Review: A brassy finale to Cromer’s Folk on the Pier festival
11:37 12 May 2014
Archant Norfolk 2014
Folk with a brassy edge reigned supreme on the third and final day of this year’s Cromer Folk on the Pier festival.
Two of the very best, and longest-surviving bands on the folk scene, Brass Monkey and Home Service, headlined the afternoon and evening concerts respectively.
Despite both featuring brass sections – and musicians in common – they performed very contrasting sets.
Brass Monkey – led by singer-guitarist Martin Carthy and singer-squeezebox player John Kirkpatrick, stuck mostly to the British folk tradition of tunes and ballads.
Carthy sang the The Maid of Australia, only collected in Norfolk, and the only song performed by all three of the county’s great traditional singers – Sam Larner, Harry Cox and Walter Pardon.
Kirkpatrick also paid his dues to the county with The Jolly Bold Robber – collected in King’s Lynn more than a century ago.
John’s own song George’s Son – retelling part of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd – featured some superb brass accompaniment and the Shetland fiddle tune The Trowie Burn (The Troll’s River), collected from John Stickle, was simply sublime.
Home Service, reformed just three years ago after a lengthy break, played several of the best-known, left-wing songs of John Tams including Walk My Way, Alright Jack and Sorrow.
The band last appeared at Cromer two years ago when Tams played guitar but was unable to sing because of throat problems. This time however he was in fine voice with plenty of entertaining anecdotes and humour.
Five songs and tunes collected last century by Percy Grainger made up the excellent Lincolnshire Posy medley and Home Service concluded their uplifting set with the English Civil War song Babylon Is Falling (To Rise No More) and a fine version of the Copper Family’s romantic Rose of Allandale.
Brass Monkey and Home Service dedicated their performances to the late Howard Evans, who played trumpet with both bands, and actor Geoffrey Hughes (Eddie Yates from Coronation Street) who had been a compere at Folk on the Pier in the past was also fondly remembered.
The festival also saw the Cromer debut of three-part male harmony trio The Young ‘Uns from Teeside.
Their opening song Jack Ironside by Graeme Miles set a high standard which was maintained throughout.
A medley of sea shanties, some mature and moving original songs, a comedy song written for a Great War centenary project (in Norfolk’s Peter Bellamy style) and the Sydney Carter classic John Ball were all highlights.
The festival also saw the local debut of Canadian singer-songwriter Eileen McGann, with multi-instrumentalist David K, on a selection of sensitive and thought-provoking mostly contemporary material.
My favourite however was Eileen’s delicate rendition of the Irish ballad Blackwaterside.
The final day of the festival also saw the very traditional Norfolk annual Richard Davies Memorial Session – remembering the former Cromer lifeboat coxswain.
The Rig-a-Jig Jig Band played plenty of folk tunes from around the county, Fiona Davies followed her dad’s example, inspiring others to perform some Norfolk stepdancing, and there was a good variety of songs and tunes from visiting performers including the always impressive five-strong Old Wild Rovers from Blakeney.
Richard Penguin also brought more acoustic and world music to the festival with a third showcase performance at the Hotel de Paris by Woodland Creatures, John and Leigh Ward with Mario Price, and Fire Doves.
Tickets are now on sale for next year’s festival which will feature Vin Garbutt, Pete Morton, Maartin Allcock, Gerry Colvin, Flairck from the Netherlands and Reg Meuross with more to be booked.