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Review: Irregular Folk’s Summer Session 2014

Lisa Ward


Irregular Folk’s Summer session offers an eclectic mix of music, all loosely bundled together around an alt-folk theme. Opener Steph West brings with her beautiful renditions of English and Irish trad numbers combined with self penned wonders. Joined by Emily Spires on flute the melodies of her harp are subtle yet accomplished, at times moving away from a normal harp sound to a more staccato guitar vibe. The White Dove and her rearrangement of The Lighthouse Keepers Daughter are particularly sublime and kick the day off with a sympathetic sound. Described as ‘exploring the awkward and the intimate, wrapped up in the pulse and flow of traditional music’, Steph delivers all this and more with a style which is intricate and enticing.

Jess Hall is joined by Barney Morse-Brown on cello, to add an extra dimension to her perfectly annunciated vocals. No stranger to the Oxford scene Jess has already ensured a space in many hearts and today serves to reconfirm her status as an endearing contemporary folk artist. Opener Maps and follow up Sea Song offer nostalgic visions of Jess’ affection for the coastal waters whilst Dearest Heart and Bookshelves delve into the world of loss and longing with such beauty and sorrow that even the Tin Man couldn’t fail to be moved.

A stripped back Steady Hands line up kick off their set with an a capella Swedish song before moving into more traditional sounding numbers including Little Pot Stove. Elsewhere their songs are fused with the sounds of violin, oboe and keys, building their sound into a more authentic folk style driven by a modern twist. For me it’s Brother which is the highlight of the set, the violin addition to the middle of the song which adds the extra dimension and gives the song a sense of power.

You Are Wolf (aka Kerry Andrew) manages to fuse tradition songs with spoken word and an avant-garde twist. It’s a set filled with playful and inventive turns which sees the crowd become band as they add bird song calls from their smartphones to the final number. Meanwhile the cover of Dolly Parton’s Little Sparrow sees the band completely reimagine the song. Nevertheless it’s Kerry’s twist on the story of Molly Bawn in Swansong which marks her apart as a being able to turn traditional folklore into modern day numbers with both poise and musical intricacy.

Meanwhile Duotone (aka multi-instrumentalist Barney Morse-Brown) loops together a plethora of instruments which swell and grown around his haunting lyrics. Despite his soft vocals, he plays his cello with such passion and force it fills the tent with its beautiful melodies, whilst at other times his sympathetic guitar accompaniments allow the softer vocals to hock you in with their sincerity. New song Little White Caravan proves that though whilst it might be something of a wait, his new album is sure to be filled with delightful twists and turns.

Rachel Gladwin and the Red Socks deliver a set of jazzy-folk with subtle global influences. Opener Like The Rain is somewhat hypnotic, with it’s repetitive vocals and heavy harp melodies. The Cynical Man channels the wry lyrics that Thea Gilmore is fond of, mixed with a heavy cello and a pounding beat that gives the song a more eastern flare, whilst Away Away pulls things back to a more traditional styling. Whilst at times it feels somewhat understated set, it’s subtle delicate nature makes it easy on the ears.

Offering a reprise multi-layered instrumentations Ben Champion delivers comedic set which ranges from songs about owning a large quantity of bags for life, blues songs, quips about the downfalls of computers, songs about dick heads and oversized mobile phones. Nevertheless it’s fuelled by solid vocals and his quirky guitar stylings and intricate piano melodies which move it away from only having comedic value to set which is both entertaining and musically accomplished.

London based quartet The May Birds offer something more similar to Florence and the Machine. Musically they swerve and soar through their atmospheric set, which merges folky sounds with pounding rhythms. They move from more pop sounds, laden with catchy hooks, to the more stripped back  Wide World which offer subtle intricate arrangements, fitting with it’s message of noticing the small things, whilst Beggar delivers a more soulful yet invasive sound with a real sense of urgency.

Salvation Bill on the other hand push things towards more of an indie-folk vibe, particularly with opener Love With L Plates though this indie sound is counterbalanced by a politically charged acoustic number which rips pieces out of Tony Blair. Dead Dog on the other hand offers more uptempo melodies, creates a foot-stomping rhythm, an interlude of howling and offers a saxophone player in a wolf mask to the crowd’s delight. Nevertheless it’s the disturbing The Stew with it’s staccato guitar melodies, stripped back sound, and unabashed look at murder which for me is the highlight of the set.

The Irrepressibles bring the night to a mellow ending. With their loop pedal used to full effect for an instrumental start built on intricate cello and violin harmonies. This however moves swiftly to a yearning piano melody which builds and swells with the emotion of the song. By the time they reach the climax of Two Men In Love both the music and vocals collide transforming the tent into a room of charged emotion. Offering a dramatic sound, they manage to transform the noisy crowd into a complete hush, closing the evening with unnerving yet enchanting songs.

With the day being set in the beautiful surrounding of the Perch and being compered by poet George Chopping, who delivers us songs about Swans, psychiatrists appointment with vegetables, life aboard narrow boats, and fictional love affairs, Irregular Folk’s Summer a Session allows a selection of emerging sounds and voices. With no set headliner and each band being given an equal weighting on the bill, it feels like a perfect celebration of summer time, and folk music in its many differing guises.