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Review: Lichfield Folk Festival 2013 opening night

For the opening night of their folk festival, Lichfield Arts pulled in a good sized crowd, and some talented performers to start the festival with a swing.

Opening the night was local singer-songwriter Jake Morgan, who played guitar, harmonica, and sang in a way that was a DNA mix of Dylan, Donovan, and any number of troubadours. His six song set was made up of entirely original songs, and would have benefited from having a few covers in the set-list.

The bright, Dylan-ish Stay With Me had a catchy chorus, whilst the bluesy drone of A Long Old Time was a blues song in bright new clothes. The outside edges of his vocal range were employed during Outside of Town, while the set was finished with Tell Her. He often performs locally, and is worth catching live.

The second band on were The Deacons. The three piece played a number of songs, ranging from the accapella Ramble in the New Mown Hay to Ralph McTell’s From Claire to Here which featured a fine violin solo from Martin Thompson. A downbeat reading of Follow Me Down, Cousin Jack and the rollicking bluegrass of Rolling in my Sweet Baby’s Arms were also amongst the highlights from this local trio, who often perform locally.

Finishing of the evening were Kimber’s Men, acknowledged as one of the best Sea Shanty singing groups in the country. The quintet of Joe Stead, John Bromley, Gareth Scott, Neil Kimber and Mike Hepworth performed largely accapella versions of songs, but occasionally added instrumental passages to the mix.

The first set was started with the upbeat Johnson Girls, the sea ballads Frobisher Bay and Mary Ellinn, while their own song What Price the Catch? looked at the high number of casualties at sea in the fishing trade.

The highly rhythmic Chicken on a Raft provided some light relief, before a gospel tinged Take this Hammer showed the links between many folk genres. The quintet were joined by Lichfield’s own sea shanty side, The Lichfield Lighthouse Company for a rousing Bully in the Alley which closed the first half.

The second set was started by John Bromley’s unaccompanied Old Man River, while No More Auction Block and Willie Johnson’s God Moves on the Water was a showcase of gospel intensity and chilling tonality. A beautifully moving Shenandoah was a musical highlight for many people in the audience, with  rousing reception throughout the evening testament to the group’s musicianship and well developed stage-craft.

The group took up instruments for the final two songs, including their own number Don’t take the Heroes and The Mingulay Boat Song, which was a singalong favourite for the audience.

An encore of Leave Her Johnny Leave Her was a very fitting way to end this very popular, and musically superior evening.

A volunteer wrote this. Say thanks with a coffee.

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