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Album: Dog Days, Devil Fish & Darkest England: Songs & Tunes From 25 Years Of The Leigh Folk Festival
Label: Thames Delta
Tracks: 20
Website: http://www.leighfolkfestival.com

After a year without producing an audio souvenir (2016), Leigh Folk Festival now triumphantly bounces back onto the recording market with this sumptuous double-LP (vinyl) issue that celebrates the festival’s 25th anniversary in grand style. Remembering that this festival’s widely recognised as the largest free event of its type in the UK, I’d imagine that sales of this special souvenir compilation will be very healthy – as they deserve to be.

As with previous LFF compilation releases, Dog Days… delivers a compelling sequence of music, bookended by a brace of snippets of local audio “detritus”. The difference with previous releases is that it serves partly as a proud retrospective – looking back at some of the artists who’ve helped to sustain the event over its quarter-century – and partly as a taster for the forthcoming (2017) festival by featuring a number of the new acts appearing this year.

Musically, the compilation ranges far and wide across the folk, roots and experimental spheres, and there are a number of surprises amongst its diverse roster of artists. Inevitably, some tracks are drawn from existing record releases, although not all of these are easily or widely available. One highlight in this category is undoubtedly Jason Steel’s spectral seven-minute Abigail (taken from Crucible Songs) while the more straightforward folk tune and song tradition is well represented by Robert Harbron & Emma Reid and Danny Pedler & Rosie Butler-Hall.

Several tracks are exclusive Leigh Folk Festival recordings that have appeared on previous years’ LFF compilations. These include Alasdair Roberts (a sparse Jamie Foyars), Dark Globes (a darkly brooding take on Bert Jansch’s Fresh As A Sweet Sunday Morning), Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker (their pindrop atmospheric take on The Outlandish Knight), Laura Cannell (a stunning violin improvisation), Owl Service (Standing On The Shore) and Emily Portman (a sinuous Fine Silica). It was also great to rediscover anglo-Ukrainian duo Dark Patrick’s masterly, spooky rendition of Riddles and Philip G. Martin’s idiosyncratic, jinglesome medieval-style take on the Nico/Velvets number All Tomorrow’s Parties (which seems positively joyous!), while Oliver Cherer’s rollicking would-be-shanty Holloway makes for a raw, gleefully infectious slice of footstomping fun to finish off Side 3. The set’s wild-card comes from Trembling Bells’ Alex Neilson (using the name Alex Rex) with a turbocharged garage-punk number When You Have A Hammer (a Record Store Day single).

The quotient of previously unreleased gems on Dog Days… come courtesy of Lost Harbours, M.G. Boulter, the somewhat misleadingly named The Diamond Family and the Estuary Song Writing Project team (their mighty Tilbury Jack concludes the set’s Side Two). And for the first time, the compilation features a live-in-concert-at-the-Festival recording, the compelling Trevor Watts & Peter Knight duet On Reflection.

It’s symptomatic of the quality of the music that a good number of the selections are able to sustain listener interest over a time span in excess of four or five minutes; no track gets to outstay its welcome. And the whole set has been carefully collated so that its sequence forms a distinctive and cohesive whole. Dog Days… constitutes an essential purchase, not least for its inclusion of never-before-released and specially-recorded tracks. And, adorned with its fab Dom Cooper-designed gatefold sleeve, it’s a great promotional tool for the festival. The double album retails at just £20 (and contains a free digital download code), with all profits being ploughed straight back into next year’s festival.

David Kidman