Xs Noize was invited to celebrate the London Folk Festivals fifth year at Cecil Sharp House. This event hosted by Folkonmonday offered a programme of sixteen acts across three categories of events: 1. live concerts, 2. Outdoor sing-arounds and 3. Workshops (including Spoons and Clog workshops). Every square inch of Cecil Sharp House was utilised with the most talented folk musicians playing in the Kennedy Hall, the Trefusis Room, and the Storrow Room, garden and not forgetting, the bar. Starting from 11.00 am and ending just before 10.00 pm and with tickets costing no more than £35 (if you got them last minute on the day); the London Folk Festival is probably one of the UK’s most affordable high- profile festivals.
The main stage was the Kennedy Hall which was opened by the London Klezmer Quartet who performed the “soulful (folk) music of Eastern European Jews”. XsNoize.com then took ourselves to the Trefusis Room to see Anna MacDonald, a young Scottish multi-instrumentalist (including the harp which Anna said was perfect for writing love ballads) and singer from the Isle of Skye. As well as playing her own original material; Anna performed a Robert Burns cover (she had previously played in Iraq) as well as Joan Baez’s Stephanie’s Room. Anna’s adroit musicianship was equally matched but her soft, yet powerful and soothing angelic voice. Kitty Macfarlane (not Jay), a Somerset-based singer and songwriter followed Anna MacDonald who addressed issues including climate change on Man and Friendship and her favourite animal: the Eel. Kitty sang many exciting songs including one about the “monsters that live in the Bristol tunnel”.
The most emotive performance of the festival was by Ange Hardy. Nominated at the 2015 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards she made use of music technology and introduced her set with a murder ballad. Murder is a current theme for Agne, she kills off a character called Johnny three times alone on her latest LP. Agne opened up about her childhood, running away from children’s homes and living rough on the streets by the time she was just fourteen years old. Emotions reached a crescendo when Hardy played Diary Lassie, a piano-based love song. Hardy’s own stepfather was a pianist but also a “paedophile” and the successful performance of this song was a “middle finger up to him”. The set ended on an elating and light-hearted note with a song about an adorable but mischievous dog called Colin. Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar were the first of two headliners to draw the festival to a close.
Greg who looks not too dissimilar to Ed Sheeran stunned a filled Kennedy Hall with his powerful vocals. With Algar the duo sang songs about the Grenfell Tower fire and against HS2, citing an example of new builds from 2015 that will need to be destroyed for the project to succeed. The duo also covered George Benson’s Give Me the Night whilst staying true to folk tradition and utilising the potency of Russell’s rich and powerful vocal abilities. Rachel McShane played out the festival. Accompanied by two other musicians, Rachel’s highlights included a song about an app game called Sushi Cat. There was also another song about a ginger cat monster and a good old-fashioned folk song about sibling rivalry which ends in murder.
As well as captivating performances there were some interesting workshops aimed at everyone including absolute beginners including the whistles and spoons. There were also acoustic sing-alongs in the garden area with musicians including Allison Sleator and Sophie Crawford. The 2018 London Folk Festival was truly an emotive, elative and divinely inspiring experience. It is so rare to find a forum with so many exceptional musicians who work tirelessly to make the experience as intimate, authentic and interactive as possible. Despite the skills, years of continuous ongoing learning and global travel of the musicians involved; none had a drop of superstar persona about them. The oral tradition of storytelling in folk was what this festival was all about. For example, Sam Kelly and Jamie Francis having just come back from successfully touring in Norway and Sam being the first person to sing Cornish on national radio have previously worked in TK Maxx and Wetherspoons.
Here is to the London Folk Festival, a unique festival with highly talented and engaging musicians and workshops striving to increase the interaction and intimacy with performances and audiences.
To find out more about what went on at the London Folk festival and other events please visit http://www.londonfolkfestival.co.uk/ and to find out more about Cecil Sharp House events go to https://www.cecilsharphouse.org/