The duo of Sue Brown & Lorraine Irwing have been around the Club scene for quite a few years and it was satisfying to see these charming ladies being given the chance to demonstrate their talents on a bigger stage. Their introductory number “Go away from my Window” suffered a bit from sound imbalance and overgenerous re-verb but that was corrected for the rest of their programme. This was generally traditional in content which is their preferred genre but one mediaeval song was made even more interesting by Lorraine’s reference to television’s Professor Brian Cox and his effect on the hearts of young ladies ! Sue and Lorraine have an intriguing approach to song harmony, a subject which they were programmed to demonstrate in a later workshop. They eschew the sometimes full on approach taken by some duos, making their contribution worthy of careful study and attention. All in all theirs was a delightful set.
Take Two are the local duo of Dave Rolfe and Kevin Arnold. Kevin has a strong pleasing baritone voice and no doubt might have developed a career in music, had business commitments not taken priority.
His performance was well matched by Dave’s strong guitar technique and occasional harmony line which made their forty five minute spot fly past. They played a mixture of traditional and contemporary songs. Their experience of entertaining in Clubs and Pubs made for a confident performance.
Main Stage 2
I had recently listened to Andy Cutting at another Festival playing in duo mode, but there is something a bit special hearing him as a solo artist, especially when the sound amplification is competently engineered to match the venue. Creating a “voice” on a mechanical instrument and giving it such light and shade takes a special talent and years of practice. Andy must surely be at the top of the World list of melodeon players.
Miranda Sykes & Rex Preston are as popular as ever on this showing and this duo have developed a fine understanding of the potential of the pairing of two, at first glance, unlikely instruments. Miranda of course has developed as a singer since she first started out with Show of Hands and they have selected material which if not challenging vocally, works well and fully engages their audience.
BarlowCree, opened on Saturday afternoon. This talented pair of singer/songwriters are popular in the folk Clubs of South Wales, but have now been recognised much further afield. They have an engaging stage personality filled with personal stories and humour. Their own songs are powerful and well written for example their story of the trapped Chilean miners which they included in their well balanced programme. They finished their set with another of their compositions, Maud of the Night, about the wife of a nobleman whose soul belonged to the Devil. They are bound for continuing success and wider recognition if they can sustain the financial pressures of being on the road.
The Peace Tent
I called in here on Saturday afternoon, to listen to a unique three part concert. With 22 songs and 28 artists it was scheduled to run for 80 or so, minutes and by good planning and discipline it did just that. This Concert was part of the commemoration of the Great War years. It turned out to be an inspiring and delightful experience. No big egos here, but simply a gathering of performers of various levels within the Club and Festival world giving of their best.
Janet Russell led the professional ranks with performances of Leon Rossleson’s composition “Song of The Olive Tree” and later, Hamish Henderson’s “Freedom Come All Ye” but mention should also be made of the songs from The grandmother, daughter and granddaughter trio “The Birdscarers” from Staffordshire and John Morris’s rendition of Jez Lowe’s humerous song “The Wrong Bus”
Dawn Powell, told the tale of Animal Heroes in wartime and closed the afternoon with a reading of Carol Ann Duffy’s poem “Last Post” This ended an afternoon of high quality music and song, despite the best efforts of the Rain Gods in sending down an impressive deluge on the marquee roof.
Having travelled from another venue I had missed James Riley’s performance, but I gather that it was rather special. I arrived in time to hear, once seen never forgotten singer/songwriter Cara Luft, take the stage with her current UK travelling musician, JD Edwards. What a bundle of energy she is and in JD she has found a musical partner to compliment her driving guitar,skilful banjo and powerful vocals Her newest CD “Darlingford” has been widely praised in North America and has sold in quantity during her European tours. Cara must be one of the hardest working artists on the circuit and she should not be missed if within your home area. She will be staying in the UK for several more weeks playing some dates with Bella Hardy before embarking for Holland.
J P Hoe with his accompanying musicians, Natanielle Felicitas and Kelly Lefaive, arrived from Canada with a burgeoning reputation and praise for his performances. He has on this showing, lived up to the advance publicity and was ably supported by his partners. He is possessed of an impressive vocal range and his songs can be both edgy and philosophical. The trio gave an assured and professional performance and it is to be hoped that they will be asked back at some point.
It is always a personal pleasure to have the opportunity to hear Karine Polwart perform with her regular trio and this set was no exception. She has the indefinable knack writing songs which challenge the established order and can cut to the heart of the matter with clarity of expression. Her crystal clear vocal was captured by the sound engineer on duty, not always the case in these large tented venues. Her song list included a protest about the development within the area around Aberdeenshire’s Balmedie area, one about Lots wife and the song Salters Road. Karine chose at the end of the performance, to make her views on Scottish Independence clear. This drew some fairly loud criticism from someone in the audience. Obviously the individual concerned was unaware that Karine always makes her views clear and unambiguous Had he forgotten that this was a Folk Festival?
A capacity audience filled the main stage on Sunday evening to listen to a concert with three big name draws.
Lau opened with two fairly lengthy instrumental pieces. This band of brilliant musicians are not confined by the expected norms of traditional music, but their arrangements paint pictures of places and happenings in the manner of classically trained composers They do to traditional music that which the late Martin Bennett did for the Scottish bag pipe. Just how far they can take this road will be interesting to observe. Chris Drever did not disappoint by including a song or two.
Lau were followed on stage by Blackie and The Rodeo Kings. This Canadian outfit is a really interesting group of rockers which includes Stephen Fearing at one time a regular visitor over here. Linden, Fearing and Osmond soon had the place jumping with their high energy singing and quite amazing guitar skills. Not Folk as we know it but boy, is it good.
Seth Lakeman closed to enormous applause from the audience following his set.
Steve Tilston, remains one of the most popular musicians on the British scene. He had been to appear in the trio but turned out in solo form due to the illness of his partners. Nevertheless he was welcome, running through a back catalogue of his popular numbers, eg “Rocky Road”, “The Road When I was Young”, “Weeping Willow Blues” and others. One of his newer songs was The Fisher lad of Whitby, which he had found in an old book, but for which he said he had. composed a better tune. No reason to doubt him.
No less popular was Martin Simpson who followed him. Martin has a unique and recognisable style of both playing and singing and it was good to hear him singing solo whilst being involved with Steve Knightly as part of the “Wake the Union” ensemble on another stage.
He went straight into a his slide guitar version of “Black Girl” then “Hold On” Later offers included Dylan’s take on St James Infirmary and the old Scots Ballad Eppie Morrie. Still at the top of his game is Martin.
Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar both with musical family backgrounds, are positive proof that Folk Music is in safe hands providing that they can pursue their separate further education careers without losing their connection as a phenomenal duo. Much has already been said about their individual levels of skill and it is hard to understand how they reached this level at such an early age. They also have the ability and stagecraft to keep an audience spell bound.
Rather like Luke Jackson a near contemporary, Sunjay Brayne’s arrival on the scene has been extraordinary. Over the last two years, he has developed a National following belying his years. A more than competent guitarist and a fine singer, he is able to cover a wide range of musical forms from blues, folk and popular ballad. He has also developed a convincing stage presence and rapport with his audience. It is anyone’s guess just which direction his career will take. Hopefully he won’t leave The Folk scene too soon.
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Shrewsbury Folk Festival 2017 Review