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Thursday, 28 August 2014

Blair Dunlop does determinism at Towersey

Sometimes Blair Dunlop, whose maturity shines through his music, betrays his extreme youth through his references. "Is anyone here doing philosophy A' level?" he asked the Big Club tent on day two of Towersey.

Someone in the audience made like a windmill, indicating that they definitely were.

"Hey! I did that course and I remember when we did determinism. I opened up the book and I couldn't believe my eyes: I'd believed in that philosophy since when I was a little kid and it used to make me feel really down. I was a strange child."

Determinism, if you recall, is the belief that everything that happens is the only possible thing that could happen, given all the circumstances that led to it. It leaves no space for free will and so, in a society that places a high value on freedom of expression, could very easily be depressing.

"I stuck my hand up in class and said 'Miss, miss. I invented that'," Dunlop recalled.

Provocative. I mean, it makes perfect sense that an intelligent child should feel this way: a "good" childhood in modern Britain is basically the condition of being subject to the will of a bunch of responsible adults and the knowledge that you have less freedom than them and that many of your basic decisions - what school you go to, for one - have been made for you can weigh very heavily. I remember.

It also made me wonder how Blair Dunlop - who by the time he took his A' levels had been in a film with Johnny Depp - could feel trapped in this way, and curious about how he thought, at the time, that his life was predetermined to turn out?

So I asked him.

"What it was, basically, was that I felt that my entire existence was being determined by a girl called Alice Whitehead," he explained.

Ah. That makes sense.

"I'm over that now."

* Blair Dunlop has a new album out on Rooksmere Records, called House of Jacks. It's really good.

* If you would like to read more about Blair Dunlop on this blog, you could try this, which is about his first album Blight & Blossom.

* If you would like to read more from Towersey 2014 there is this, about Lau, and this, which is about Dunlop's dad, Ashley Hutchings and the forthcoming documentary about Shirley Collins, his former wife.

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook newsfeed, you could *like* its Facebook page and then use the drop-down menu to indicate that it's one of your "interests". This will enhance the possibility that you'll get them. You could also follow me on Twitter at @emma1hartley

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Hands up for Lau's seal boy at Towersey

Lau played a transcendent set in the Big Club at Towersey last night and also took the opportunity to raise the flag for local journalism, in particular Aidan O'Rourke's local rag in the west highlands.

"I'm from an island called Seil," he said, pronouncing it "seal".

Martin Green stepped in. "When Aidan won best musician in the folk awards earlier this year The Oban Times ran a story about it. And the article had a headline - I'm not joking - the article had a headline that read 'Hands up for Seil boy'."

Much laughter from a packed audience whose collective imagination had clearly turned to flippers.

"And I've been in show business long enough to know that there's more money in a seal boy than there is in a fiddler," Green deadpanned.

* You may also be interested in this from Towersey on Saturday, which is an interview with Ashley Hutchings about the film being made about Shirley Collins, his ex-wife. And this, in which Blair Dunlop wrestles with the condition of being himself.

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook newsfeed, you could *like* its Facebook page and then use the drop-down menu to indicate that it's one of your "interests". This will enhance the possibility that you'll get them. You could also follow me on Twitter at @emma1hartley

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Ashley Hutchings at Towersey festival on the Shirley Collins film

In June there was a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund a movie about the fascinating early life of folk singer and song collector Shirley Collins, to be made by Tim Plester and Rob Curry. The pair also made the elegaic Way of the Morris, and have their fingers in several other pies including, brilliantly, Game of Thrones.

Part of the blurb for the Kickstarter campaign read: "We will explore [Shirley's] relationships with men, tracing the connections from her first great heartbreak, when her father was pushed out of the family after the war, through her controversial affair with Lomax, to her two - ultimately doomed - marriages."

Who should I run into at Towersey festival but Ashley Hutchings, formerly of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, now of The Rainbow Chasers. He was also Collins' second husband. Turns out he's working on a project with his son, Blair Dunlop, to write an album of "proper" songs about football, which is, ahem, likely to have a strong emphasis on Tottenham Hotspur. Inevitably the conversation turned to the Shirley Collins movie.

"I heard about it on the Mark Radcliffe show," he said. "And when I looked at the Kickstarter campaign it was already up to £23,000 or so - they were going for £25,000, weren't they? I thought about whether I had a spare two grand but, well, I didn't. But the next time I looked they'd hit their target anyway, so that was good. Obviously I wish her the best and hope the movie works out well...

"But we're not in touch. It was a very acrimonious breakup: she was right, I was wrong."

Do you remember what the issues were?

Hutchings nodded.


For a second I thought he was blaming women as a species for the failure of his marriage, but then realised that he was saying he had been unfaithful to Collins. There were a couple of beats of silence.

"I've been wondering whether I should expect a phone call from the filmmakers?" he said. "John Marshall, Shirley's first husband, died earlier this year, so I'm the only left now."

I said I thought it was quite likely they'd be in touch, given that they had already said on the Kickstarter page they were interested in exploring Collins's relationships. Plus there's the right of reply thing and they'd probably be interested in getting the whole picture before they decide what to leave on the cutting room floor and what to keep. But that's just my best guess...

"Well, I was thinking that I don't particularly want to do the interview because the situation with Shirley was so acrimonious by the end. But then I was talking to a friend about it and they pointed out that I didn't have to talk about everything if I didn't want to. I could talk about the good years and and focus on the positive things that I remember. I mean we were together for seven or eight years and she did some good work during that time.

"So I suppose I'm waiting for the phone call."

* You may also be interested in this from Towersey, about Lau. And this, about Blair Dunlop and his early dalliance with determinism.

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook newsfeed, you could *like* its Facebook page and then use the drop-down menu to indicate that it's one of your "interests". This will enhance the possibility that you'll get them. You could also follow me on Twitter at @emma1hartley

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Unsigned Welsh rockers Fireroad get taken to the Bahamas by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Yes, yes, yes. They're not folk: I know. But you may like this because it casts a powerful light on the prickly question of how hard bands have to work these days in order to get lucky, if you know what I mean. I thought I'd heard it all when I interviewed Keston Cobblers Club, but these guys take the proverbial welsh cake.

Fireroad (inset), an unsigned band from the Cynon valley, have been invited to support US southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd (main picture) on a cruise around the Bahamas this November. I know: sounds awful, doesn't it? You may know Lynyrd Skynyrd from Sweet Home Alabama...

Or maybe Free Bird...

The Jacksonville band has been through lots of incarnations since the original line-up was involved in a plane crash in 1977, killing three members  – a third of the band – and seriously injuring the rest. But the Lynyrd Skynyrd juggernaut rolls on. Fireroad, on the other hand, are a relatively new thing.

"We've been going for about two years," Richard Jones, their singer, told me. "And we do everything ourselves. I do graphic design and promotional work. It's pretty much me sitting at home 15 to 18 hours a day contacting people on the internet and by phone."

So how did you land the Lynyrd Skynyrd gig? It says a piece in Wales Online that you went on a "charm offensive". How charming do you have to be exactly to get invited to the Bahamas by a legendary rock band?

"I actually went on the cruise to Miami last year with our manager – who had taken another band there in 2012 – to see how things were. It's relatively cheap if you're American, I think: a cabin for the four days is about $750. But if you're from elsewhere obviously there are flights to the US to consider as well. He managed to get us on the short list of eight support acts for this year but said there was only any point us being on there if we built up a fan base in the US.

"So it turned out that it was the passengers on the cruise who would have the final say about who the support were and when I started looking around on the net there was a Facebook group for the cruise with around 2,000 people in it.

"I joined the group and spent about four months contacting these people individually. I'd send them an introduction explaining that we're from Wales but that we grew up with American music and would they be willing to have a listen to our stuff? And then there would be video and Soundcloud links. We're just four boys from the valleys: it seemed like the thing to do.

"Then when the voting happened it turned out it had worked."


"It's my idea of heaven on a boat," he added, sounding properly excited. "The music starts at about midday every day and goes on until the small hours."

So here's the hardworking Fireroad, who a completely brilliant live, according to my cousin Helen, whose seen them several times and knows a thing or two about rock.

The company that puts on these cruises – which are worth knowing about in their own right – is called Sixthman and other artists on their roster include Richard Thompson, Steve Earl, The Civil Wars, Emmylou Harris, John Mayer, Loudon Wainwright III and The Indigo Girls, who I absolutely love... all of whom need support bands.

Better than a fist full of dramamine any day.

* If you like reading about hard-working bands you may also enjoy this about Keston Cobblers Club.

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook newsfeed, you could *like* its Facebook page and then use the drop-down menu to indicate that it's one of your "interests". This will enhance the possibility that you'll get them. You could also follow me on Twitter at @emma1hartley

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Boomtown: the Ryanair of festivals

Remember those stories a while back about how Ryanair would be charging for using the toilets? How's this for a sign of the times? Spotted at Boomtown festival, near Winchester, this weekend and subsequently appearing in a Facebook feed near you.

I rang, curious about how this particularly delicate distinction – the £1 or £2 service – is policed? Surely where commerce is concerned the festival needs to make sure it is not being taken advantage of?

"I only heard about this today, but I understand that it is operated on a trust system," said Anna Wade, a festival spokesperson. She went on to explain that there are also free toilets on site but the distinction is that those in the tastefully named "Poonarnia" are cleaned regularly.


And since we're all here: way to go with the name, Poonarnia. Managing to be tasteless, sexist and childish in four syllables is no mean feat. I'd probably find it amusing if it weren't for the usuary thing.

* If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy reading this one about the BBC's efforts to keep the names of the folk awards judges a secret. Or maybe, in a more carefree vein, you'd like a gallery of folk musicians lying in foliage?

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook newsfeed, you could *like* its Facebook page and then use the drop-down menu to indicate that it's one of your "interests". This will enhance the possibility that you'll get them. You could also follow me on Twitter at @emma1hartley

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Folk by the Oak 2014: this time with beer

I love this festival. I love the idea of it, of naming a folk festival after a tree under which something important happened: in this instance Elizabeth Tudor discovering that she would be Queen while living at Hatfield House.

I also love the location, the fact that it is only about half an hour out of central London by train and that therefore every folky in the capital could, theoretically attend. And that it was on the same weekend as Lovebox, a fairly horrific hip-hoppy celebration of public drunkeness, vomiting and urination that happens pretty much next to my home - the eponymous (and ironically named) Glamour Cave - in Bethnal Green. While I was enjoying Richard Thompson and Seth Lakeman, other people on my Facebook timeline were already complaining about the mess that Lovebox makes.

I didn't care. I was being discerning at Folk by the Oak. And I don't get to feel smug or discerning very often so this was a bit like a holiday for me.

I love this festival. And this year it didn't even run out of beer, which was good because it was as warm in Hertfordshire as it was everywhere else last weekend and running out of beer would have constituted folky armageddon: the festival equivalent of fate giving us a big ding over the head with a banjo.

I missed Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, for which I basically have no one to blame but myself. But obviously this won't prevent me trying. Part of my brain was convinced, as I lazed in bed for an extra half an hour, that there was no way the schedulers would put them on first – not while there were other, less self-evidently brilliant, acts to choose from – and I didn't get much of a clue from the website. I should have asked for more information but... didn't. You know how it is. I'm looking forward to their new album a lot though, string arrangements and all.

So the first thing I saw that made a big impression was The Elizabethan Session, which was arresting mainly for the voices. There was Nancy Kerr, who is in my considered opinion a genius, singing the word "Gloriana", her flattened vowels making it unique to the place and the occasion forever now in my mind. And there was John Smith, who had me Googling him before two verses had escaped his lips, only to remember receiving a suggestion a while back from Phil at Folk Cast that I should do a follow up to my much-beloved post (judging by the number of hits it still gets, anyway), Gallery of folk musicians lying in foliage, with a new gallery of damp folk musicians, inspired by this.

For the avoidance of doubt: it's John Smith. In fact, please contact me by email here or on Twitter @emma1hartley with other pictures of damp folkies. This would be good.

It turns out John Smith has a great voice, so standing up to your waist in water is obviously honey for the vocal cords, if not necessarily your other body parts – it's more likely to be trench foot, mould or fungi for those – or your musical instruments, come to that. Having Bella Hardy, Jim Moray, Martin Simpson, Hannah James and Emily Askew as backing couldn't have hurt either.

The second stage then played host to Salt House, a Scottish four-piece with some new takes on old tunes – She's like the swallow, for one – while one among their number played a beautiful, cherry-coloured double bass that had been buffed to a high shine. Somebody clearly loves that instrument very much.

While they were doing this, I sat on a bale of hay and reflected that the crowd was clearly adoring the combination of old songs and young musicians and that the rest of the music industry, with its incessant re-releases of songs from the 1980s is becoming more like the folk scene all the time.

Speaking of which, Beth Orton clearly had a few fans in the crowd.

And it wasn't hard to see why, although her between-song banter sounded a little as if she were attempting it for the first time after having awoken from a 10-year snooze. It centred around how she was feeling old... but she looked fabulous and was talking to a field full of folkies who had an average of 15 years on her, I'd say, and who were also being rained on at the time, just to make them feel even more glamorous. Not me though. I had an ugly rain-deflecting garment taking care of the water (no, I don't have a picture, sorry) and word has it that Beth and I were in the same class at the Hewett school in Norwich for a while: one day I hope to be able to ask her about that and some other things for the blog.

Keston Cobblers Club, at the Acorn stage, made a big splash with their oompah, brass-bandy brand of folk that would sound comfy on a bank ad. I say that with love and I hope they make their fortune eventually: they had us wondering why they weren't on the main stage?

But then the Richard Thompson and the Seth Lakeman finale kind of supplied the answer: folk festival programmers play to the essentially conservative nature of their audiences and it is both why folk festivals do better than average and a bit of a drag sometimes to those of us who consciously enjoy novelty.

I mean, I love Vincent Black Lightning as much as the next person and also that Seth Lakeman sings songs about mainstream male experiences like being in the army and being a lifeboatman. But... *sigh* No actually, it was fine. Especially as Seth came with fireworks, allowing the male, heterosexual portion of the audience to experience first hand that for which the rest of us did not need fireworks. (I'm just fighting with myself, don't watch.)

In fact, it was more than fine. Did I mention that I actually love Folk by the Oak?

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook newsfeed, you could *like* its Facebook page and then use the drop-down menu to indicate that it's one of your "interests". This will enhance the possibility that you'll get them. You could also follow me on Twitter at @emma1hartley

Friday, 11 July 2014

Folkies! The Shirley Collins movie needs your help on Kickstarter before 22 July

Film-makers Tim Plester and Rob Curry shot a frankly brilliant morris dancing documentary, Way of the Morris, and if you haven't seen it, it's not too late. It's available to stream, for instance, on Blinkbox

But there is something else of theirs vying for your attention. They're hoping to make another folk-related movie: this time about Shirley Collins, who was absolutely central to the folk revivial of the 50s and 60s. And they're raising funds for it on Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site. It's become quite the thing recently – especially in tech circles and for film – and some people have raised unbelievably large amounts of money on it.

However, Tim and Rob are only trying to raise £25,000 and they are already more than half way there.

Watch this for a flavour of the film they would like to make.

There is also a series of interviews about Shirley Collins with people including the super-sharp comedian Stewart Lee and Graham Coxon of Blur, available to watch here.

I'm interested in a couple of things in particular about this story. First of all, Collins's music-collecting trip to the US with her lover Alan Lomax sounds like an epic tale, full of subterfuge, that needs to be told. It's as if Maude Karpeles were still alive to give us the low-down on Cecil Sharp – and correctly apportion the credit for the work that took place – but with a spot of George Clooney thrown in. 

The soundtrack to Oh Brother Where Art Thou, which is sometimes credited with having given impetus to the present pick-up in interest in folk music on both sides of the Atlantic, would not exist in the form that it does were it not for that trip across America by Collins and Lomax, for the simple reason that they collected some of the music.

And then there is the somewhat thorny issue of Collins having misplaced her voice for 35 years, which is something that I've heard Curry talk about in impassioned terms as a wrong that was done to her as a woman – and something that she has in common with Linda Thompson. Both of them, Curry contends with a feminist anger, were "chewed up and spat out" by the men of the folk rock scene. And perhaps that, too, would bear some examination.

"I'm not sure how much Shirley wants to talk about it," said Plester. "What is interesting is that she stopped doing what she was doing 35 years ago for personal reasons, private reasons. There is a medical term – dysphonia – for what happened, but neither Shirley nor Linda use it to describe what they've been through. And that is maybe part of what's been so paralysing about it. It happened to both of them: the two most important leading ladies of their day. Both were struck down in the same way: they literally found themselves voiceless.

"If nothing else, making this film is allowing Shirley to come back and embrace the limelight a bit. She played earlier this year at Union Chapel, which we filmed. And there is talk about recording again. Many people have come forward to express their love for Shirley and she's thriving on it.

"But I'm always wary of talking too much at the start of the film-making process about what's going to be in it, because things that seem like a great idea at the outset have also to be filmic in order to work. And there's no knowing how some things are going to turn out."

The thing about Kickstarter is that is they don't raise the full £25,000 by 22 July then they don't get any of the money. The target has to be hit before any of the funds are released. So think about making a contribution – and check out the rewards for doing so here – as well as forwarding this to anyone you know who might take an interest.

* Help crowdfund the Shirley Collins film here.

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook newsfeed, you could *like* its Facebook page and then use the drop-down menu to indicate that it's one of your "interests". This will enhance the possibility that you'll get them. You could also follow me on Twitter at @emma1hartley

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