London Folk Festival 2016

September 3, 2016
Cecil Sharp House, London 

“Folk is rising again
Fittingly, London Folk Festival took place at London’s home of folk music research and practice, Cecil Sharp House. Performances took place throughout the afternoon and evening on two stages. There were also music and dancing workshops and rousing singalongs in the bar.

Clog Dancing

“My adopted musical heritage is mostly Bulgarian” 
Like so many throughout the day, Long Lankin imbued their performance with a sense of place. A Georgian folk tune adapted with a sea shanty was followed by an a capella Durham traditional. The multi-instrumentalists combined homeland influences – including English, Irish, Scottish and Swedish – and ended the set with a four part harmony version of Bonnie Ship The Diamond.

Lonk Lankin

Lonk Lankin

“It was particularly popular with the Scouts and Guides of Canada in the ’50s” 
Before they played the German round that made a comeback with Canuck kids, The Foxglove Trio playfully explained the etiquette of round singing: “you can sing along with any of us, it’s not a popularity contest!”

The Foxglove Trio

The Foxglove Trio

The Foxglove Trio

The set focused on traditionals with a dark twist; all giants and battles, highwaymen and hangings. There was modernity, too, as they blended a Glen Hansard stanza with a folk standard.

The Foxglove Trio

“It’s really hard to write a song about Jeremy Hunt without being profane” 
For the sake of the children in attendance, Ange Hardy & Lukas Drinkwater didn’t treat us to their ode to the NHS’s nemesis.

Lukas Drinkwater

Still, they stayed firmly in the present, approaching modern themes with a traditional sensibility. A bursary for songs from the news was clearly money well spent, resulting in a searing song highlighting the plight of child carers as well as the haunting track By The Tides, inspired by the drowning of Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi and his brother.

Ange Hardy & Lukas Drinkwater

Ange Hardy

Indeed, the set was awash with sea and death songs, salutatory lessons and family tragedies. Drinkwater’s backing vocals lent a particularly mournful air to the duo’s version of The Trees They Do Grow High.

Lukas Drinkwater

Ange Hardy & Lukas Drinkwater

The multi-instrumentalist talents and a loop pedal ensured the performance remained rich and warm. They left the crowd on a thigh-slapping high, wanting more. And more they shall get from Hardy & Drinkwater down the road at The Green Note on October 17.

Ange Hardy & Lukas Drinkwater

“It just gradually sank on a sunny day in sight of land”
Steph West also told stories of drownings.  Her pure vocals and warm smile lifted through the tragedy of 11 couples that set out to have their marriage banns read but ended up buried in their wedding clothes.

Steph West

Steph West

West first performed solo with harp and bow, spoken word and song, and then later accompanied flautist Jacquelyn Harris. She also gave harp workshops for beginners.

Jacquelyn Hynes

Harp Workshop

“Ethno camps have really shaped the way I think about music and about life”
Hannah James demonstrated the influences she has taken from collaborating with folk performers from around the world. The waltz from Eastern Europe seemed familiar until the dissonant silences started, resulting in an arresting accordion performance.  Like Ange Hardy had, James spoke of the interplay between historical and modern concerns over borders and populations, before performing An English Refugee.

Hannah James

James’ interest in the kindness of strangers, freedom of movement and the traveller’s life was encouraged closer to home. She spoke with glee about finding out that her great great grandfather, Walter Andrews, was a performer. He was not quite a dancer or a singer like his descendent, though. He turned out to have been a grotesque comedian and contortionist; a review revealed “they particularly enjoyed the part where he walked off stage with his feet in her trouser pockets!”

Hannah James

“Has anyone seen us before? It’s gonna be exactly the bloody same!”
Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar’s banter was refreshingly direct; their set was part music and part stand-up comedy. They joked about how they had hoped audience members would dance to their waltz until, one day, a couple did… “and it was absolutely shite!”

They also laughed about finding out Donald Trump’s new motto was the name of their new album, The Silent Majority.  Russell’s response to Trump’s political outreach? “Bollocks.”

Greg Russell

Ciaran Algar

For all the jokes, the lyrics were serious and hard-hitting and the performance was loud and engaging, combining a fiddle, a guitar and a Gaelic growl.

Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar

“They were all really into murder back then”
Laura Smyth and Ted Kemp
entertained with ghoulish tales, murder ballads and traditionals.  There was much laughter and storytelling, before they led the crowd in a rendition of Wild Rover.

Laura Smyth & Ted Kemp

Laura Smyth

Ted Kemp

Laura Smyth

“It took me moving to London then going to Devon to find out about my own history”
Stew Simpsons set was hastily relocated from the gardens as rain threatened to stop play. He recounted how he learned the songs of his North East homelands, and how to sing in his Geordie accent rather than a generic transatlantic drawl.

Stew Simpson

Simpson, of Hadrian’s Union, held the room with belting mining songs, stories and unplugged acoustic originals with surprisingly delicate picking.

Stew Simpson

“You get banter like this all the time in Glasgow”
Despite strong strains of the belting folk singalong from the room next door, Anna MacDonald more than held her own with sweet songs and stories of Scotland. Even when talking of hard times or when accidentally knocking a wall sculpture, her sweet smile survived.

Anna MacDonald

Anna MacDonald

MacDonald’s broad smile turned to laughter as her set was inadvertently interrupted by Tower Ravens Rapper, London’s premier (and only!) all-female rapper sword dance troupe.

MacDonald will be back around these parts – with that smile and a full-sized harp, without the flash mob (!) – on October 10 at The Green Note.

The Tower Ravens

The Tower Ravens

“So, yeah, we’re from London”
Stick In The Wheel were amongst the highlights of UnampliFire Festival and proved to be the same at London Folk Festival.

Stick In The Wheel

Stick In The Wheel

It’s not nicey-nicey folk. It’s raw and damn good. Think strong accents and Misfits tattoos. Stick In The Wheel delivered powerful songs of perseverance, guile and fury with hand claps and dry wit.

Stick In The Wheel

Stick In The Wheel

Standout tracks included The Blacksmith, the London Riots confessional Me ‘n’ Becky, and the stirring a capella singalong Poor Old Horse.

Stick In The Wheel

“Thank you very much. We are selling these mugs as well…”

Stick In The Wheel

Stick In The Wheel

Stick In The Wheel

“The tunes are quite samey, they’re all a bit crap” 
Having taken inspiration from the archives, Faustus playfully mocked Mary Ann Haynes’ for documenting half-remembered traditional songs 50 years after hearing them. Despite Stick in the Wheel’s self-effacing comment that “there’ll be a proper folk band on in a minute,” Faustus turned out to be right there with them on the irreverent edge of the genre.

Faustus

They took worker’s history seriously, though. Whereas Stick In The Wheel sung about how enclosures attacked common rights, Faustus chanted words taken from a Chartists’ journal, later resurrected by the Soviets: “Men of England, you are slaves.”

Faustus

Faustus

Faustus

Despite the ‘bloke folk’ epithet, the striking trio put their accordion, fiddle and electro-acoustic guitar to the same use as their fellow Folk Festival performers; traditionally-inspired songs of death, defiance and destinations.

Like what you see? There are many more photos of the show over on Flickr. Follow me there for over 2,000 concert photos and future updates. Please also follow me on Facebook, on Twitter @redrospective, and here on WordPress for music photography and reviews.

Ciaran Algar

Want more photos? Try my new travel, nature and street photography website, Out To The Streets!

Clog Dancing

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