Thursday, 14 May 2015

THE FULL ENGLISH

Live Review

Town Hall, Birmingham

There was a hint of sadness about the show from The Full English in the Second City.

Fay Hield who was the catalyst for The Full English forming
Partly because it will be the last time the group, a collection of some of the best musicians the folk realm has to offer brought together by Fay Hield, will play the ornate venue and partly because they they knew the tour was quickly coming to an end.
This said it didn't stop the collective of Hield, Martin Simpson, Rob Harbron, Seth Lakeman, Nancy Kerr, Ben Nicholls and Sam Sweeney from putting on a terrific show of flawless music.
The Full English is a band put together by Hield with the sole purpose of promoting The Full English database, an online resource of folk music and British musical heritage created by the English Folk Dance & Song Society(EFDSS).
What the band did in Birmingham, as they have been doing all over the country, was put on a concert to show just how the information can be turned into exquisite music for everyone to enjoy.
The band, enclosed by television screens which were displaying images of the raw material of the database and many of the the music collectors who provided it.
They kicked off with Awake Awake with Hield's voice coming sharp and clear across the hall leading the rest of the voices with wonderful harmonies from Kerr.
Simpson took over the mic with an explanation of collector Percy Grainger whom he affectionately described as mad as a sack of badgers. He was responsible for setting up a forerunner of the X Factor which Joseph Taylor won with his song Creeping Jane.
Back from left Sam Sweeney, Rob Harbron, Seth Lakeman,
Martin Simpson Ben Nicholls, front, right, Nancy Kerr and
Fay Hield 
Simpson gave it the light, jaunty treatment accompanied beautifully by Lakeman, Kerr and Sweeney on the fiddles.
Lakeman took over with William & Nancy a lovely flowing piece with Harbron making his presence felt accompanying on the concertina. Lakeman stayed centre stage with one of his own compositions, the haunting Portrait of a Wife based on a broadside by Frank Kidson.
The booming voice of Nicholls took over with a dark tale of The King of the Cannibal Island. Nicholls' singing voice comes from his boots and it added perfectly to the macabre and what would have been shocking images of the day, portrayed on the TVs. Sweeney added a sinister tinny sound on the guitar underneath the scarier singing of Nicholls.
Martin Simpson
Hield followed this with a complete contrast in The Willow Glen with a beautiful ballad. Her clear voice being accented by Simpson's delicate guitar picking and Harbron's accordion.
Simpson's Brigg Fair, which started with an eerie early wax recording of the song collected by Grainger, was given an almost Spanish accent by his superb guitar playing and between them they turned it into almost a classical piece which strangely had hints the Star of the County Down intertwined into it. Simpson also added some haunting and spine tingling slide guitar.
Kerr then brought her own composition to the proceedings with Fol the Day-o which she weaved together from the strands of several other songs and tunes. Kerr's voice soared into the roof of the hall and was spread beautifully crisp and clean like a frost over a field by the acoustics of the building.
They finished the first half with Arthur O'Bradley which is almost their signature tune after they performed it last year when they won the Best Group category at the Radio2 Folk Awards.
Hield and Kerr's rapid fire singing pushed the song along relentlessly to the throbbing beat provided by the rest of the band.
Nancy Kerr
Simpson opened the second half with Peggy and the Soldier a jaunty tune which has had a colourful journey through the hands of  Martin Carthy to get to where he could play it.
Kerr took over with Seeds of Love which on the surface is about working and allotment but is one of those songs with a child lock on it, whereby there is another meaning. Kerr got a chance to show what a beautiful, clear and strong voice she has as she took lead vocals with other members of the group providing deep harmonies. The a Capella ballad was without doubt one of the highlights of the night.
Lakeman to centre stage again for another offering from the Kidson collection with a tune set to I Wandered by the Brook Side. He had put down his fiddle and picked up his bouzouki as Kerr and Sweeney provided the fiddles. The slow and atmospheric ballad allowed Lakeman to let his distinctive singing style fill right to the far corners of the hall.
The video came into play for Sweeney and Harbron as, like the pianists who accompanied old silent movies, they provided the soundtrack to some really early footage of Cecil Sharp, George Butterworth and Maude and Helen Karpeles Morris dancing.
Ben Nicholls
The pair produced a light, joyful set of tunes on the fiddle and squeezebox which had tradition in every note. There was something essentially British and quaint as you saw the jerky figures flickering on the screen mostly in time to the music.
Kerr came back on stage after dancing in the wings with Hield and introduced a Lucy Broadwood version of the Servant Man to which she wrote the tune. Kerr has a gorgeous voice which is crystal clear and was matched perfectly by Hield who has a slightly deeper cut to her jib and when they sing together they produce a heavenly sound.
There couldn't be a folk night without mentioning ships and women of easy virtue and Nicholls didn't disappoint with Round Cape Horn.
His resounding tones and pit deep voice told the story of Tars and adventures on the high seas with the rest of the group filling in the musical detail.
Sweeney again took centre stage to introduce the pirate song High Barbary this is a great story of skulduggery and conflict on the high seas and the group built it up from Sweeney's initial voice to a whole bouquet of intricate music that was a real treat for the gathered audience.
Seth Lakeman
Towards the end Hield gave a beautiful rendition of Linden Lea the soft tones over her voice floating over the audience carried the various tones of her fellow musicians to create a gorgeously soft and languid tune.
Lakeman banged the show out with Stand By Your Guns the throbbing beat shifting the air inside the hall as he sang about another tune about the clash of great war ships.
The Full English both the band and the archive have done a fantastic job, not just at producing some great tunes but for breathing life back into tunes and words which could so easily have been lost in the mists of time or sat getting dustier and more forgotten with every passing year. The archive has provided the bones and the group has provided the musical flesh and breath to give listeners and searchers something tangible to start with.
It is a shame it had to come to an end but as Hield herself said it was never intended to be a long term undertaking. If you missed a chance to see these musical experts then the is always the archive, album and numerous clips to console you or you can wait for the possible one-off reunion or even a reunion tour, you never know.
The Full English archive can be accessed at www.vwml.org/browse/browse-collections-full-english

Other links
Fay Hield interview: http://folkall.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/fay-hield.html
Martin Simpson interview: http://folkall.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/martin-simpson.html
Seth Lakeman interview:  http://folkall.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/seth-lakeman.html