Now in its third year and now becoming established as an annual event, Homegrown/English Folk Expo brings the cream of English (and beyond - more of which later) folk music to Bury along with a dedicated industry gathering of music types keen to check out what's on offer for their own organisations and enterprises. In fact, it has been said on the FATEA pages before, but just to re-emphasise the point, the bill assembled by David Agnew, Artistic Director at The Met, would rival or better anything a major folk festival has to offer.
Mysteriously described by one of the performing artists, Hannah James (just back from spending ten days in France and Portugal granted) as "a culture shock", presumably in a good way as there's no way the Europeans could compete with the local world famous black pudding, Bury was the place to be. With the local community turning out in force on Friday for Bury Light Night and a local League One derby/grudge match with Rochdale on the Saturday, the local council would have been swelling its collective chest at the embarrassment of riches in the weekend's cultural, community and commercial opportunities.
The addition of an international musical element (there has always been a strong international representation among the EFEx delegation) came from the EFEx partnership with Folkspot Denmark who were represented by three bands plying their trade across the three days. However, the predominantly English billing saw 25 acts ranging from the solo artists up on stage armed with nothing more than a guitar to the all singing all dancing big bands with more than the odd brass instrument. There were also a handful of hard working musicians who found themselves in Bury for the duration, playing in more than one band and in more than one gig, so hats off to Ben Nicholls who did stints with Seth Lakeman, Emily Porter and his own Kings Of The South Seas band; Sam Carter, Jack Rutter and Tom Moore who all put in double shifts and Sam Sweeney for whom there will be a small place on The Met's stage (stage right and almost hidden behind the PA stack) which will be forever his.
All in all, Homegrown once again presented itself as a coming together of a set of innovative young musicians alongside those who can safely be said to be at the top of their game.
For EFEx delegates, the days are much more than taking the chance to relax and listen to some music. A keynote speech by famed producer Joe Boyd as well as buffets, civic receptions and speed
dating meetings kicked off a whirlwind of opportunity and promotion even before a note had been played in earnest.
By the evening, impressively long queues had formed outside the Drill Hall, possibly more to do with a delayed start more than anything, to catch Bella Hardy opening the public events. With a current album in which her songwriting touched on deeply personal outpourings, she provided the tried and trusted against the brand new experience of Danish visitors Habadekuk. They may well earn themselves the tag of the Danish Bellowhead - a tag which was overheard on more than one occasion across the weekend. The first of several expanded line ups this weekend they were all brass and fun and after a slightly nervous start in front of an expectant and seated audience, got the chance to really go through their paces the following night.
Over at The Met, Maz O'Connor took the chance to showcase some work from the Sweet Liberties which will be visiting the area again soon as well as doing enough to back up the 'watch this space - rising star' labels she often carries. Again, the comparison with the Danish duo Rannock playing downstairs provided an interesting counterpoint. Shifting into waltzes following trad Danish tunes, they are obviously well versed in spotting the retail opportunity with their CDs on sale "for a tenner" - feeling very at home with the sales patter of the jobbing folk musician…
The two Sams - Lee and Carter got the chance to show that despite their relative youth, they are full of stories and a rich knowledge for such young men - both with a future in carrying forward the genre. Some hammered dulcimer and fiddle giving an eastern flavour to Sam Lee's traditional interpretations, Sam Carter, with his new slicked back hair image as opposed to the long fringed folk singer who'd supported Seth Lakeman here a few years back, carries just the guitar as his weapon to accompany his words. It's good to see him playing solo again alongside his electric band dalliance with False Lights. Another artist who will contribute to Sweet Liberties, he's a forthright and forceful performer.
Some may argue that the Lakeman bubble may have not so much burst but not be floating quite so high and evidence a set which is pretty rigid and predictable but there's no doubt that Seth worked hard enough to raise a leaden audience onto its collective feet. His set closing run of songs is almost guaranteed to raise the dead and with new-ish recruit Jack Rutter on guitar he has a foil who matches his own onstage energy. Always one who rarely shuns the chance to press the flesh, he happily jumped offstage after packing his gear and happily shared the news that his next album is written and he's looking forward to working with something very different in the new year including the female trio Wildwood Kin who will be accompanying him on his December tour.
It was interesting to catch Oysters 3 (John Jones, Ian Telfer and Al Prosser - basically the essential core of Oysterband) which gave a slightly different spin on the Oysterband catalogue. Adding to their acoustic interpretations of a set of Oysterband material, the entertainment from the between song patter - missing the graffiti which used to be found in band dressing rooms (Germany in particular) was a favourite - they modelled the relaxed professionalism of a trio who have been round the block and established their credentials. John Jones can carry a melody and with Ian Telfer's fiddle floating on top can send tremors down the spine. A classy way to end a superb opening night of music in intimate surroundings.
There are only so many hours in a day and only so many gigs we can get to. We'd really like to expand our national coverage of the live scene as it remains the life blood of music.
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