Yesterday the Crescent Theatre in Brum had an excellent day festival Folkin’ Good. It was a new festival of folk and acoustic music which had two stages, one in the bar and one in the main stage.
The music kicked off in the bar with a 20 minute set from The Velvet Underarm who are The Crescent’s acoustic house band. They were played a great set which ended with a good cover of Wagon Wheel.
At the end of that set began an afternoon of shuttling between the bar and the theatre. I really liked the system of putting the sets in the bar on to cover the change between acts on the main theatre stage.
The first act on the main stage was The Empty Can an indie folk band who mixed covers by the Verve and Elbow amongst others with their own material. A lot of their own material came from their second album Sonic Boom.
As the bar had limited seating the crowd in the theatre sat on the ends of rows ready to leg it through at the end of the main set. As we entered the bar we heard Ruth, Jimmy and Sue playing. The name was a little confusing as all three were women. They played some excellent Americana and our favourite number was Jilted which was a comedy number which seemed very fitting for three women of a certain age looking like they were rocking three very different looks from M&S. They were probably my favourite act on the bar stage all day.
A programme of music is not something you normally find at a folk gig but it was what Soundboard provided for their mix of instrumental and folky numbers. I have to say I found some of their set a bit pretentious but the music was excellent and the trio were incredibly proficient.
Then it was back to the bar for Ashland. This was a duo which saw Kathryn Marsh and David Sutherland (who is also in Kim Lowings and the Greenwood) playing some excellent numbers. This was my husbands favourite bar group and we bought the EP which says something about how we felt about it.
Part of what this event was doing was showcasing local up and coming acts. One of these was ChrisCleverley. He is a growing name on the national scene but comes from Brum and it was clear that in some ways this event saw him coming home to part of the folk family who had nurtured him. His music was good if generally a bit on the dark side but occasionally there was real humour there. Most of his material was his own but there were some covers in there.
We made our final venture in to the bar for Twenty B& H a duo who are very much new additions to the scene. They played well and were great but by this point the bar area was too small for the crowd and so it seemed like time to stay in the theatre between acts.
The next act on the main stage was my favourite of the evening. Kim Lowings and the Greenwood were an amazing foursome. Kim has an incredible voice and song writing talent as well as being really musically versatile and amongst the instruments she was playing was an Appalachian mountain dulcimer. Among those in the band supporting her was the immensely talented David Sutherland who was on double bass this time. Cuckoo was one of the songs I loved in her set. She reminded me very much of a young Eliza Carthy and I look forward to hearing much more from her.
The penultimate act on the theatre stage was Edwina Hayes who I think can best be described as a northern Joan Baez. She again played a good mix of her own material and covers (including numbers by Richard Thompson and Barbara Dixon). I really liked this singer with a captivating voice and a good stage presence. She would have made a good headliner.
Now, before I go into the real headliner I have to caveat what I am going to say with a few things. Firstly, the sound crew at the Crescent had put in a cracking effort all day and worked really hard. Secondly Francis Mallon who put this together had done an amazing job and the day had all worked really well. Thirdly I had seen Duke Special a couple of times at Greenbelt and he is a good musician who can really take a crowd with him. Unfortunately last night was not his night.
I think there are a few reasons for this. The first is there were some microphone and sound issues as he prepared to go on stage. The second was he didn’t really fit the event. Now, I know this is a difficult balance to get but often (not always) putting something more contemporary on after proper folk without some decent fiddle in it doesn’t work. I remember the same thing happening a few years ago at Cambridge Folk Festival when Divine Comedy played. People left because they just seemed weak in comparison to so much talented musicianship and they were somehow out of place. This is part of what was going on last night.
Also, the Duke is very good act in a festival field or a crowded small venue. This was not how it was working. To his credit he did move the crowd forward and invite them on stage to get some intimacy. I don’t know what then happened because we chose to leave because it was to be honest getting painful to watch. We were both of the feeling we wish we had chosen to leave straight after Edwina Hayes.
A great day though and really good value. We got 7 hours of music and a large number of acts for just £15 each.
There are a few things that I think could have improved it slightly:
1) More seating in the bar area. This could have been achieved if the stalls had been located elsewhere (perhaps in the foyer of the building)
2) More food options and something selling more “normal” food
3) A more folky headliner
As I say though we had a wonderful day and heard some amazing music and will certainly be seeking out some of the music again. Looking to returning to The Crescent Theatre in a fortnight to enjoy their free acoustic night when I suspect we may hear some of the voices from the bar again.