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London Folk Festival

Venue: Cecil Sharp House
Town: Camden
Date: 2/09/17

Putting on a traditional big festival in a major city inevitably has problems; where do you put the campsite, for example? London, thanks to the incredibly hard working and dedicated people at Folk on Monday, has solved that issue by having a one-day festival and basing it at Cecil Sharp House, the home of English Folk Music. It's an good location for a small festival, being already set up for music, with the renown Kennedy Hall as the main stage and the Trefusis Room becoming stage 2. There are also other rooms, and the garden, used for workshop and acts whilst the bar becomes a folk club for the day hosting various singarounds. It's surprising to realise that the event has only been running for four years but in that time it has grown in stature to become a fixture in the London folk music scene, attracting some of the biggest names.

The fourth festival certainly built on that reputation and was held on a beautifully sunny day, with quality music from start to finish. Opening the festival, in the garden, was rising star Emily Mae Winters performing an unplugged set that suited both the surroundings and weather; being a mixture of songs both traditional and from her highly regarded début album. Even a passing car blasting out music not normally associated with a folk festival seemed to work and may spawn a new genre; Trad Irish Rap.

Back inside the two stages provided plenty of variety and the schedule meant that it was possible to catch every artist, if you wished to, as they interleaved. The main stage had what is fast becoming the traditional opener of Said The Maiden and it's good to see these three fine singers starting to get the plaudits they deserve. With a new album "Here's A Health" on the way, promoted by a nationwide autumn tour, they are certainly going places.

Rosie Hood followed them and, also singing songs from her impressive début album and accompanied by Ollie King, both delighted and moved the audience in equal measure. The music continued to such a high standard that it's very difficult to pick out the highlights from the day concerts. Every act I saw was good, with real variety from the modern trad of Kim Lowings and The Greenwood to the more tradition music of The Jacquelyn Hynes Trio and The Rheinegans Sisters.

Closing the day part, on the main stage, was Jim Moray who manages to constantly innovate and push boundaries. He has so many facets to his music but I still like him best in the stripped back performance we saw on the day; just him, a guitar and a piano. As an interpreter of folk songs he's very hard to beat.

Meanwhile, as if that was not enough, there was a full programme of workshops, including another tradition of playing the spoons led by Jo May. The London Folk Festival encourages everyone to get involved, because music belongs to everyone, and the bar became the home of singarounds led by The Goose Is Out and the London Lubbers. Meanwhile, Stick in the Wheel had their own singaround to finish stage 2 whilst James Findlay ushered in the evening, still fine and warm, with a lovely set in the garden

The evening session is just two acts in Kennedy Hall and this year we were treated to Moore, Moss & Rutter followed by Lady Maisery. To have, as the main head-liners, two trios probably none of whom have yet turned thirty was a bold move and it worked very well, as they as they compliment each other's styles; mostly traditional, mainly instrumental but with good voices and songs that encourage audience participation. The evening flew past.

Events like this don't happen without a huge amount of effort behind the scenes and plaudits must go to Graham Smallwood and his team of volunteers at Folk On Monday, as well as the EFDSS staff at Cecil Sharp House. Stage changes were slick and the sound was of a consistently high standard.

What of the other festival essentials? Getting to the venue is easy with good bus links and Camden Town tube station just a few minutes walk away. Driving is not particularly recommended.

There are a bar and good café on site, it would nice if they opened earlier, but queues can be slow moving. However, there are plenty of cafés and restaurants within easy walking distance.

As a day out, or perhaps part of a longer trip to the capital, I'd recommend this festival. Audiences are growing year on year and tickets, already available for the 1st of September 2018, may well sell out. The acts already booked, including Sam Kelly and Rachael McShane, mean it could be the best one yet.

Words & Photos: Tony Birch

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