You may well have read our recent interview with David Agnew, director of the Manchester Folk Festival, where he talked about the exciting state of folk and acoustic music these days. What better proof could there be of this assessment, than to see HOME buzzing on the first day of that international festival while across town, The Lowry’s biggest theatre has long been sold out for the return of the mighty Richard Thompson, with support from an act first seen at none other than Folk Expo/Homegrown in Bury, the very event which gave rise to the Manchester Folk Festival?
It is now 50 years since Richard Thompson’s first band, Fairport Convention, appeared. Five decades which have seen the man emerge as quite probably the UK’s finest songwriter and musician. I even once saw Thompson quite literally play his guitar one-handed while fixing something technical with his amp, and still deliver the sort of stunning solo that had other musicians (and we were at Cambridge Folk Festival, so there were quite a few around) reduced to shaking their heads in awe. Over the last few months, his not unreasonably titled, bare bones albums Acoustic Classics Volumes One and Two, plus their companion volume Acoustic Rarities, have served as a salutary reminder of just what an astonishing songwriter he is.
What tunesmith would not be proud of a catalogue that boasts such randomly-chosen gems as Meet on The Ledge, Galway To Graceland, Beeswing, I Misunderstood and 1952 Vincent Black Lightning? All were present and correct, along with a slew of other acoustically-rendered classics and a generously introduced version of Who Knows Where the Time Goes, penned by his late and fondly remembered Fairport bandmate Sandy Denny. What more need be said?
Denny, Fairport Convention and UK folk rock of the 60s loom large, it’s fair to assume, in the consciousness of the splendid guitar and vocal duo Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, who slipped a version of Reynardine into their quiet storm of a half hour set, along with Nick Drake’s Time Has Told Me. I truly have no intention of damning with faint praise if I say that their own material is nearly as impressive. Josienne’s voice is increasingly robust and her onstage persona is far more confident and even more engaging than before, honed no doubt by the rigours of touring. Even painfully shy, if technically brilliant, guitarist Walker allowed himself a bit of eye contact before they graciously accepted the audience’s accolades, signed a shedload of merchandise and zoomed off back to Manchester Folk Festival after a job well done.