Review: L2F opening night @ Lichfield Guildhall

Lichfield’s third L2F festival of folk was started by two well known local groups – and also featured a headliner that had travelled much further.

Mitre's Well

Mitre’s Well

The grandeur of the Guildhall was turned into an intimate folk club as the three different acts played songs from the traditional folk area as well as much more populist fare.

Opening act Dragonhead – a married duo of Anne and John Harris – played many folk favourites, with Anne’s nimble fingered Melodeon adding a dash of zydeco and cajun to the mix. John’s spirited guitar playing and fine, clear voice were well matched to the surroundings.

Songs such as openers I’ll Tell Me Ma and Fog on the Tyne were well received by the audience. They may have been easy choices, but the inventive arrangements added nuance. Jake Thackray’s Castlefield Ladies and Steve Earl’s Galway Girl showed a more driving sound.

Paying respects to the sea shanty singing tradition, South Australia helped to raise the roof, while the cajun strains of Down on the Bayou were a suitable ending to a brief set.

The three piece Mitre’s Well followed, with musicians Stephen Edkins, Stephen Swoffer and Malcolm Robinson fusing whistles, bass, guitar, mandolin and some fine harmony singing.

With a wide-ranging set list, some energetic bass, humourous interplay, and some complicated whistle playing, they soon won the audience round with a set that included some of their own material and songs by Jez Lowe and Steve Knightly.

Headliners The Exmouth Shanty Men already had some fervent fans in with Lichfield Lighthouse Company making up a large number of the audience. Describing themselves as ‘The Original Bouy Band’, their amusing onstage banter and well-honed performance skills have seen them play festivals and concerts throughout the country. Their versions of songs from the sea shanty tradition were taken at a slower pace than may have been expected, but this allowed far more space for harmonies and narrative structure to be seen.

The 11-man crew took the audience through many of the better known shanties, ranging from set opener Rollicking Randy Dandy O, Sally Rackett, Roll Alabama Roll, and New York Girls, but they also left room for more unusual songs, such as a haunting rendition of No More Option Block or the sea ballads of Fire Down Below and Lower Lights.

The singers were all strong solo performers, but some of the choral singing in songs such as Santi Anna and Blow the Man Down was particularly impressive.

More spirited numbers finished the second set with the nursery rhyme like Blow the Man Down or Billy O’Shea being particularly well performed.

As has become traditional at L2F, Lichfield Lighthouse Company joined the Exmouth Shanty Men for their last song, the aptly chosen Rolling Home with its massed harmonies receiving a warm round of applause.