A warm welcome from festival directors Mick Peat and Bob Rushton, plus local folk heroes John Tams and Lucy Ward greet us at the start of the 10th Derby Folk Festival. As it's the 10th festival they've put together a great line-up including the new and as yet unknown, the traditional and much loved, and the unaccompanied voices to the full-blown band.
The festival is now split across eight venues around the city, but the first night is mainly focused in the City Marquee which has been erected in the city's market square.
First off tonight is Alma, who consist of award-winning fiddle-players Emily Askew and John Dipper with guitarist Adrian Lever. They play instrumentals inspired by their various backgrounds in English and European traditional music, there are waltzes, mazurkas and bourees all played beautifully and very well received by the attentive audience.
Next, Sam Kelly and The Lost Boys playing a lively up-tempo mix of traditional and contemporary songs and a couple of surprising covers. Sam has a great, strong voice and works in a variety of bands and projects. Traditional folk songs such as 'Jolly Waggoners' and 'Blackbird' are played beautifully, 'Dullahan' is an original song about the Irish Bogey man stories of which Sam's grandpa used to scare him. In the folk tradition of collecting songs , they have a “song collected in the North East of England by Mark Knopfler” which is a great cover of 'Sultans of Swing'. End of set is the second surprise cover, a folky version of Fleetwood Mac's 'The Chain'. An excellent set which leaves the audience on its feet and with beaming faces.
Stage compère Chris Sweeney introduces the headline act as “.. a band I first saw in 1972...and the creators of the first album I bought 'Liege and Lief'”, it is of course Fairport Convention. The set list tonight covers the whole of the band's history, the title track from the most recent album 'Myths and Heroes' is played early in the set, followed by a beautiful version of 'Crazy Man Michael' from the aforementioned 'Liege and Lief'. There's an as yet unrecorded new song 'Devil's Work' , which I first saw multi-instrumentalist and main songwriter Chris Leslie play solo about a year ago. At one point Simon Nicol looks genuinely surprised as an audience member runs up to the stage and hands him a fiver !
Ralph McTell gets the songwriting credit for 'The Hiring Fair' featuring some beautiful fiddle playing from Ric Sanders. 'Matty Groves' has the now familiar bluegrass banjo intro and for the encore of 'Meet on The Ledge' there's a nice touch as they invite the festival directors and stage compère on stage to sign the chorus. At the end the audience are on their feet giving the band a deserved standing ovation, there's clearly a lot of love for this band here tonight.
Day 2 starts with a genuine set of Americana in The Guildhall. Sam Gleaves is from South Virginia and plays traditional and original tunes in the Appalachian style on banjo, guitar, and American style fiddle. Clearly playing to his audience he sings a fun version of 'The Derby Ram', there's an original song 'Ain't We Brothers Too' which addresses contemporary issues of discrimination. Sam is joined on-stage by Peggy Seeger who we can quite rightly use that overused word icon to describe as she is acknowledged as one of the finest interpreters of Anglo-American folk-songs. Although now 80 she still plays and sings beautifully and is endlessly entertaining in her between song chat . 'Old Friends' is a beautiful and moving song with Peggy on autoharp, the song about the Mississippi steamer 'John Gilbert' is lovely and the call and response of 'Grey Goose' is a delight. Sam Gleaves returns for a duet on the blue grass favourite 'The Cuckoo'. A genuine icon and an absolute pleasure and privilege to spend a hour in her presence.
An early October downpour causes a steam to creep under the marquee and West Midlands folk trio Granny's Attic, to comment “this is a Sea Shanty, it's called 'Death of Nelson'”,which they reveal the children at a recent school concert thought refers to Nelson Mandela. Granny's Attic are a lively three piece combing guitar, fiddle and accordion and get some dancing, or splashing around in the marquee.
Next is 9bach , who are playing their final live show of 2016. Some find appreciation of 9bach difficult as Lisa Jen sings entirely in the Welsh-language (providing translation for the non-Welsh speaking audience prior to each song). But I find that this adds to the mix of beautiful, haunting melancholy. The harp playing in Brain (Crows) is beautiful, the very moving Plentyn (Child) is written about the lost generation of aboriginals. Wedi Torri (It's Broken) with a repeating guitar motif and Llwynog (Fox) with the extended live vocal loops are both gorgeous. Anian has no direct translation, the closest interpretation of it is a deep, gut-level connection we may feel to each other or a place and a lovely thought; and a lovely of tune.
Over to Derby Cathedral for Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, who were the 2015 winners of R2 Folk Awards duo of the year, and now as Josienne puts it “just a duo”, but they are far more than that. Josienne has a captivating, rich almost bluesy-folk voice and the perfect accompaniment to Josienne is Ben's beautifully finger-picked and played acoustic guitar parts. As they say it's not music to dance to, almost guaranteed to clear a party , but their melancholy is “ .. the best five star misery you can get your hands on”. Beautiful cover of 'Banks of Sweet Primroses' and 'Reynardine'. Original song 'It Would Not Be A Rose' from 'Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour' is moving. They are the perfect fit for the ambience of the Cathedral and the find of the festival.
An early Sunday morning slot for duo from Dorset ,Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere, who perform under the name Ninebarrow. Together they produce great harmonies accompanied by ukulele and a pump organ and captivating interpretations of traditional folk tunes such as 'The Begging Song' and 'Dark Eyed Sailor' as well as some original songs. For a duo who left Dorset before dawn, they are remarkably bright and have an engaging sense of humour which gets Day 3 of to a great start.
In the Georgian ballroom of the Old Bell Hotel, the good people of Furthest From The Sea who do worthy work promoting Derbyshire talent and creativity are putting on a fringe festival. Threaded are a three piece consisting of the unique instrumental combination of clarinet, violin and guitar. All three are classically trained from the Birmingham Conservatoire but play a mix of folk and acoustic music. Today's version only features violin and guitar but there's still stunning musicianship here, and I cannot wait to check them out as a three-piece soon.
In the chapel in the Cathedral there's Benammi Swift who's a melodeon player from Derbyshire and a finalist in the 2016 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award. He plays a short, but fine set of tunes from fellow players such as Andy Cutting and concertina player Rob Harbron to a small, but stunned audience.
Heidi Talbot has brought her husband John McCusker and his band along as part of her talented backing band for this evening's show in the marquee. Her new album was released last week and several tracks are played here tonight She's a chatty storyteller with an engaging nature and husband John is on the end of several good natured digs throughout the set. Just before playing 'The Music Tree' she recounts the time one of her fellow Pilates students broke wind as her teacher was using the track as appropriately relaxing music. The lads in the band play of set of toe-tapping, hand-clapping Celtic tunes. Heidi has a bright, strong and beautiful voice and plays a great set of county-infused pop tunes tunes, which is a fine end of the festival for me.
I've only covered a small part of what the festival has on offer. There's loads to listen to and see and it's well worth putting the date into your 2017 your gig calender now. I'll see you there .