Leigh Folk Festival 25th anniversary album
I was lucky enough to receive a gorgeous limited edition record this week, the 25th anniversary album to celebrate the Leigh Folk Festival that was crowdfunded in 2016 to be released this year, and what a treat it is.
Dog Days, Devil Fish & Darkest England is a luxury, sun-on-the-estuary-mud gold double LP, featuring some of the finest artists to have been on the previous bills of Leigh Folk Festivals past.
It opens with 'Bells (Our Lady of Lourdes)' - Sonic Detritus - a Proustian moment for any Leigh on Sea resident. It is like walking through the town to the sound of our local church bells. A genius opener to make you feel immersed in the local sound - and look out for the avian finale of birdsong which transports you to Two Tree Island or the mudflats. This is not your average record.
What follows is a varied mix of artists, from traditional folk through to jazz, psych-folk, electronica, drone, Americana and more - running the whole folk gamut and showing the diversity of the festival's output. It's not just a folk lover's album, this is a music lover's album.
A hurdy gurdy cover of the Velvet Underground! Because why not? Sounds wrong on paper, but in listening, it's brilliant. The rulebook is thrown out of the window here and I love it. Local band Dark Globes, who I'm a big fan of anyway, cover a song by 1960s folk legend Bert Jansch which in itself is a great modern take on a folk tradition, but the song is titled 'Fresh as a Sweet Sunday Morning which seems to embody the feeling of the Folk Festival too - coming down to the Old Town for the Sunday's festivities. It's a clever choice, and a fine, indie-tinged track too which for me is a standout. Jansch inspired Neil Young and Nick Drake giving you an idea of how brilliant and important he was - and Dark Globes' tribute to him is assured and compelling.
Jason Steel sings 'Abigail', a song inspired by The Crucible, lending the 'darkest England' element of the record's title with the haunting line "I've seen some reddish work done" while finger picking a banjo deftly and precisely. Gorgeous stuff, and I'm lucky enough to have seen this performed live too. More standout tracks come from Lost Harbours (again, showing the progessive sounds heard at this festival), The Owl Service and from-Totnes-but-honorary-Leigh-residents Diamond Family Archive bringing non-trad, arresting sounds to the album.
We weave through more folk, more recognisable names from the festival - Alasdair Roberts, Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, Laura Cannell, Emily Portman - I mean, the calibre of artists here is extremely fine. The Estuary Songwriting Project artists (Alasdair Roberts again, Lucy Farrell both of the Furrow Collective, Hazel Askew, MG Boulter, Kate Waterfield, Nick Pynn, Piers Haslam, Roshi Nasehi) also feature with their beautiful 'Tilbury Jack' from late local legend Jack Forbes.
The music is massively diverse, but they don't jar against each other. You can be lulled into a sweet reverie by some songs, then a track like Oliver Cherer's 'Holloway' makes you feel like you're actually IN the Library Gardens with a plastic pint glass full of gorgeous local ale in your hand. I told you this record was Proustian. It makes you truly transported.
The record comes towards its close; Laura Cannell's 'Deus Enim' sounds at once medieval and like klezmer with a frenzied but haunting fiddle, then onto MG Boulter, local Americana legend with the mournfully titled 'Julie Dies At The End'. It should be a sad close, but it's poignant instead and is supported by a field recording of curlews in Leigh-on-Sea which leaves you feeling as though you've been on a local journey. I couldn't recommend this album enough.
Dog Days, Devil Fish and Darkest England is available on limited edition vinyl, available to buy at www.music.leighfolkfestival.com and on digital download. The Leigh Folk Festival runs from 23-25 June and all information can be found on www.leighfolkfestival.com
To see Alasdair Roberts, Lucy Farrell, Hazel Askew, MG Boulter, Kate Waterfield, Nick Pynn, Piers Haslam and Roshi Nasehi perform the Estuary Songwriting Project, their original body of material on the Thames Estuary as part of the festival, tickets are available at www.music.leighfolkfestival.com