FolkEast is set within the grounds of Glemham Hall just North of Ipswich. The festival arena has five stages, four of which are indoors and mainly seated, the main stage named The Sunset Stage is the one outdoor standing area. Unfortunately I could only spend one day on the site, but here are thoughts on what happened.
The first act I catch is a tribute to the “colourful” life of the Irish traveller, trad singer and banjo player Margaret Barry, called She Moved Through The Fair. It's performed as a play interspersed with songs from her career. I notice that Lisa Knapp and Gerry Diver , who are two of most creative musicians working in the folk scene, are part of the group of musicians on stage contributing to this moving and heartfelt performance which gets a standing ovation at the end .
There's a short walk up to the Sanctuary Stage which is hosted in the beautiful, Grade1 listed medieval church of St. Andrew, Little Glemham. Miniature Universe are a three piece (flute, fiddle and percussion) playing Celtic rhythms fused with World Music percussion. Chela Choir are from Cambridge and sing Georgian (the country) folk songs mainly unaccompanied and are a perfect for for their environs.
Feeling suitably spiritually uplifted I head back to the main arena for the Luke Jackson Band, who are playing as a trio featuring the precocious talents of the Fatea Male Artist of the Year for 2016. Luke's surprisingly rich, bluesy vocal style has been compared to Jeff Buckley, combined with his sensitive acoustic playing means this singer song-writer is certainly one to watch out for in the future.
The large Moot Hall tent (capacity c.1000) is standing room only for the next act; quiet rightly too as it's John Kirkpatrick & Martin Carthy who, as they are introduced are “two giants of British Folk music”. John and Martin have such a large back catalogue (nearly a century of recording between them) to select from. They play selections from their time together, which are arrangements of trad tunes collected from around the U K. The tone of the between song banter “..watch out. We've forgotten to take our pills anything could happen”. “Who am I, no idea ”, show the rapport between them playing together in Brass Monkey and Steeleye Span. John's accordion and concertina playing makes a perfect fit for Martin's unique percussive picking, and the standing ovation for them at the end is totally deserved.
Next at the Moot Hall is one of my favourite guitar players, Martin Simpson. Martin plays a mix of arranged trad and many original compositions in his unique style of British folk + Southern States Blues (he resided in New Orleans for several years) the result of which are many “ how is his guitar making that noise?” moments. Furthermore, combining his playing with thoughtful and moving songs makes Martin a live 'must-see' if the opportunity presents itself. Tonight, we get several songs from his new album 'Trails & Tribulations', an ornithological discussion on the success of the red kite and the buzzard and for the encore a great slide guitar version of 'Heartbreak Hotel'. I've seen Martin several times and this performance confirmed that there's probably no finer player of an acoustic guitar in this country.
Over on the Sunset Stage are the multi-talented Lau ( Aidan O'Rourke, Kris Drever and Martin Green), who are celebrating 10 years of the band playing together. Anyone who's seen Lau play before will know what a wonderful group of musicians they are. In addition to his accordion playing Martin is also playing some weird strung, sail type instrument which he plucks, pulls and twangs, and generally abuses to create some weird effects to accompany the soundscapes coming from the stage. Oh, and on top of the stage monitors that have banner which proclaims “ WE LOVE THE NHS” which makes them extra wonderful of course.
Fay Hield and band are on stage in Moot Hall. Tonight's backing band are Ben Nicholls, Roger Wilson and Jon Boden. Fay's specialism is re-interpretation of the folk traditional, her extensive knowledge of which presumably benefits the students at University of Sheffield who know her as Dr Hield. Such a great band and Fay's unique passionate and expressive vocal style (not to mention her “Yorkshire” merchandise selling techniques “1 CD for £15, 2 for £20”) makes this a special hour. The encore which Fay sings unaccompanied sends the shivers down the spine.
The giant wicker Jackalope (a mythical mix of a Jackrabbit and an antelope) with laser eyes (yes really) points me in the direction of tonight's sunset Stage headliners, Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys ,whose big band sound of seven musicians is the perfect fit to finish the night in a party mood and get the audience dancing. They play several songs from new album 'Pretty Peggy' which will be released in September as well as very different versions of 'Sultans of Swing' and 'The Chain', including the 'Formula one' instrumental section at the end.
Unexpected sounds coming from the dance tent means I have to investigate further, it's David Eagle from The Young'Uns who's cleverly mixing Celtic rhythms through tracks by Britney Spears, Madonna's 'Holiday' and a slowed down version of R.E.M.'It's the End of the World As We Know It'. Bellowhead's 'New York Girls' morphs into Jay-Z & Alicia Keys 'Empire State of Mind' and Jim Moray mixes with Mark Ronson's 'Uptown Funk', as David says “Ladies and Gentleman, it's uptown folk”, and fun way to finish Saturday night.
A summary of my first visit to FolkEast: a beautiful site with a very good selection of liquid and solid refreshments at sensible prices, interesting venues hosting a great line-up of musicians some young and some more experienced and the unexpected festival highlight of the year so far.