vocal dexterity. The Hannah James/Hazel Askew/ Rowan Rheingans partnership, as noted on their 'Cycle' album, looks both backwards and forwards . Musically, their appeal comes via the subtle use of the Askew harp as well as the ankle bells and foot percussion which combine in a cross cultural pollination of originality and creativity. They just as easily deliver on contemporary works by the likes of Todd Rundgren (albeit with a very 'folky' topic) as they do with adapting traditional works or resurrecting from 18th Century manuscripts. And then some - Hannah James' Aunty Sheila and her 'live life to the full' attitude being the inspiration for just one example of the vocal gymnastics, weaving in and out of each other impossibly, which are the Maisery signature.

Booked on the back of a winning set at the festival which proves the hotbed of winter folk, the Great British Folk Festival in Skegness, Folklaw were nothing less than pure entertainment. Fitting the late night festival labelling, they made light of the technical issues that might have seen a more temperamental prima donna throwing a hissy fit, yet ones which could have easily been a well rehearsed part of the act - one which saw forays into the audience and an ad-libbed jig added while the train got back on the rails. Having avoided derailment, their high energy brand of fiddle led folk rocking provided the feelgood factor which might even had some of the delegates tapping their feet. They may have offered less on the subtle side, but were perfectly placed on the bill to offer an injection of welcome adrenaline as they romped through a set with an attitude that in times of pre-political correctness, may have been called gay abandon. Their path has been well paved by The Levellers, Blackbeard's Tea Party and Ferocious Dogs of the world; you might think of Folklaw less as ferocious dogs, but more as friendly labradors, but yet an inspired late afternoon booking.

Effectively the Studio headliners, although possibly a warm up slot for Jon Boden, The Lost Boys were simply a revelation. Led by Sam (another star in the ascendency) Kelly and named after his first solo album, they've recently been in the studio, so from literally wrapping the album in the early hours of Saturday morning and hotfooting it North, they had no excuse for being unprepared or not knowing the songs.

Effectively the Sam Kelly big band, the line up features Stark's Jamie Francis and Evan Carson providing banjo to die for and percussion skills that have graced the finest in prog rock. Add the whistles of the McCusker/Talbot band member Toby Shaer, Graham Coe on cello and FATEA 'Instrumentalist Of The Year' Ciaran Algar providing not just playing but an element of double act banter (the 'stool samples' gag was a belter) and it's a monster of a line up. One that proved greater than the sum of its parts and one where you daren't even try to calculate the average age for fear of feeling very old.

Mind, age might have been an advantage in helping recognise Dylan's 'Crash On The Levee' and to a lesser extent 'Sultans Of Swing', the latter which they have kind of made their own. The combo of covers with the familiar ('Little Sadie' could have folk rocked on all night for me) and a few teaser tastes of the new album and hey - hands up who cannot wait for their Summer festival appearances and hearing the results of their recording sessions.

Mike Ainscoe

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