Mid April 2007
I begin this edition with news of important and worrying developments on local radio:
- FAREWELL & THANKS, MICHAEL BROTHWELL. Sadly, Michael Brothwell broadcast his last edition of North Yorkshire Folk on Radio York at the end of March. Due to developing business interests in Leeds he had wanted to move on for some time, and I sure we all wish him well. In the two years he had been on air, Michael created one of the best local radio specialist music shows in a very long time. A “natural” broadcaster and a great enthusiast for folk music in all its forms, he gave generous support to the local music scene across the county.
Locally-based performers were heavily featured in studio sessions, interviews and record play, with Michael displaying a rare ability to unearth new and interesting artists. In particular, he made common ground between the older-established folk scene, based around clubs and festivals, and the younger generation of acoustic musicians sometimes dubbed “new folk”. Even someone like myself, immersed in this business for over 25 years, discovered someone or something unfamiliar and enjoyable almost every week. The show rapidly became essential listening, and when it was extended to two hours, in direct competition with Mike Harding on Radio 2, it was the national station that lost out, so far as many were concerned!
Highlights were numerous, but I would single out the “Auden & Folk” programme, based around last year’s event in York. This was a masterly mix of concert footage, percipient interviews and modest narration which I feel could have easily merited a repeat on a national radio channel such as Radio 2 or even Radio 3 or 4. Nor should we forget the “Song for North Yorkshire” competition, which proved far more successful than we first anticipated in encouraging and promoting local songwriting talent.
- WHERE NOW FOR LOCAL RADIO FOLK? So what happens next on Radio York? Although Michael gave his bosses generous notice of his departure, no great steps seem to have been taken to seek out an alternative presenter. The 7pm slot on Wednesday 4 April was filled by one of the station’s regular broadcasters. True, our own Stan Graham had been drafted in at the last minute to chat with her, but they were limited to playing CD tracks with, it seemed, a brief to be as “safe” and “mainstream” as possible. There wasn’t even a diary of upcoming events. This was hardly local radio in any true sense. I gave up at 8pm and re-tuned to Mike Harding on Radio 2! If you want to express your concerns and try to find out what is going on, I suggest you contact BBC Radio York’s Managing Editor, Sara Drummond, on email@example.com.
And now on to forthcoming Folk Club events:
- SET SAIL WITH KIMBER’S MEN. Britain’s foremost shanty and sea song group sail up the Ouse next Thursday, 19 April, and dock in York in order to visit the Black Swan. Kimber’s Men were formed in 2001 and now comprise Neil Kimber, ship’s bosun, John Bromley, cook, Joe Stead, doctor, and latest recruit, David Buckley, ship’s captain. Using their four strong and well-matched voices, plus an occasional bit of instrumentation, they tackle a well chosen repertoire of maritime songs, mixing some well-known favourites with less familiar but equally enjoyable numbers. Come along and help them shake the venerable Black Swan rafters!
- TIME FOR FUN! Next, a reminder that the incomparable Last Night’s Fun are in action at the National Centre for Early Music on Monday 23 April. At copydate there were around 35 tickets left at the NCEM Box Office (01904 658338, www.ncem.co.uk, priced £12 or £10), plus half a dozen tickets which are still available through me, either on Thursday nights or via the contacts at the end of this newsletter. Chris Sherburn (concertina), Denny Bartley (guitar/vocal) and Nick Scott (Uilleann pipes) always give a great performance, with the intensity of their playing nicely balanced by their hilarious on-stage banter. I’m particularly looking forward to this one because they will be joined by new recruit Ciaran Boyle, the award-winning bodhran player, adding an extra dimension to the LNF experience!
- FOLK DAY TAKES SHAPE. Work proceeds on this year’s City of York Folk Day, scheduled for Saturday 19 May at the Black Swan Inn. My main task so far is to finalise the line-up for the marquee stage. Confirmed local acts so far include Los Yobos, Miles Cain, Graham Hodge, Two Black Sheep & A Stallion, Soundsphere, OK Brandy, Diad, Pillowfish, Dan Webster and Ripple, plus Minster Strays morris dancers and Folk Club residents Phil Cerny, Stan Graham, Geoff Watson and Eddie Affleck, with confirmation awaited on the last one or two slots. Once the line-up is complete it will be posted on the Folk Day page at www.bsfc.org.uk/folkday.php.
There has been huge demand for performance space this year, but we have slightly reduced the number of slots to better allow for changeovers, so we have something of a problem! As the Folk Day is primarily a celebration of the local folk scene, it seemed fairest to favour performers based in the immediate York area. A few out-of-town artists will have to be disappointed, I’m afraid, but I hope they will understand that we simply could not fit everyone in. There will still be the all-comers music session, of course, plus singarounds and rolling folk club in other indoor rooms. I’ll have more details on those soon.
One other innovation has been mooted: a lunchtime “Poems and Pints” session, to give a focus for Don Walls and the other “spoken word” performers who have won an appreciative home on the local folk scene. What do you think of that one?
And lastly for some news and views from the wider scene:
- CATRIONA HELPS THE YOUNG FIDDLERS. Special guest tutor for York Young Fiddlers at their next Saturday afternoon workshop on 12 May is none other than leading Scottish musician and teacher Catriona Macdonald. There are still tutorial spaces available, so as usual all young fiddle players from 8 to 18 are welcome. Full details can be found at www.yorkyoungfiddlers.org.uk, or by ringing Tatjana Neupert on 07906 331613. After that YYF’s next function is a fiddle weekend over 23 and 24 June.
- EDITORIAL STRIKES THE RIGHT NOTE. I was struck by an editorial piece in the March issue of The Link, the monthly music magazine whose coverage stretches from York to Teesside to the Yorkshire Coast. Co-editor Jim McLaughlin (main man behind Whitby Musicport festival and much else) wrote the following, which I repeat with his permission (and my own paraphrasing):
“So folk music is suddenly cool, with the arrival of Seth Lakeman as a major artist with a major record label, a hit album and single, and hordes of adoring young women at his concerts. It seems that folk music is entering the mainstream of popular music, at least for the moment. It’s a really healthy development, in this time when we are seeking a British identity, that the indigenous music of these islands is beginning to find an audience beyond the minority that has kept it alive and kicking through all the lean years.
“The problem many people have with folk music is that almost anyone can have a go at it (unlike a rock band, where you need a fair amount of equipment to begin with), and therefore it can get labelled with an amateur tag that is very unfair on all those many very talented professional musicians who play traditional music year in and year out.
“The folk music world has a tolerance and open-mindedness which accepts the odd, the quirky and the downright weird as well as the normal, and maybe that is a good model for defining our national identity in these fast-changing times.
“I can’t help but remember the reaction at Musicport to English folk acts The Demon Barber Roadshow (2004) and Bellowhead (2005) from so many of the audience who thought they didn’t like English folk music but who were totally knocked sideways by their performances. Forget the fact that “folk” is one of George Bush’s favourite words and get yourself to a folk club, session or concert and you might just be surprised!”
Well said, Jim!
- FOLK AT KIRKBY FLEETHAM. One of many highlights at another excellent Black Swan Singers Night last week was a visit by a very fine singer called Wendy Arrowsmith, travelling down the A19 from Northallerton. Wendy left some flyers for a folk music night she is hosting at the Black Horse Inn at Kirkby Fleetham, near Northallerton, on Saturday 28 April. There is food from 7.30pm, live music from 8.30pm, and singers and players will be made welcome. Find out more at www.wendyarrowsmith.com.
- HOWDEN LIVE AS EVER. To the south of York, Howden Live continues to do great work for folk and roots music. They present the exuberant musical humour of the NEW ROPE STRING BAND at their Shire Hall venue on Friday 20 April, followed by the virtuoso musicianship of ALY BAIN & PHIL CUNNINGHAM on Saturday 28 April. Find out more and book on-line via www.howden-live.com.
- POCKLINGTON TOO. Another flourishing venue is Pocklington Arts Centre. They present THE BLACK UMFOLOSI 5 on this Saturday, 14 April, and JOHN TAMS & BARRY COOPE on Wednesday 25 April with Cuban group Sierra Maestra (29 May) and the mighty Waterson:Carthy (2 June) to follow. The Centre’s website is www.pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk and box office ‘phone is 01759 301547.
- MARRA RETURNS. Lastly, I‘ve been asked to tell you that distinctive Scottish singer MICHAEL MARRA is in concert at the Village Hall in Bowes, near Barnard Castle, on Saturday week, 21 April, starting at 7.30. Tickets are a snip at £ 5 (concessions £ 3.50) and can be booked on 01833 628343.
I should be back at the end of April or early in May with yet more folk-related news.