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Love Folk 2018

Venue: The Atkinson
Town: Southport
Date: 9-10/2/18

Fatea was proud to once again be the media sponsor for Love Folk Friday, Workshop & Busking, Studio & Theatre, Gallery

Saturday starts off with a Wetherspoon's breakfast with Kadia, who will soon be taking the long road back to Dorset and hoping it's easier going back. We are definitely in mixed blessing territory, there are a few in that were at Love Folk the night before and are keen to congratulate the band on their performance, countered by Lee and me apparently acting as drunk magnets.

It's nine in the morning, so give him the benefit of going for the hair of the dog after a heavy session, and we are suddenly beset by a local, judging by the accent, who seems to be extraordinarily keen to hand us racing tips and a lot less keen to listen. Reluctantly we here his philosophy on picking horses, if a theme comes your way take it, horses with food in their names, or colours and then work your way through the card. We can almost audibly hear the sighs of relief from the other patrons, who seem to feel they can now comfortably watch, in a pub parody of the Jasper Carrot sketch.

There was a moment of concern when they food arrived that he was going to join us for breakfast, but instead, he polite said goodbye, picked up his point and headed off to share his wisdom elsewhere. The morning became a more relaxed affair.

A good fill inside me it was time to head to the Atkinson for the first task of Love Folk for the Saturday, heading up to the bar for the Fatea Workshop, I say workshop, it's more of a curated discussion. This year we're talking about turning followers into fans and how a quality audience is so much more important than a quantity audience, but if you can do both, the world is your oyster.

Essentially I've always said that after your music, your most important asset is your website and that it's the role of your social media to get people to your website. With all the changing of the algorithms that drive social media being away from small business, the humble mailing list is really making a huge resurgence in important. If you are in a band or are a solo artist without a mailing list, stop reading this now and start your mailing list.

After I finish the workshop, it's time to catch up with Mike Ainscoe who will be covering the studio and theatre stages, whilst I'm downstairs both covering and introducing the Busk Love Folk stage, which this year saw a record number of applicants.

It says something about the strength and depth of artists in the acoustic genres that we had so many artists apply for the slot, a real mix of genres and styles as well as distances travelled. Later to be gracing the stage are artists from as far as Devon, Hampshire, Gloucestershire and Stoke and stoke, but we start off with someone from just down the road, Alison Benson.

Alison won the audience vote at Liverpool Acoustic Songwriting Challenge back in 2016 and has continued to establish herself on the local scene and has started gigging further afield. Like a lot of singer songwriters these days, she's chosen to accompany herself on the uke. There's a couple of really good advantages to the Uke, both related to it's size. Firstly it's compact and easy to transport and that means it's easier to take more than one to a gig. That means you can simply unplug one and plug another one in an save a hold load of retuning issues if you want to go for another key, particularly worth thinking about when you've only got a short slot.

Alison had the disadvantage of going first and having to pull in the audience, but where we were in the foyer made it easy for people stop and take it what was going on and it wasn't long before she had a fair sized audience watching the proceedings. Alison proved herself to be as adept on the uke as she is with her words and melodies, Busk Love Folk was off to a very strong start indeed.

Following Alison onto the Busk Love Folk stage was an artist that played the first ever Busk Love Folk, Iona Lane. In the short years since, she has left school and gone onto the Folk Course at Leeds University, released a couple of EPs, the last of which, "Pockets" was short listed for the Fatea Single/EP/Mini Album of the year last year, with a good number of plays on indie radio to boot. In addition, she has been playing to audiences further and further afield.

Iona has been establishing herself as quite a wordsmith, her songs have a strong narrative and she is building in confidence delivering the songs in a live environment. I was intrigued how she would react having one of her mentors, Jim Moray in the audience, but it didn't seem to phase her at all and you could tell by the audience reaction they definitely liked what they heard.

The nature of the stage restricts the size of the acts for Busk Love Folk, which also allows for a really good turnaround time, normally one di to unplug and another to plug in, but up next was an act to make things even easier as Madeliene Harwood sings unaccompanied.

Madeliene released an album last year called "Darkest Pit", a track from which she submitted as part of her application to play Busk Love Folk. It was a powerful song that covers bipolar issues, as it transpires, one of several on a very hard hitting album, that doesn't hold back from helping you understand the darker side of the condition, nor shy away from the fact that it is also part of that person, but that there are strengths and positives that can also be drawn from it.

Madeliene Harwood, had come up from Gloucester to perform and she brought a small part of Southport to a halt. Her powerful vocal immediately drew people in. People on their way, stopped and listened to the emotion charged voice that was calling to them like a siren. More importantly you could tell be the expressions on their face that they were listening to the songs, not just hearing them. Madeliene makes a real impact live, but the album is a more than fair substitute.

We come back to a more local act next with, ex Red Bus front man, Mick Shepherd. A singer-songwriter, Mick released a solo album, "Truth And Heartache" towards the tail end of last year and that formed the basis of his slot.

Mick was quick to build up a rapport with the audience, not just through his songs, but also through the banter, more conversational not so much introducing the songs to the audience, more describing how they came to be written. When you're used to that it can be difficult to retain a balance, but Mick showed he really understands performance and how to get the most out of what's allocated to you, chat and banter yes, but keep it short and sweet and maybe with a cheeky smile.

He let the songs do the talking and talk they did. There's many a folk club that would enjoy a set or two from Mick Shepherd and he's well worth checking out if he plays a gig near you.

Paddy Clarke, formerly Paddy Clarke Without The HaHaHa's, describes himself as a folk-punk with existential poetry thrown over the top. "Planet Earth Dies With A Shot Of Vodka In Its Eyes" was the song that was submitted with his application and I thought I knew what to expect, I knew for sure it was going to be like nothing else I heard that day.

By his own admission Paddy wasn't used to playing music at that time of the day. You could argue that his music would be better suited to dark, subterranean bars, but that would be to sell Paddy Clarke and his songs short. Without a doubt he was nervous at the start of the set, but he definitely grew into it. At times I was reminded of Pinkie McLure in the way he attacks his own songs with words and poetry that draw on the chaotic almost dystopian aspects of life. His music challenges, but there were people in the audience prepared to meet the challenge, his set pushed the boundaries and that's what music is supposed to do, job done.

Joanne Louise Griffiths, singer songwriter and formerly of the Jetsuns returned to the area of her birth a year or so ago and has lost no time in re-establishing herself on the local music scene, with her jazz and blues inflected songs.

There was a brightness to her songs that immediately created an interesting juxtaposition with the more downbeat angst that Paddy had brought to the stage, it showed something of the strength of music that you can bring together two very different types of performer to the same stage and have them both delivering something vital, with Busk Love Folk proving to be a real catalyst.

You could almost feel a smile in Joanne's voice as she delivered a vibrant set of songs that lifted the room and showed that there doesn't have to be anything twee about being positive. Joanne really knows her way around the guitar and is easy to recommend that you get along and see. Well worth checking out.

Lucy Kitchen was an artist that I'm more familiar with, not only does she hail from Southampton, just up the road from Fatea's Dorset base, her album, "Sun To My Moon" had not only picked up airplay on Blues and Roots Radio, amongst others, but had also seen her selected for the current Fatea Showcase Session, "Badger", with her track "Love And Sorrow".

Lucy was joined on the stage by her cellist Marie Smith who instrument seemed so attuned to the space in the foyer, giving Lucy's songs a resonance that we hadn't previously heard in the space and brought a real poignancy to the sound.

Similarly, Lucy's lilting vocal style seemed to reach out and fill the room and taking in a real depth. There was a real emotive quality to the songs, they were there to be listened to without needing to make demands to be heard, they slipped into your consciousness and stayed there.

Greg Hancock is an artist that has really impressed me. I hadn't really picked up on him until his road album "A303" dropped through the letterbox. Since returning to the country he's been a stalwart of the music scene around Exeter. He's a genuine wordsmith and whilst there is wit and humour in his songs, he is not a writer of funny songs, he's a writer on life and sometimes life is amusing, as well as deep and dark.

Watching and hearing Greg perform live only reinforces the impressions I'd got of him through his recorded work. He's a master of his craft, both lyrically and as a guitarist and it really does allow him to change the mood and the atmosphere at the drop of a hat, turning a song on a chord and a phrase. If you get the chance to see Greg, snatch it immediately not only will it be hugely entertaining, you'll be witnessing a masterclass.

Rounding off Busk Love Folk was Merrym'n who had travelled up from the Potteries and is a lad that's really proud of his heritage, opening up with his signature song, "I Was Born In Stoke On Trent", my passing link to the town is that Poole Pottery, my home town pottery, is now made there, that aside, there is a real skill in writing songs that are personal and about local events and also have them so that they can travel and be appreciated elsewhere.

Story songs are the key, tell a good story and it will pull people in. Merrym'n's set had a great line in a narrative, aided and abetted by some good between song banter, a thoroughly pleasurable way to close the stage for another year.

With Busk Love Folk over, there was time to catch up with Mike and head off and grab some lunch before the evening's activity in the main theatre. After food all there was left for me to do was introduce the surprise guest star, Tracey Browne and then the headliners, Lindisfarne, of which more in Mike's piece.

Neil King - Words, Pictures

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