Brighton’s sprawling Great Escape Festival and Convention kicked off today. Although many industry experts and fans write tip-sheets of favourite artists across the weekend, I haven’t seen a list specifically for folk – not even the broad church we call ‘folk-ish’ on the Midnight Campfire. So here’s my Top 10 Folk(-ish) Artists at The Great Escape 2016, plus some more, plus some picks from The Alternative Escape…
Singer-songwriters are a strong presence but the (often self-ghettoising) ‘real’ folk world is under-represented at TGE. If you’re a purist looking for traditional jigs and reels, sorry, it’s slim pickings. However in amongst the new rock, indie and electro stars there’s a healthy crop of folk-influenced artistry in town over the weekend. Sorry this is a bit late (I’ve missed Thursday afternoon) but here’s my tips…
(Oh, don’t forget I’m DJing Saturday 2pm at Dead Wax Social for TotallyRadio Pop Up…)
YORKSTON THORNE KHAN
Friday 9pm, St George’s Church
James Yorkston’s trio blends hypnotic, languorous fiddle-heavy Indian classicism with nods to British trad and light-touch humour (they cover Ivor Cutler beautifully), with gorgeous attention to detail. They deserve a lot more notice (especially as they’re on Domino) for their phenomenal debut album. A couple of their songs are more than 10 minutes long, yet I still found myself playing them in full on the radio.
COLM MAC CON IOMAIRE
Saturday 9:30pm, Unitarian Church
Probably the closest you’ll get to a real folk veteran at TGE is this brilliant Irish progressive violinist and composer. Since the 1980s he’s been a mainstay of two major Irish folk-rock outfits, Kira and The Frames, done a pile of composition for film and TV and in his solo work blends neo-classical and traditional melodies.
BEN CAPLAN & THE CASUAL SMOKERS
Friday 1:30pm, Green Door Store
Great hipster-blues voice, attached to classy, sometimes ferocious Americana (Canadiana – he’s from the good side of the dodgy politics line), with crowd-pleasing elements of old-time swing and klezmer.
Friday 2:30pm, Patterns
Friday 9pm, Jubilee Gardens
Deceptively simple modern formula folksongs from a Latvian rising star (here as part of a Latvian/Lithuanian program); fingerpicked guitar and plaintive voice. She’s award-winning at home but until now, basically unknown outside Riga. And she’s absolutely top drawer.
Thursday 9:45pm, St George’s Church
If you didn’t stick with Kiwanuka after his BBC Sound competition brush with the big time, now’s a perfect moment to rediscover. His second album Love & Hate is a bloody ace dive into anthemic, acoustic-tinted, conscious soul, getting away with enough nods to Bill Withers to feel very impressive indeed.
Friday 8pm, Komedia
West London singer-songwriter who has hooked up with the Communion crowd, bringing hip production to her transcendent folk/world grooves and a glorious soulful (sometimes quite pastoral) voice, my Campfire listeners loved her September Songs EP.
Friday 12:15pm, Paganini Ballroom
Saturday 6:30pm, Patterns Upsatairs
Slightly goth-tinged indie folk from the New Zealand songwriter, who can weave a noir-ish story about grief with the very best of them. Hints of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Newsom without the baroque flourish. These aren’t great slots but we’ve seen her quite a bit in Brighton and she’s definitely found friends. Her epic song ‘Small Bones Of Courage’ is a wonder.
Friday 2:30pm, New Road Stage
Friday 6pm, Marwood (Alternative Escape)
I’ve been playing Brighton singer Ellie Ford’s debut album The Other Sun on repeat and on the show; she writes complex, ambitious modernist folk-pop songs (lots of harp), has a classic English voice and the arrangement and production on the record is just magic.
Friday 2:30pm, Spiegeltent
Saturday 8:30pm, Patterns Upstairs
Brilliant Northern Irish songwriter sitting at the mature, bluesier end of the street corner where Americana and punk-folk meet, if that makes any sense (I crossed paths with Ciaran years ago on a Frank Turner tour and he was lovely). I guess he’s a veteran now but that makes me feel old.
Saturday 12:15pm, Komedia Studio
Saturday 7:30pm, Paganini Ballroom
Saturday 9pm, Spiegelpub
Long-time comrade of Kate ‘This Is The Kit’ Stables, Rozi’s own stuff has been more in the foreground since last year’s Friend album (and this year’s remix / collaboration LP Friend Of A Friend). Rozi’s just as chilled as TITK, brings acute observations and lovely melodies. One of those songwriters who sneaks her moments of edginess through almost unnoticed.
Other folk-ish artists worth seeking out:
Fantastic, soaring new UK voice, huge potential.
Soaring atmospheric blissed out folksongs from Icelandic songwriter.
Ace foot stompin’ hipster-folk duo from Melbourne.
Intelligent Kiwi indie-folk with hints of Waxahatchee or even Yo La Tengo slowcore.
Super smart, artsy, self-referential literate, often joyful songs from the Welsh multi-instrumentalist.
And if that’s not enough, seek out: Rhys Lewis, Dan Owen, Cloves, Tiny Ruins, Danielle Lewis, Songhoy Blues, Holly Macve, Jacob Collier, Johnny Lloyd, Larkin Poe, Oktoba, Alice Pheobe Lou.
ALTERNATIVE ESCAPE PICKS
Samantha Whates Thursday 7:45pm Marlborough
Moulettes Friday 2:45pm Marlborough
Fragile Creatures Friday 5:15pm Bar Rogue
The Fiction Aisle straight after them Bar Rogue
Mara Simpson Friday 5:15pm Marwood
Bella Spinks Friday 7:45pm Marwood
Elin Ivarsson Friday 10pm Mesmerist
What this list misses: we ate lunch today to the excellent crowd-pleasing vaudeville folk jug band sounds of Screamin’ Miss Jackson And The Slap Yer Mama Big Band. They were squeezed onto one of the worryingly exposed Pop Up Stages on New Road – but gathered a big crowd and got people dancing.
We’ve already seen a hidden highlight – Luke Sital Singh at the Raygun Party and we were gutted to miss Jacko Hooper in the Alternative Escape.
And that’s your lot.