April 23, 2016
Master Shipwright’s Palace, Deptford, London
One of the downsides of a multi-stage festival is missing a band you like, or might come to love, due to clashes. Luckily, the good people at The Nest Collective planned to avoid this. Each folk singer or band at The UnampliFire Festival played at least twice on one of the five stages; three inside the deliciously dilapidated seventeenth century house, one around a camp fire and one in The Crane House, a shed overlooking the Thames.
The set times were posted on chalkboards but the general idea was to wander round, catching a range of bands over eight hours. Here’s where I wandered.
Effra kicked off the day in understated style with a set of sweet instrumental folk around the camp fire.
Changeover time is short when there are no sound checks, so unfortunately didn’t catch this one-man band’s name as I sprinted between the camp fire and Crane House stages.
Next up was Mann Castell. Variously singing a cappella, in Spanish and accompanied by side drum and a meat cleaver, this trad folk duo was inventive and compelling.
A quick trip back to The Crane House to catch quiet songs by Josh Green, the percussionist in Sam Lee and Friends.
With five stages in a small grounds, you didn’t have to look too hard to spot bands everywhere.
Back to the camp fire for Bella Hardy – Radio 2’s Folk Singer of The Year (2014) – with a set of sweet originals and sweet smiles.
Those of us who had foolishly ignored the advice to bring warm clothes were grateful as Count Drachma brought “sunny South African music” to the shores of the Thames, sung mostly in Zulu. They also had surely the most folky thing of the festival; a broken harmonica holder fixed with a sprig of rosemary!
Emily Barker captivated the camp fire crowd; her tender songs sounded sublime unamplified. Alongside fan favourites like Little Deaths and Nostalgia was the new Sister Rosetta pairing, a heartfelt original and a cover honouring a rock ‘n’ roll pioneer.
Just time to catch the final notes of Nessi Gomes‘ set, accompanied by the gentle rolling of the river.
Jamie Doe, who performs as The Magic Lantern, played with warmth and humour. As the hut filled up, he told how finding out he wasn’t the first to choose a particular song title has proved a bit of an issue as he plays the folk scene: “This is a song that I’ve written, it’s called Harvest Moon.”
Back over to the camp fire for Ösp; belting out soaring Icelandic-influenced music in the smoke.
A quick trip inside in a vain attempt to restore feeling in the toes – two rooms were too packed to enter but still a chance to catch a little of Mann Castell’s second set in the third.
It was soon time to brave the cold again for Tom Paley’s set by the river; an intimate, funny and fragile performance of old-time traditionals interspersed with Swedish fiddle music and stories about family, travel and working with Woody Guthrie. An incredible soundtrack as darkness fell over the city.
As the shimmering skyline lit the inky night, it was a pleasure to watch Bella Hardy’s second set from the outside looking in.
Time to join the camp fire crowd again, and – six hours in – definitely time to appreciate the roaring fire up close!
Cornish trio Teyr owned the night with pipes, accordion, guitar, easygoing banter and an envy-inducing thick woolly hat.
All settled down (too) close to the flames, it was time for the camp fire sing-along. I’m not too familiar with the folk scene and was without my usual concert partner-in-crime, Folk Radio UK’s Helen G, to interpret. So, here is Emily Barker ably demonstrating my expression as it started!
There was lots of talent as Sam Lee, The Magic Lantern and Emily Barker each led the crowd in a song. Whilst it was entertaining even when not knowing what was happening, there was nonetheless a little sweet relief to find out that the “Emily Barker song” Bright Phoebus was actually a folk classic – at least I knew one of the songs!
Now it was time for Stick In The Wheel, who came highly recommended by Daylight Music’s Ben Eshmade. He was right. This was a thoroughly entertaining and thoroughly British set (try comparing their song about the London riots with Sublime’s April 29, 1992 about the L.A. riots), complete with a toy accordion and a “council flute.” One of the highlights of the day.
It was now time to head inside to catch Tom Paley’s second set. The room was, quite rightly, packed for this folk masterclass.
The Brothers Gillespie played songs from their Northumberland roots, from the fields and the sea. Their close interplay made them a delight to watch.
Emily Barker second set was earnest and subtle for the late night crowd, focusin on soaring, sweet vocals and showcasing several new songs, including Over My Shoulder. Applewood Road song Home Fires was particularly well-suited to the hushed atmosphere. Fittingly, avid festival goers may just get a chance to hear more of Emily and Applewood Road this summer.
As the last notes rang out past midnight, there was just time enough to take in the lights of the city and listen to the tidal Thames before heading through the deserted Deptford streets for the last train.
See you next year?
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