Thursday, 21 August 2014

FolkEast Festival 2014

This year was the third FolkEast festival, set in the grounds of the magnificent Glemham Hall, Suffolk, for the second year running. I have attended this festival every year so far, as it is in my home county, and it never fails to bring joy.

Midday, on Friday 15th August, we set off to this wonderful festival, not camping for the weekend (though that is definitely a desire of mine) but staying for the day. The rain which we had driven through failed to dampen our spirits and we arrived excited as ever, to soak up the long awaited FolkEast atmosphere. This festival somehow has the ability to seem very small and intimate and yet has so much to offer and explore. 

Arriving at a time when there was presently no music on the two main stages, we took the opportunity to explore the stalls of crafty and foody delights. Everyone was so friendly and we came away having printed our own FolkEast t shirts - a fine idea, I think you'll agree! We then headed to the Broad Roots stage to find it nicely full up with lots of people enthusiastically dancing to the sounds of The English String Band.

The Soapbox stage is a big part of FolkEast, based in a cosy tent in the woods, showing off the wealth of local talent from the surrounding areas. We saw young singer/songwriter Tilly Dalglish play this stage, this time with multi-instrumentalist Finn Collinson. This was an absolute treat - Tilly has a beautiful voice, combined with her mandolin playing and Finn's talent over various instruments, it made for a fantastic set.

Next up we saw the John Ward Band play the Broad Roots stage. Now, I have seen him play before - a fantastic local musician and singer/songwriter, but I had never seen him play with his full band. We were not disappointed. They played a mixture of classic traditional songs, for example Byker Hill and then some written by John as well. Almost all followed a nautical theme reflecting their passion for the East Anglian coast's heritage. 

We caught the end of The Rails after seeing John Ward and I wish that we had been able to see the whole set. They were excellent, taking a more folk rock approach to the music - their debut album 'Fair Warning' is out now and definitely worth a listen.

Now, before this day, I had not listened to much Blowzabella at all, so we approached seeing them through a veil of mystery. They are all exceptional musicians and played some incredible tunes, many written by them, they sang some traditional songs as well. As the sun was setting over Glemham, crowds assembled and much dancing was taking place. I absolutely loved them and would definitely take up an opportunity to see them again, if one arose.

Finally, the name that was on every man, woman and child's lips; Bellowhead.
We spent the hour before Bellowhead's set among other passionate fans, with the atmosphere of anticipation building. By then, the sun had well and truly set and everyone was eagerly awaiting them to finish the (actually rather intriguing) setting up process. The set was, as expected, absolutely fantastic - so entertaining and energetic. They played quite a few tracks from their latest album "Revival", opening with 'Let Her Run'; some maybe less well known ones such as 'Fakenham Fair' and 'Hopkinson's Favourite'; and some of the old classics including 'Sloe Gin' and 'New York Girls' - those ones that get literally everyone prancing madly around (dancing in some shape or form).

What I'm trying to say is that FolkEast is an incredible festival, getting better and better every year. We had a brilliant time and will definitely be back next year.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Ange Hardy - "The Lament of the Black Sheep"

Somerset singer, songwriter and musician, Ange Hardy - winner of the FATEA Magazine's award for "Female Vocalist of the Year" releases her second album "The Lament of the Black Sheep" this September. Her debut album "Bare Foot Folk" was released last year and contains 14 beautifully crafted songs. From these foundations, Ange has used her second album to explore her own roots and the heritage of her homeland of West Somerset. It is a very personal approach to music, with many songs inspired by her own family and experience. The album features talented guest musiciansJames Findlay on violin and vocalsLuckas Drinkwater contributing double bass and his voice; Jon Dyeran expert flute and whistle playerAlex Cumming on accordion and vocals; and percussionist Jo May. These musicians add complex musical arrangements to Ange's beautiful songs. 

The album opens with  "The Bow to The Sailor", a song about the hardships of working at sea. This catchy song has many fantastically layered vocal passages, an example of Ange's ability as a producer. The vocals and percussion give the song a very fitting feeling of a sea shanty. A particularly atmospheric aspect of this song is Jon Dyer's whistle playing, which perfectly complements the melody.

The song "The Daring Lassie" is a particular favourite of mine. It is about Ange's journey to Ireland where she lived on the streets of Dublin for several months after running away from a care home in Somerset. This is an amazing story, especially as Ange was only 14 at the time. It begins with Ange singing alongside sparse guitar accompanimentJames Findlay then sings the rest of the verse. This works really as their voices are a stark contrast. The song has a memorable chorus and varying texture that make it really interesting to listen to. Like all of Ange's music, it is a song you can listen to over and over again just to hear the different layers. 

The title track for the album, "The Lament of the Black Sheep", is a retelling of the nursery rhyme "Baa Baa Black Sheep" inspired by Ange's son Luke, who as a toddler simplified the song andhappened to reveal the sadness of the story. This song sympathises with the sheep that gives away its wool and incorporates many wonderful harmonies, but is quite stark in its presentation with only a simple guitar line running alongside Ange's layered vocals.

Also inspired by her son, Ange wrote the song "The Lullaby". This song has a wonderful accompaniment consisting of layers of Ange's voice alongside the melody. The song is a Capella, and, as you would expectvery calming despite having an upbeat rhythm.

 "The Gambler's Lot" is about the generations of farmers it sometimes takes to build up a successful business, and is based on Ange's homeland of Somerset. The song comments on how mistakes of individuals can ruin the farm for those in the future. The topic of farming is particularly important to Ange as generations of her family worked in agriculture. This is a strong theme throughout the album represented on the cover by a picture of Anges great-grandfather farming. This picture was taken at the same farm as the pictures of Ange in the sleeve notes.

Other tracks range in theme from librarians to a woman who sends her husband to steal riches for her. Testimony to Ange's superb song writing are the lyrics, reproduced in the sleeve notes,that read like a storyFurthermore, through the arrangements of her songs, she creates atmospheres that suit the talethe songs tell.