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English Folk Expo

Venue: Castle Armoury Drill Hall, Elizabethan Suite, Fusilier Museum
Town: Bury
Date: 13-15/10/16

With Bury's Met arts centre reaching closure of its multi million pound refurb - being handed back round late November ready for The Young'Uns 'We Three Sings' Christmas extravaganza - a military themed feel prevailed in two of the three venues for this year's Homegrown event. Plus there was a short hop to the Town Hall, whose Elizabethan Suite has kept The Met's programme ticking over during the building works. All keeping Homegrown, now into its fifth year and fourth in association with the English Folk Expo, ticking over. For a change, FATEA takes a look at the two events which inevitably crossover, in their own skins.
English Folk Expo, Homegrown, The Gallery

The English Folk Expo

The industry event curated by Playpen Management and Agency's Terry O'Brien and her team, proved once again to be a quality attraction with delegates from all over the UK, Europe, North America and Australia. Many are repeat offenders, returning either as buyers looking for acts for their own events and programmes or as sellers and agents / managers looking to promote their artistes. Their programme which also takes in the public Homegrown events, is an even more packed one. The added factor of delegates and bands from this year's international partnership with Flanders alongside the 'English' focus of the main event, gives a real international flavour which has now become a trademark of EFEx. What Terry O'Brien called "an enormous challenge with The Met in Bury being closed for refurbishment, and yet it still seems to have been our most successful EFEx yet."

This year's main welcome came from Terry and Tom Besford from EFEx, The Met's David Agnew and the English Folk Dance & Song Society's Katy Spicer and followed by the keynote speech, this year delivered by one of several attendees at the event who could class as 'folk legend'. Steeleye Span's Maddy Prior follows such luminaries in the keynote slot as Jon Boden and Joe Boyd, and like Boden, chose to base her address, not surprisingly, on singing; her experiences and thoughts about something that can be on the one hand, complex and intricate, yet on the other so simple and enjoyable. Namechecks too for the gravel tones of Springsteen (how does he do it night after night?) to Innuit throat singing and the confidence of singing in your own voice and all the way to a cheeky little plug for the singing workshops she runs up in Cumbria. In a nutshell, when Maddy Prior speaks about singing, you listen.

The regular Friday delegates day trip this year took the group along the East Lancs Railway to Ramsbottom and a view of the Flying Scotsman passing through (despite some confusion with the train carrying them from Bury also carried the same nameā€¦). A coach ferried the group to Haslingden with the group split into two for a trip round the local antiques centre and a view of the countryside plus a chance to catch more music from the EFDSS showcases in the local pub. Three piece Alma provided a selection of tunes with a real international flavour and journey through a range of cultures while many would have been well impressed with Jack Harris whose classy songwriting and guitar playing highlighted songs from his 'The Wide Afternoon' album on the Rootbeat label and accompanied by an easy acerbic wit.

Friday is non stop for delegates, shuttling back to Ramsbottom and a Halsway Manor reception and showcase for Faustus, Kitty Macfarlane and The Pagoda Project. Stopping off en route to Hull, Saul Rose, Paul Sartin and Benji Kirkpatrick played a selection from their impressive new 'Death And Other Animals' album, a result of one aspect of their role as Artists in Residence for 2016 at Halsway. Paul's Belshazzer's Feast partner Paul Hutchinson is also half of the Pagoda Project who also showcased their accordion/woodwind combination along with Halsway marketing team member Kitty Macfarlane, making her second appearance at the Civic Hall. And then - back on the bus into Bury and onto the Flanders reception which saw all three Flemish bands playing in front of an impressive collection of vintage buses at Bury Transport Museum. A friendly and musically impressive bunch too who would all feature in the public events, but a good opportunity to catch a flavour of Wor, Surpluz and Trio Dhoore in an informal setting. The nature of the event gaining two of the bands UK agents as well as a rush of gig offers from all over the world.

With Saturday morning's trade fair temporarily taking over the Elizabethan Suite, the chance to do some business emphasised the vibrancy of the music business as contacts were made and sample CDs changed hands at a rate of knots. A few Belgian beers might have seen sampled over at the Flanders stand too. As Terry said, "We've had more delegates than ever before - a carefully curated gathering for 150+ industry from across the world who were all in a position to offer work to our artists and then a programme of English artists curated by David Agnew of The Met which was of such high quality that delegates are now completing to bring those artists to their festivals and events in the coming year. We are delighted with the results that are pouring in and congratulate all of the many people across Bury and beyond who made the event possible, including our funders Arts Council England, EFDSS, Bury Council and Bury Met."

Her closing comments at the EFEx reception went on to clarify the future for the English Folk Expo which in 2017 will return next October yet to venues in and around central Manchester. Inevitably some financial considerations amongst others lead to the development of the industry gathering to seek out a location which could expand the public nature of the event and will be based around the main venue of Home and music venues such as The Ritz and Gorilla in an attempt to make the musical parts of the EFEx appeal to a wider public audience. The good news is that the English Folk Expo will remain in the area and will retain a musical menu programmed by David Agnew, plus the bonus that Homegrown will remain as a Bury event based around The Met earlier in the year. The best of both worlds.

Mike Ainscoe - Words & Pictures

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Kitty Macfarlane, Halsway Manor showcase at English Folk Expo 2016

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