Chippenham Folk Festival –-Friday – Monday 24th – 27th May

The Biggest Little Festival In Wiltshire

By Andy Fawthrop

Chippenham Folk Festival has just finished for another year, so it’s good time to round up just how good this event is, and why it’ll be worth going again next year.

The Festival, including its early incarnation at Lacock, is now in its 48th year, and always held over the Whit Bank Holiday week-end. If you’re not familiar with it and have never been, let me explain just how big and amazing this whole thing is. First of all, it takes over the whole town – every possible venue, both indoors and outdoors is used – Island Park (including a temporary Big Top and many food and other stalls), The Neeld, Masonic Centre, Olympiad, Constitutional Hall, pubs, clubs – you name it. It includes whole streams of activities for children, for music concerts, for storytelling, for folk dance, for Morris, for ceilidhs and for many other activities. There is a small shopping village selling a wide range of clothes and crafts, drinks, and street food. On Bank Holiday Monday there’s also a special market in the High Street. There are literally hundreds of formal performances and displays, open mic & busking, tutorials, workshops, interviews – which means you can either just sit back and be entertained, or you can join in and get completely involved.

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There’s extensive onsite camping facilities or, like myself, you can just drive in and park every day. Hotels and B&Bs in and around the town are booked out months in advance, so popular is the festival.

You can either buy tickets for the whole week-end (with or without camping), for single days, or just for individual events. There’s a Box Office onsite during the festival, or online via the website.

Next year’s event is already booked into the calendar from 22nd May to 25th May 2020, and early tickets are already available.

The good thing about this massive range of activity is that there really is something for everyone, no matter what you’re interested in. And not everything is ticketed. You’ll need to pay to get into the main venues, but there’s plenty in and around the town happening in the streets that’s completely free.

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This year’s event, the last to be organised by Bob & Gill Berry (who also run Devizes Folk Club), was as just as good as ever, and the crowds were out in force, packing out many of the venues. I was lucky enough myself to be MC’ing several music events, and so got to see some fine performances close up on the stages. Stand-out performances for me were from The Wilsons, Granny’s Attic, Jack Rutter, Winter Wilson, Bob Fox, Sally Ironmonger, The Often Herd, Greg Russell, Jim Causely and Keith Donnelly, but it’s genuinely hard to pick out real stars from amongst so many young and talented performers. And it was really good to see so much youthful and emerging new talent, not just the old hands and established stars.

I ran into many people I knew, several of whom had never been before, and who were amazed at how much stuff was going on across the town.

So if you’ve never been, make a note in your diary to go next year and see what all the fuss is about!

 

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The Yirdbards @ The Cellar Bar, Swan Hotel, Bradford; Original Multi-media Entertainment – In A Folk Club?

by Andy Fawthrop

 

What else are you going to do on a Tuesday night if you’re after some top-notch musical entertainment? There was nothing happening (musically) in Devizes that night, so a venture out into the wild and woolly West into the splendid old town of Bradford on Avon was called for.

The venue was the Cellar Bar in the Swan Hotel, right in the middle of town. The place is now a regular haunt for all types of music – jazz, folk, blues, poetry, Irish traditional, with each one settling into a regular weekly or monthly slot. James Sullivan-Tailyour has been the landlord here for a few years now, and has done much to support and promote regular musical (and other) events in the pub/ hotel, and in the town generally. The beer’s not great (it’s a Greene King place) but they do excellent Thai & fusion food in the restaurant.

Tuesday nights are given over to Bradford Folk Club, but don’t be fooled by the title. Whilst there is certainly some traditional and contemporary folk stuff performed, it’s more of a general Acoustic Club where pretty much anything goes. Three or four Tuesdays a month it’s an Open Mic affair, but once or twice a month there’s a guest act. The great thing is that it’s FREE to get in (although they do charge you an arm and a leg to get out!) Joking aside, they pass round the glass half way through the performance for contributions. What that means in practice is that you only pay what you think the music’s worth. Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, people tend to very much like what they hear, going by the average amount that they put in. “Playing for the door” is still very much alive and well.

But to the music – last week it was the turn of local group The Yirdbards. Yes I did spell that right, and it may just be deliberate. The “Yirds” (as everyone knows them) consist of some pretty damn fine musicians – Iona Hassan on fiddle, Verity Sharp on fiddle and cello, Patrick Randall on guitar/ mandolin/ accordion/ whistle and the irrepressible Paul Darby on guitar and vocals. You might recognise Verity in particular, as she’s a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4.

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Whilst the Yirds can knock out some damn good traditional folk songs and tunes (some great jigs and reels), they also tend to showcase quite a bit of contemporary writing from such songsmiths as Paul Metzers and Peter Please, and they’re not above writing and arranging their own material.

Last Tuesday they presented a complete show (the acoustic equivalent of a triple-disc concept album) entitled “Great Clattinger.” It chronicled the seasons and the farming year of that place, the wildflower meadows, the people and the traditions. Surprisingly it was a multi-media affair, featuring tapes, songs, spoken word, and instrumental passages. Many of the words were taken from the writer Elspeth Huxley (who lived there in the 70s) and Joan Ody (who farmed there for nearly 40 years in the earlier part of the 20th century) describing country ways & customs, and the resistance to those who wanted to exploit the land for commercial gravel extraction.

Thanks to their efforts, Clattinger Farm is now owned by Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, and is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. All very “worthy” of course, but the music had to speak for itself, and it soared way above that. The Cellar Bar was packed out and the whole performance went down a storm – superb musicianship, well sung and well presented by four great performers.

It wasn’t rock n’ roll, and this music wouldn’t be for everyone, but if you’d been there you would have been amazed at the variety and quality of the performance. Simply stunning.

Next gigs coming up @ Bradford Folk Club:

• Tuesday 26th March Reg Meuross – singer/ songwriter/ story-teller
• Tuesday 30th April Lightgarden – Eastern influences, Mongolian overtone singing
• Tuesday 28th May Jackie & Felix Byrne –contemporary & tradition folk

 

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In Review: The Bradford Roots Music Festival 2019

By Andy Fawthrop

 

Bit out of D-Town I know, but it doesn’t take long to just tootle over to Bradford, and the really splendid Wiltshire Music Centre. I mean – it’s not as far as Tibet is it?

Now in its seventh year, Bradford Roots Music Festival, now extended to three days, is all about two things – showcasing the vast array of musical talent that has any connection with Bradford, and raising (lots of) money for good causes. This year’s beneficiaries were Dorothy House Hospice, Zone Club (creative club for disabled young adults) and Wiltshire Music Centre. All the artists play for nothing and the event is administered and operated wholly by volunteers. That way all the funds raised go to the good causes.

So it’s a local (indoor) festival for local people. But this is not Royston Vasey, it’s Bradford.

And what a lot you get for your investment in a weekend ticket! I counted over fifty performances and workshops you could have attended if you’d really put your mind to it. I had to skip Saturday evening’s offerings (due to the small matter of Mr Wakeman’s KGB putting on a little show back in The Vize), but I still managed to sample more than 30 acts for myself. Once the WMC have given over the building to the Festival organisers for the weekend, the place is utterly transformed. Apart from four different performing stages (including the massive and superb main auditorium), there are several spaces given over to craft workshops, merchandising, tarot readings, a gin and prosecco bar, a main bar and an artisan fair. Just outside there’s a huge marquee hosting Hartley Farm Shop & Kitchen, which runs all weekend serving hot drinks and great array of home-cooked food.

But the music is the main thing. So many acts to choose from, and so difficult to highlight only a few from such a talented array of performers. But here goes: the stand-out acts for me (in no particular order) were:
• A Night In The Blind House – a rock and indie covers band
• Georgia Lewis – a stunning singer, multi-instrumentalist and folk artist
• The Hazir Ensemble – playing some stunning music from the Middle East & Turkey
• Lightgarden – original material from the UK, Russia and beyond, including Mongolian Overtone chanting (don’t ask – you have to hear it & you’ll be amazed)
• Rockpipes – a Bristol-based Celtic rock band featuring bagpipes (honestly!) as their lead instruments. Sounds mad, but it worked!
• The Bumnotes – an 8-piece acapella close-harmony group singing Barbershop

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Over three days I think I heard music from Africa, the USA, Crete, Turkey, Mongolia, the UK and – yes I know I said it wasn’t that far – even Tibet!! There was rock, blues, folk, country, bluegrass, barbershop, choral, jazz, singer/ songwriter, world – you name it!

The Festival is now over for another year but will be happening again next January. I can’t recommend this event highly enough – there genuinely is something for everyone to enjoy, with great food, great beer and a great atmosphere. It’s superb value for money and there’s plenty to do and see for children and for adults. If you’ve never been, I urge you to check it out for next year.

The Wiltshire Music Centre is also a superb venue in its own right, hosting a year-round programme of top UK and international artists from all genres – classical, folk, blues etc. Worth checking out if you are after top-class entertainment.

 

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Emma Langford and the Quiet Giant

Ever had the awkward scenario where a acquaintance posts a song with a caption, “this is my daughter singing,” you feel obliged to listen, humour their parental pride and bend the truth that you reckon it’s awesome?! This was NOT one of those occasions.

 

I’ve been an online friend with Des for many-a-year; we share a love of comics and cartoons. He’s an exceptionally talented artist and sign-writer; his cartoon frescos adorn his hometown of Limerick, in school playgrounds and on shop windows. I was honoured when Des contributed a cover for my charity-based anthology book, “I am not Frazzle;” it became an iconic image in Devizes.

 

Never more apparent that creative talent filters through the generations; from the moment I clicked on that link and heard Emma’s voice, I was in love with her music. Renowned in Limerick, I’m dedicated to switching as many as I can onto this, I’d shout it from the highest mountain, if we had any here; the folk-rock pop of Emma Langford is simply sublime.

 

So while I could’ve approached this by hiding our friendship to promote Emma’s latest album, Quiet Giant, and try to find a tenacious link between her and Wiltshire, not to unhinge the tenet this website is of locally produced talent, I’d rather be honest. Plus, in this era of YouTube, you can judge for yourself from the couple of videos below; I ain’t a fibber.

 

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Akin to Andrea Corr or a young Kirsty McColl, Quiet Giant is Emma Langford, refined to perfection; nothing here is left to chance. Released on the 18th October, I confirm a crashing symbol and delicate piano opens ten tracks of absolute gorgeousness. All songs are written by Emma with a sophisticated, evocative narrative. It eases you in with certain grace, a couple of earnest mellow songs; the folky title track and smooth jazzy Sandman insure you’ve made the right choice for your listening pleasure.

 

Then Peter Hanagan’s Double bass and fiddles by Tadhg Murphy up the tempo for Closed Book, a storming tune skilfully separating honourable people from the general, ostensibly an effective running theme throughout Quiet Giant which makes its hauntingly nimble quality so endearing.

Emma Langford and her accomplished collective, aforementioned Peter and Tadhg, plus particular prestige for Cellist Alec Brown and pianist Hannah Nic Gearailt, insightfully have produced something special; Quiet Giant is a suave survey of dignity and passionate despondency with uplifting string arrangements and traditional Irish folk values, all wrapped in the wonderful cover art of Jacob Stack; you’d be sorry to have missed it.

 

When I heard Emma had a gig in Bristol and was looking for another date in London a few months ago, I attempted to hassle known local music promoters into booking her for a gig in Devizes, hoping it’d be a halfway house. But Emma explained she only had two days here, still she seemed keen to visit us. The promoters were in awe, told me she really needs to head for London for maximum exposure, “she’s too darn good for Devizes,” I was told!

So then I worried I was being selfish, trying to hook her into our tiny market town just so I can hear her live when they were right, she needs, and she did play a gig in London. Next time it’s bookmarked; I’m bunking the next day off work!

 

Order the pre-release of Quiet Giant here on Bandcamp; out on 18th October.

Like her Facebook page for more information and updates.

 

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