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
Meanwhile, the public Homegrown event presented a programme which proved to be arguably the broadest yet in terms of providing variety in the mainly folk themed backbone. While the traditional was well and truly catered for by the likes of Folk Award nominees and winners aplenty - The Rheingans Sisters and Nancy Kerr being current and recent winners while Ange Hardy was a 2015 nominee - the programme also saw folk big hitters Steeleye Span closing out the festival with a late Saturday night appearance as part of their current headline tour.
Turin Brakes and The Moulettes provided something a little more left field while Ramsbottom Festival goers may have been tempted by another appearance of the high energy folk and roll of Holy Moly & The Crackers who justified why the Minden Suite of the Fusiliers Museum was turned into a dance floor after two nights of seated and respectful reverence. Also performing, finally in front of a more discreet black backdrop which in the previous two days had been illuminated in an electric like wash not dissimilar to a Northern Lights effect - minus the shadows from the central heating radiator. Warmed up with a country flavoured set from Holly Macve (guitars made in Bury apparently!) and a lively slab of bluegrass from Flats & Sharps, HM&TC were probably the most fun and funky band on the whole bill. Highly recommended.
The Moulettes had found themselves two Moules less and suddenly reduced to a trio; some rumours about two of the band jumping ship / being ousted in the days before the gig, were rife. Credit then to them that they performed as a three piece and justified why they are a band that while often finding themselves wearing the folk badge (seen recently as support on a Bellowhead tour and on the bill at the Great British Folk Festival) their experimentations in sound see them featuring in the likes of Prog magazine. Certainly a set which verged on the more progressive and frankly weirder than their folk side as the three created an entrancing soundscape. One which was preceded by Heg & The Wolf Chorus whose gothic fairy tales intertwined with moody folk provided an apt warm up following the more straightforward yet wonderful close harmonies of The Teacups.
The first of the Flanders bands to put in a public appearance saw Surpluz play a blinding set to enthuse Fusiliers attendees. Their vibrant set followed the dazzling accordion and harmonica combo of Will Pound and Eddy Jay, turning a couple of instruments which often get bad press into something almost sexy. Regular visitors to the area, O'Hooley & Tidow added bass and drums to their usual duo arrangement, rocking up the likes of 'Summat's Brewing' and while providing a perfect contrast with the delicacy of 'Two Mothers', it showed that it wasn't quite a room that was conducive to a drum sound. Something highlighted by Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage's set on Saturday - the duo working round a single open mic with acoustic guitars and dulcimer to stunning effect.
The considerably larger Drill Hall hosted possibly the best three band bill on the opening night with a classic folk line up. The duo of Stu and Debbie Hanna who make up Megson, offering something more adult rather than the family folk show they presented at Homegrown a couple of years back. Stu all very rock and roll, throwing all sort of shapes with his guitar, in contrast to the seated but no less classy James Delarre and Saul Rose who'd opened the evening. A duo who are well versed playing partners, Saul occasionally depping in the Delarre brothers' Mawkin band; with a new album in the works, they played relatively safe with material from their 'Cabin Fever' album before local Manchester legend Michael McGoldrick nipped up with his trio to delight with his masterful pipe and whistle playing. Some might say 'now that's what I call proper folk'.
Proper folk too from Flanders with Wor basing their work on classic 18th century Flanders tunes and along with the brothers who make up Trio Dhoore, really planting the seeds of exploration for those unaware of what European Flemish folk is about. Not just in the subtlety but also in their ability to simply ramp things up and create a whirlwind of melodies and grooves. Closer to home, Best Original Song winners at the Folk Awards, The Rheingans Sisters made for a reunion in Bury to play a wonderful set of fiddle tunes before the delicacy of the Sanders/Savage set and the confident classic tones of Jim Causley.
A full house was drawn into in the Drill Hall for the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain and the witty repartee amidst their take on instantly recognisable classics - a set of ukes riffing out on Talking Head's 'Psycho Killer'... not only guaranteed the excellent Flanders quintet Wor a healthy appreciation, but Tanya Brittain and Sam Kelly's The Changing Room and their songs of the South West had the chance to pick up the public vote. He's definitely marked down as one to watch and has been for some time. Another one to watch but due to the fact that she's a class act was an afternoon with Nancy Kerr and her small band including James Fagan and a set based round her new album 'Instar' and with Nancy playing much more guitar than her signature effortlessly fluent fiddle. It's one which has more of a commercial rather than inherently folky feel, but which comes across particularly well in the live setting. In the mid afternoon sunlight, Ange Hardy and Lukas Drinkwater and Three Cane Whale, featuring Spiro's Alex Vass, delivering some finely picked offerings. The Hardy/Drinkwater partnership is a potent one not least with the instrumental combination of guitar(s) double bass and harp - plus Ange's trademark looping effects; Lukas a regular go to session man has found a real niche with Ange Hardy and their finely crafted 'Findings' album.
And so it remained for a couple of the most influential and pioneering names in the folk and folk-rock field to bring a suitable close to the musical events. From the Waterson family, with the Carthy connection some might call it more like a dynasty, Marry Waterson's parnership with David A Jaycock has produced a set of darkly gothic songs on the 'Two Wolves' album, reproduced ahunthngly with the aid of some effects as well as providing an emotional moment when in Marry leading on 'Some Old Salty' often associated with her mum the great Lal Waterson. Poignant and perhaps for those who'd bought in for the duration, the inconspicuous highlight of the weekend. Steeleye brought the curtain down, maybe their current guise being a form which has evolved through a revolving door policy but as long as Maddy Prior is in there, then it will be Steeleye. The music is timeless and while there's the younger vibrancy of the likes of Jessie May Smart (who even made it in the local press feature) in the band, no reason the legacy can't continue.
And on that theme of evolving legacies, it only goes to say that although it may have been stated in the past, the English Folk Expo and Homegrown partnership seems to go from strength to strength. It encapsulates and typifies the vitality and vibrancy of the folk scene, reinforcing time after time the vast array of talent both home and abroad.
Mike Ainscoe - Words & Pictures
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