FolkWorld article by Michael Moll:

suffolk & beyond part 1: English curiosities

Folk & Jazz garden chair display, Proms and folk in a church

After my rambling year in Scandinavia (and the end of the Scanfolk series), I have left Stockholm to settle for some time in wonderful England. The choice of finding a county to move to was not too difficult: Is there any better county name for a folk music enthusiast than "Suffolk"? There is of course the alternative of "Norfolk", but that sounds too much like "No Folk"... Suffolk is located in East Anglia, on the Coast, North-East of London.
Anyway, in this new series I will give some impressions on Folk music and beyond, on events in the County of Suffolk and beyond its borders.

My first encounter with music events in Suffolk was a one-evening Jazz festival, and this event has left an unforgettable impression (I actually made a note of it in last issue's editorial). Set in the medieval remains of Framlingham castle, this open air concert announced on its flyers: "Bring along chairs and picnics". We did not take note of this little sentence, and so we felt like the worst equipped in the whole audience. It was absolutely amazing: There were about 1000 people in the audience, all having brought along their garden chairs and a huge picnic basket, along with various other useful equipment, such as garden lights, blankets etc. A big sign on the entrance said "No tables allowed" - surely to the disappointment of most in the audience (not that they would have had any hand available to carry a garden table). Those few people who did not bring along chairs (and were because of that allowed to sit directly in front of the stage), had at least blankets, pillows and a full picnic hamper including the odd bottle of champagne! An impressive display of picnic food and garden equipment, better than you can find in any garden or picnic superstore...
It seemed that we were the only ones who were not that well equipped, but in fact this was not really necessary to enjoy the high quality Jazz music programme - the whole Dankworth clan was playing, featuring the legendary Jazz couple Cleo Laine & John Dankworth with band, along with their son Alec and daughter Jacqueline, both there with their own bands. Lovely stuff; not folk though...

Blazin Fiddles, photo by The MollisTwo weeks later, again at Framlingham Castle, there was an equivalent Folk one-evening Festival - now we were better prepared, going out there with blanket, pillows and picnic. This time we were better equipped than some other people in the audience (folkies aren't as organised as Jazz fans, it seems) - yet there were plenty of people with chairs and full "living room" furniture...
The music selection at Folk at Fram was for my taste not as perfect as the Jazz one was. Martin Simpson, amazing fingerpicking guitarist and decent English singer, opened the night - definitely a highly talented bloke, and his English folk stuff was really lovely, yet for my taste he filtered in too many influences and pieces from his new home in the States. He was followed by the wonderful band Blazin Fiddles from Scotland, featuring several of the best Scottish fiddlers (Catriona MacDonald, Allan Henderson, Aidan O'Rourke, Bruce McGregor, Iain MacFarlane) joined by "their granddad" (Blazin Fiddles' words) Andy Thorburn. This was high quality entertainment and great lively music. Just that to the amusement of the audience and the band, Allan Henderson could not recall where they were - after being told, he started to shout from time to time during the concert "Fram-ling-ham". And he promised to do that also during their trip home in the mini bus, back to Scotland - poor fellow Blazin Fiddles...
The festival finished off with Welsh band Blue Horses - which was a good reason for me to leave early, as they were absolutely not my cup of tea, with their psychedelic, new age appearance, and their way of playing folk rock. Well I better not say any more....

One final remark goes to the festival toilet facilities - I have never before in my life seen a folk festival that provides luxury toilet facilities - these temporary toilets were situated in the car park outside the castle. You were invited into the "good room" with a red carpet that guided you to the facilities, and while there you could look at the pictures hanging on the walls... impressive indeed! Other festivals should take note of this!

Moorland around Snape, photo by The Mollis, The next folk event I saw was again very English, and in its own way impressive: the Snape Proms. The Snape Maltings, set next to scenic marsh land and the river Alde, have been transformed into shops and a beautiful concert hall. One of its main events during the year are the Snape Proms, inspired by the London Proms - offering during August, concerts of high profile Classical, Jazz and Folk concerts. The speical thing about a prom is that you can get - besides the normal price range - floor spaces directly in front of the stage for the very reasonable price of £5 - that is what "proming" is all about.
I went there to see Kathryn Tickell with her Ensemble Mystical.When I saw that this concert was sold out (maybe 600 people in the audience), I rememberd the last time I saw Kathryn Tickell with her Trio in Germany, in front of 15 people in the audience. Probably the high interest is mainly the Snape Prom effect.
I was surprised about the Prom floor seats - usually you would expect them being packed by young people, students, people who can't afford the expensive tickets. But no, there was not one youth in the floor section, all were older "Prom professionals" - easily recognisable by the additional cusions they brought with them to accompany the Prom floor seats(somewhat akin to mini deck-chairs)...I tell you, the English ARE professional concert goers.
Anyway, it was a rather superb concert, the Ensemble Mystical is the perfect surrounding for Kathryn Tickells Northumbrian Small Pipes, and it is great fun to watch, especially the Scottish Carnyx, rebuilt and normally exhibited in a museum in Scotland. A wonderful combination of pipes and fiddles, cello, harp, melodeon, brass instruments.

To finish this first part of the Suffolk series, I go beyond Suffolk's borders - as at least in winter "Suffolk" does not really stand for "sufficient folk". But thank god the neighbouring town of Colchester in Essex provides a great folk club with concerts every Monday. It is held in the Colchester Arts Centre, which is based in an old church in the centre of the town. It has a wonderful atmosphere, just the perfect place for a concert. The audience at Colchester Folk Club is quite mixed; it is by far not a cliché English folk club audience. As usual in English folk clubs, there is always a local support act to the main band, to support the local folk scene. This can be at times rather annoying, as the support is allowed to play for about 30 minutes - shame if the music is not high quality stuff. And especially a shame when it is a Monday and you don't want to be too late home, as the next day is a working day...

Flook!, photo by The MollisAnyway, I went to see this autumn in Colchester two superb concerts. Flook! made quite an impression on the audience; their blend of Irish and English music on twin flutes is just perfect! Their line-up features Sarah Allen on flutes, whistles and accordeon, Brian Finnegan on flutes and whistles, Ed Boyd, the tremendous guitarist and finally John Jo Kelly; great bodhran player. I loved the gig, and so did the band - as such a beautiful venue you won't find often in Britain.

The other concert I saw in Colchester was of the Wrigley Sisters, Jennifer and Hazel, with their sparkling and lively fiddle + guitar music from the Orkneys. Their wonderful sense of humour, their great stories and last but not least their lovely Orcadian dialect always make their concerts a highly entertaining affair. You will find out during a concert how exciting the "shopping boulevard" of Kirkwall is, what the newest juicy gossip from the Orkneys is and how the little fairies regularly kidnap fiddlers for a party.
At the same time, Jenny and Hazel are extremely talented musicians, and as per usual with twins making music together, their musical intuition is perfect. Hazel was pleased to find a finely tuned piano on stage, so that she could play both piano and guitar. Lovely music, great evening out...

I must admit, I have missed plenty of great sounding concerts in Colchester, yet I still have enough time to discover more folk music from Suffolk and beyond... watch this space!

Some useful links to folk in Suffolk and beyond:

Photo Credit: All photos by The Mollis.
(1) Blazin Fiddles; (2) Moorland near Snape; (3) Flook! in Colchester

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