Love Folk Festival

Venue: The Atkinson
Town: Southport
Date: 13-14/2/15

Love Folk? Who doesn't Love Folk? The invitation from The Atkinson was to "spend the most romantic weekend of year with us dancing, singing, drinking, eating and generally loving folk".

How could anyone resist an invitation like that? I didn't [resist it, that is] and I am glad to report that the weekend was a tremendous success, with some of the best folk music that anyone could wish for from the six illustrious "name" acts, whilst in the theatre bar Southport's own Bothy Folk Club kept us entertained whilst celebrating its 50th Anniversary, having been founded in 1965.

The all-under-one roof festival kicked off in spectacular style with an incendiary concert on Friday 13th by cutting-edge pipers Ross Ainslie & Jarlath Henderson, accompanied by Ali Hutton on guitar. Ross, from Scotland, plays border pipes and whistle and also plays with Salsa Celtica and Treacherous Orchestra, whilst Jarlath, from Tyrone plays Uilleann pipes and whistle and also plays with Capercaille and his own trio. Ali is also a member of Treacherous Orchestra. Ross and Jarlath play together with such intensity and almost telepathic precision that they reminded me of rock bands, like Wishbone Ash and The Allman Brothers, which employed twin lead guitarists to play off each other. The border pipes and Uilleann pies blend seamlessly and fluently together and we were treated to succession of glorious sets of tunes including compositions by Paddy Tunney, Gordon Duncan, The Scots Guards and even AC/DC ["Thunderstruck"]. We also enjoyed tunes from Asturias in Spain and from Bulgaria.

Ross and Jarlath are not only masters of their respective pipes, they can also blow a mean whistle, as on "Hi Ya Pal /Friend's Advice" and "Trees" [from their latest album "Air-Fix"], which also featured some sterling guitar work from Ali.

Jarlath is also a fine singer, as demonstrated on his lovely version of John Martyn's "Over The Hill". This was a thrilling performance from this highly accomplished trio and started the festival off with a bang.

We all reconvened at 1 pm the following day [Valentine's Day] for the second day of Love Folk. And what a way to start it, with the brilliant singer-songwriter John Smith. I had seen John perform only nine days previously, when he played at Liverpool Philharmonic as part of the fabulous Transatlantic Sessions. What I heard of John then certainly whetted my appetite for his performance at Love Folk. And I was not disappointed as he turned in a wonderful set which had the sold-out crowd captivated.

John lives just up the road in Liverpool and this was his first solo gig near home for some following tours with David Gray and Transatlantic Sessions.

With a voice that ranges from soft and sweet to gruff and powerful, and his dexterous guitar style, John reminds me of a young John Martyn, in his acoustic troubadour days.

Naturally, John played a selection from his latest album, the superb "Great Lakes", which, by the way, is highly recommended. Songs like "England Rolls Away", "Town To Town", "Perfect Storm" and "Great Lakes" are proof, if any was needed, that John is one of our finest singer-songwriters.

John reprised one of the songs he sang so well on the Transatlantic Sessions tour, namely, "Freezing Winds Of Change", only this time he didn't have Jerry Douglas and Danny Thompson playing behind him! Nevertheless, it was a fine performance of a great song.

Another "Session" that John was involved with recently was the all-star " The Elizabethan Session" along with Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr, Jim Moray, Bella Hardy, Emily Askew, Hannah James and Rachel Newton. For this ambitious project John wrote a song ["London"] about the hardships and dangers suffered by the simple working man in Elizabethan times. Described by John as a "cheery number" it tells of the fear of what might happen if he goes out on the road and how he dare not walk into the dark.

On a somewhat lighter note, John recounted how he had played with his songwriting hero Jackson Browne and sang Jackson's "These Days" in his own highly distinctive voice.

John's "Salty And Sweet" refers to the town in Devon where he grew up and John amusing recounted how his mother heard her son's song whilst buying discounted ham in a supermarket!

This set by John Smith got the second day of Love Folk off to a fantastic start and the relaxed and happy atmosphere continued with the next act, the wonderful 3 Daft Monkeys.

My advice is that if you want to get a party started, book this band ! With their infectious blend of Cornish /Celtic folk, Romani, Balkan, Latino, Reggae and Punk styles, they are the perfect festival band and are incredibly danceable, combining fiery Gypsy jazz fiddle [Athene Roberts]; wah-wah-guitar [Tim Ashton]; frenetic Middle Eastern percussion[ Rich Mulryne] and bass guitar [Lukas Drinkwater].

The band spelled out their intent with opening party-anthem "Hubadillia", a Cornish word that means "the noise from a party".

3 Daft Monkeys draw upon spooky Cornish folk-tales for some of their material, so we had the ghostly "The Lovers Of Porthgwarra Cove" and the tale of a marriage made in hell "Sarah, The Devil & Jack". Continuing the supernatural theme was "Astral Eyes", which developed from a penny whistle and violin intro into a psychedelic wah-wah guitar wig-out with lyrics about witchcraft.

I was most taken with the song "Days Of The Dance" which tells the extraordinary story of the Dancing Plague of Strasbourg in 1518 when the whole town danced in a ghost-like trance to the sound of nothing at all. This starts off as a waltz, beautifully played on the violin by Athene before speeding up to a frantic dance tempo. Speaking of dancing, 3 Daft Monkeys clearly appeal to all ages as a troupe of young children took to the stage to dance [most impressively, it has to be said] to the infectious reggae beat of "World On Its Head" which sounded like Two-Tone colliding with Gypsy Jazz.

3 Daft Monkeys certainly know how to have a good time but unfortunately that time had to end as they needed to head off back down to the South West for a gig in Bristol this evening !


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