It makes a change from reporting back from the roots of assorted folk clubs and pubs to be relaying events from the Palace Of Westminster, almost ten o'clock news style. Yes it was rather grand and distinguished and yes there were airport style security checks but all part and parcel of the English Folk Expo 2015 launch hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Folk Arts at The Palace of Westminster. The combination of industry showcase and public performance brings the cream of English folk music (and beyond - more of which later) to the little town of Bury in Lancashire, this year from the 15th-17th October 2015.
In what is becoming established as an annual and very highly regarded event, for the third time this October, Bury's Met Theatre, under the guidance of Artistic Director David Agnew, leading lights of the English Folk Scene - Seth Lakeman, The Unthanks, Eliza Carthy to mention but a few - will be joined by three Danish artists from this year's guest nation in an exciting development in relations between European folk music related organisations.
What makes English Folk Expo and 'Homegrown' special is the unique combination of the work of the EFEx in promoting English folk music and the performance based focus of The Met. Already in three years of running the event, it's become a folk star studded occasion and a look down the list of musicians and bands who've played Bury Homegrown reveals a line up next to none. 2015 sees some artists making return visits as David Agnew has excelled yet again and pulled in another outstanding line up.
The introduction to the evening was made by Kevin Brennan MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Folk Arts with a splendid offer to act as a contact if you feel there are any issues which should be discussed in Parliament related to folk and acoustic music. Just stand back in the rush. He explained how people might be surprised to learn that several folk and acoustic artists have actually played at the house - Lau, Katzenjammer and of course Martin Carthy - a list almost as impressive as the EFEx/Homegrown line up and what he called "all sorts of people from all over who've graced us with their wonderful music."
Resisting the tradition/temptation to strap on a guitar and actually perform himself, he handed over to the driving force behind the EFEx, Terry O'Brien, who outlined details of the event for those unaware of what descends onto the town of Bury in the middle of October. She spoke of "what we do and why we do it", the gratitude to the local council and in particular David Agnew, Artistic Director at The Met. Emphasising the event as the national showcase for folk, acoustic and roots music and open to the UK and international industry. She explained how this year here would be over 150 music programmers, festival and events organisers, travelling literally from all over the world plus of course from the UK and Ireland. Demand has continued to increase leading to larger number than ever before.
She also talked about the way the impact of the event has been monitored to get feedback and find out what the outcomes were - in hard facts the spend by delegates over the time EFEX has run is projected to exceed a million pounds of money spent on artists travelling the world as performers and ambassadors for English folk music.
Improving and developing the event is a key priority and this year adding the element of an international partnership which will be exclusive to one country or region each year, this year's country being Denmark. Three Danish artists will join the Expo to be part of the event and to be showcased to delegates - a friendship which will hopefully be taken forward in years to come. Of course, nothing can be done without funding so the Arts Council England and the English Folk Dance and Song Society play a major role in allowing EfEx to continue and grow, as do The Met under the direction of David Agnew who has thrown open the doors and supported right from the very beginning with the pre EFEx taster event in 2012.
Mike Connolly, Leader of Bury Council and Bury born and bred, spoke proudly of how the town has benefited the local community and economy from bringing international culture to the town and how local people have unprecedented access to international quality culture. The telling line being "If you're looking for what culture can do for local employment - look to Bury." He talked of The Met as a key performing arts venue with a strong UK track record for a range of art forms and how English folk being our tradition and how people are starting to recognise its importance in world music. Welcoming, hosting and support EFEx and acting partners in continuing to build English folk music as a cultural export and how launching EFEx at the Palace Of Westminster is a great step for developing the profile of the event. He also took the opportunity to get in a plug for Bury Light Night which coincides with the event and looking forward to welcoming delegates once again to Bury.
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