Manchester Folk Festival – 13th-15th October 2022
The fifth Manchester Folk Festival – after easing gently back in 2021, 2022 saw a wealth of artists across a wealth of venues, the established and the establishment mixing with the remarkably vibrant younger scene.
Five venues all kicked off with events that resulted in an impossible choice. Foregoing Jess Guise and Grace Petrie at the Blues Kitchen (slightly compensated with Grace putting in a subs appearance at the late-night Festival Cub), we stuck around HOME to work from Theatre 1’s classy double bill of Lady Maisery and The Magpie Arc. Both bands have new albums set for release and while Lady Maisery – the Rheingans, James, Askew trio – are all about impossibly lush harmonies and exquisite playing, The Magpie Arc take their folk in a rockier and rawer direction. The contrast between a delicate intensity and the fun and electricity of fizzing amps AND the breaking out of a pair of Gibson SGs (not to mention a drum kit) instantly illustrating the breadth of what passes for folk music in 2022.
In Theatre 2, Jim Ghedi and Joshua Burnell also showcased bigger bands and broader sounds. The Burnell ‘baroque and roll’ and the Ghedi soundscapes (“do you want to hear about the songs or shall we just play?“) one side of the coin, the other down at the Anthony Burgess Foundation where the Jackie Oates Trio were firmly rooted in more traditional folk pursuits, despite Jackie noting how her view of lullabies pre and post-childbirth took on different meanings.
With Grace Petrie belting out “farewell…to welfare,” around midnight at a time of hot topic politics, the MFF crowd, swelled by the delegates of the English Folk Expo, couldn’t;t have had a more stirring first day.
And time for some of the stars of the English Folk Expo International Partnership to make their mark. Clare Sands had already wowed the Expo delegates in the afternoon in the wonderfully spacious Halle St Peters, yet beautifully lit in deep shadows HOME’s Theatre 1, her performance reached a new intensity. Rather less intense yet no less compelling was the relaxed presence and humour of the Daoiri Farrell Trio to come tomorrow.
A solo Thea Gilmore – another musician challenging what passes for folk – is simply a class act. What Flo Perlin who precedes her with her gentle backing support, is maybe aiming at. Similar could be said for Reg Meuross who regularly keeps up a touring cycle around the folk clubs while remaining under the radar and avoiding mass appeal and acclaim. His Stolen From God song cycle of the Transatlantic slave trade, accompanied in the bulk by Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne, is a piece of work, combining narrative and song that sits comfortably (or ‘uncomfortably’ given the subject matter) with Peter Bellamy’s The Transports. Folk Opera is certainly not dead.
And with the final contribution from the Emerald Isle coming from young upstarts Moxie – again, a band who’d showcased to the Expo delegates but whose headline gig saw them steal the ‘rubber soul’ tag from The Beatles and twist it into their own ‘melodeon soul’ uniqueness. Add a touch of alternative indieness and the folkiness that brings them here and Moxie have a vibrant and contemporary take that wins admirers.
From a personal perspective, perhaps the star turn on a day of constantly high quality came around midnight from Will Page. With fiddle and guitar, the Noble Jacks man tested the solo path, grabbing the attention with a sprightly a Dylan cover and channeling his inner Lakeman in a confident set.
Over to the single event of the festival to be held at The Ritz with Will Varley taking the headline slot. His usual unobtrusive and humble demeanour belying the sharpness of observation in his songs. From first seeing and hearing him play around ten years ago when he was perhaps regarded as having some nice slightly comedic songs, he’s become a perceptive songwriter. Some may say ‘professional’ – he even concedes to having two guitars now although one is more decorative but could certainly be used in emergencies. Will followed what’s now the accustomed bombastic set from Holy Moly & The Crackers who turn most events into a party and even with their concession to folk – Conrad and Ruth duetting while the Crackers get a breather – the energy levels rarely dip below a Class A rush.
It meant forsaking The Drystones and the rare chance these days to catch Greg Russell (with Danny Pedler), but a chance to catch some of the ‘hold your breath chamber folk from Hannah Moule and much more lively Theatre 1 at its fullest for The Longest Johns. Their stage set including their own bar, perfect for the mid-set breather/snifter and lots of songs about the sea.
Earlier in the day, Daoiri Farrell and Danii Larkin had flown the Irish flag high and proud again while Touchstone offered yet another branch of the folk tree with the eminently folky banjo of Dan Walsh coming together in a cross-cultural collaboration of English and Kashmiri folk music joining forces with Alistair Anderson, Lala Qadeer and Khalil Anjum in a fascinating set.
The final days typified the sheer breadth and opportunities offered to the artists, performers and audience by the programming team at Manchester Folk Festival. Folk music is becoming a broad church, even the progressive niche has a finger or two in the folk pie and you’d be hard pushed to find a more extensive spectrum than the annual offering in Manchester.
Categories: Live Reviews