FolkWorld Live Review 9/03 by Michael Moll

Folk at Fram 2003
With Kirsty McGee, Maire Ni Chathasaigh & Chris Newman, Eliza Carthy Band

Another year at Folk at Fram, the one-evening folk festival in the unique surroundings in the courtyard of a medieval castle ruin in Suffolk. This year it took place at England's hottest recorded weekend, in August. When the concert and the individual picknicks started, the temperature was already dropping to a comfortable level, making it a rather perfect night for it.

This year the concert was very close to sold out, with probably several thousand people in the audience. The for Framlingham concerts typical array of equipment - all sorts of garden chairs (a sign reminds that tables are not permitted to be brought along!), and the fullest picknick equipment you can imagine. The first maybe 15 rows are reserved for those without chairs, to sit on the ground.

Maire Ni Chathasaigh, photo by The MollisMost picknicks were unpacked when Kirsty McGee started. This young woman has won a BBC Folk Award, building her up a good reputation as a singer. Kirsty's main strength is her poetic songwriting. The interpretations of her songs might be decent but in no way spectacular, drifting at times too much towards easy listening. Having said that, Kirsty's music was really pleasant for a beautiful warm summers evening like this, an enjoyable start for the concert evening.

Next on the bill were Maire Ní Chathsaigh & Chris Newman, the famous and indeed magnificent Irish-English harp-guitar duo. There were some problems with the sound, so the start of their set got delayed and the two musicians were obviously rather stressed when they finally started. Their music was as superb as always - Chris is without doubt one of the most versatile and talented guitar players on the Celtic music scene, while Maire is one of those harp players who likes to try using the harp for music not typically associated with this instrument. The base of their music is Irish, yet they are more than happy to venture into other styles and traditions. Their set was in my opinion much too short - with this stunning performance, time just flew by. Even though this part of the evening was the best, I have to say that an arts centre concert of Maire and Chris seems more appropriate than such a festival performance.

Eliza Carthy, photo by The MollisThe final act of the evening was the one a large part of the audience had been waiting for - the Eliza Carthy Band. This evening, Eliza's hair colour was black, making her look the most conservative I have seen her so far. Her set started with traditional music - a capella songs as well as songs accompanied by the two John's (Spiers and Boden, on accordion and fiddle). Only after quite a while, the whole Eliza Carthy Band came onto stage, with the sound changing significantly, from traditional to cool folk rock. The full band sound was impressive indeed, and only when the band as a whole played, the audience was taken by the music. The Eliza Carthy Band is an impressive outfit, creating music based on English traditions, but arranged on an innovative and cool way. All musicians are highly talented, and have the skills to create a unique and exciting style.Only two criticisms that I might have from the Eliza Carthy Band's set: Firstly, even though I like the concept of a concert featuring both the "real" tradition and modern innovations around old music, I thought that for this occasion, as headliner of an open air festival, Eliza's traditional set was too long, leaving not enough time for the modern part. Secondly, the band is for my taste a bit too much focussed on Eliza, leaving not enough room for the other brilliant musicians to shine. Still, that said, this a brilliant outfit, and as a band a superb ambassador for English traditional folk music.

I missed this year that there was no Scottish element of Folk at Fram - the previous two years, Blazin Fiddles and the Old Blind Dogs were carrying the Scottish flag. It was nevertheless a highly enjoyable evening, with a tasteful combination of British (and Irish) music. Looking forward to next year's Folk at Fram, hopefully then again with some Scottish music!

Photo Credit: All photos by The Mollis
(1) Folk at Fram; (2) Maire Ní Chathasaigh at Fram 2003 (3) Eliza Carthy at Fram 2003

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© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 9/2003

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