Review: Cromer’s Folk on the Pier festival pays due to its Celtic neighbours

Folk on the Pier 2014. Freres Guichen.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY Folk on the Pier 2014. Freres Guichen. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Saturday, May 10, 2014
2:11 PM

It may be “the best gig on the North Sea” but Cromer’s Folk on the Pier festival has long had much broader horizons.

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Organiser Scott Butler who started the event 16 years ago quickly established it as a must for British folk-rock fans and those keen to check out new young performers.

As a great lover of Brittany and it distinctive music, Scott has also brought some impressive Breton musicians to Cromer over the years – many of them making their first visits to Britain.

This year’s festival Friday evening concert saw the welcome Norfolk debut of an outstanding duo – Freres Guichon.

Brothers Jean-Charles and Fred on guitar and accordion have a long pedigree of playing Breton music not only in traditional style but also experimenting with new arrangements in bands also featuring keyboards, bass, bombarde and percussion.

This year’s festival audience was treated to the brothers playing simply – but very effectively – in amplified acoustic style.

Their tunes and medleys included much dance music and with a little imagination, and eyes closed, it was easy for the audience to think they had been transported to one of Brittany’s famous summertime outdoor dance festivals.

The Breton brothers’ introductions may have lost a bit in translation but the infectious driving rhythms and intriguing time signatures of the music broke down all language and musical barriers – and enthused all.

Concert headliners Mabon continued the Celtic connection with a set again with the emphasis on lively dance music.

The Welsh-based quintet, led by accordionist, singer and composer Jamie Smith have built a strong reputation in recent years on the folk and world music circuits,

As well as taking Celtic music from around Britain and Ireland they look abroad for musical inspiration and sources – transforming them with folk-rock arrangements.

With much of their concert set taken from their current CD album Windblown, the group was in cracking form – featuring a strong element of “bear music”.

The Balkan gipsy tune Nicoli the Dancing Bear tempted the audience up to dance and The Small Bear March, from Asturias, Spain, was a powerful performance – leading to the band returning for a very welcome encore.

The highlight of the evening for me however was a return to Cromer by veteran Yorkshire singer-songwriter and guitarist Michael Chapman – a favourite of Norfolk festival audiences for more than 40 years.

Extended versions of his early classic In The Valley, and Shuffleboat River Farwell, inspired by living in Hull, both featuring his ever-inventive, fluid and mesmerising guitar style pleased many of us long-term fans.

Perhaps in deference to being in Cromer Chapman choose not to play one of his best-known songs – Postcards of Scarborough.

More recent songs such as Memphis in Winter and That Time of Night were great crowd-pleasers and the impressive instrumental La Madrugada, described as “that time between darkness and dawn”, composed by Chapman in three Spanish churches, proved a fitting introduction for the rest of the evening’s Celtic flavoured music.

Folk-rock “Guv’nor” Ashley Hutchings, who started Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and the Albion Band, appeared on stage as new patron of the festival, congratulated Scott Butler on his organisational skills and wished all an enjoyable weekend.

As well as the pier theatre concerts there is plenty of free music and song to enjoy around the town on the festival fringe.

The usual “second Friday” Cromer Folk Club session at the Cottage, Loudon Road, featured many locals, visitors, and festival guests Roger Davies and Gerry McNeice with traditional, contemporary and music hall material as well as monologues and flamenco guitar.

Folk on the Pier continues today and tomorrow.

For the fringe festival programme see www.folkonthepier.co.uk

BRIAN GAUDET

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