May 27, 2017
Master Shipwrights Palace, Deptford, London
“We don’t feel the need for amplification”
That’s a short but accurate description of UnampliFire Festival. The musicians express themselves simply through voice and unplugged instruments. A listening crowd gets to roam around a 17th century house with two rooms of music and into the garden for more music around a campfire and in a little shed overlooking the river. Each act plays two or three times. Here’s a photo journey through UnampliFire festival in 2017.
Kefaya delivered a cosmopolitan set with delicate Spanish style guitar and Arabic influences. Festival goers queued for the chance to watch them.
James Riley’s guitar-based set was warm and engaging, easily competing with the nearby church bells that permeated through to the tiny Cranehouse stage.
“Oh my God, all our songs are so pretentious!”
August and After’s name was inspired by a great Counting Crows album and they performed Holocene by another of their favourite artists, Bon Iver. The band had an easy charm, joking about being featured on an Infinite Indie Folk Spotify playlist but secretly wanting to be classic rock. To be fair, the indie folk moniker was the more accurate, especially as they mixed traditional elements in with their original songs, and encouraged mindfulness when listening to one of their introspective songs: “close your eyes and imagine you’re in your favourite place.”
Marry Waterson’s voice was powerful with a traditional timbre as she sang a capella to a rapt crowd.
In between sets, there was time to explore and appreciate the shipwright’s house and grounds.
The Medlars’ traditional approach struck a chord with the listeners around the campfire.
A relaxed crowd enjoyed the early summer sunshine with the music swirling in the background.
The beautiful river setting was a great backdrop for good food, drink and company.
“This song is inspired by John Keats who I was gonna say is a fan of me but that’s not the right way round. He’s dead”
Nina Harries’ set was considerably more enthralling than a solo singer with a double bass might sound on paper. Her soaring voice combined with the deep instrument and judicious use of eerie silence was undercut by keeping the crowd giggling between songs with idiosyncratic topics and entertaining banter: “The next one is about soil erosion” and “I can’t really whistle outwardly” were two notable examples.
On a bill of fragile unaccompanied folk, the compere was particularly laudutory about Mercury nominated pianist, Kit Downes, with good reason.
Piers Faccini stepped up for the first of three performances with interesting instrumentation and early Italian inspiration.
James Riley gave his all for his campfire performance.
One of the highlights of the festival was Bill Berlinghoff’s songs and stories, bringing traditional call and response Tennessean mountain music to the banks of the Thames.
Piers Faccini’s second performance had the room enthralled.
Gamelan Lila Cita brought the sound and colour performing mesmerising Balinese music.
Nina Harries’ set at the Cranehouse definitely had more than three people watching! She stayed around at the end to talk music.
Nadine Khouri’s softly spoken dreamy music fit right in at this unamplified extravaganza.
It was time for one of the highlights of the festival every year: the campfire singalong. Marry Waterson started it off.
Owl Parliament’s choirmaster stepped up for the next set of singalongs.
August & After had the coveted sunset slot at the Cranehouse.
Speaking of which, one of the unadvertised stars of the show is the riverside setting of the festival. Such a beautiful place to watch the sunset.
As darkness fell, Kit Downes performed for the second time.
Kefaya had the first nighttime campfire set, impressing with a rich sound rounded out with a guest vocalist.
As people started heading home, The Owl Parliament choir were in danger of outnumbering their crowd, but they did not let this affect their joyful performance.
Gamelan Lila Cita also rapidly outnumbered the remaining crowd but those that were able to stay experienced a sonic treat in close quarters.
Piers Faccini’s third set was his most atmospheric with his voice soaring into the dark.
Bill Berlinghoff’s impromptu intimate set of stories and songs was the perfect way to end an incredible day of great acoustic music.
With sea shanties in the air and the crowds largely dispersed, it was a perfect time to appreciate the beauty of the city.
There was just time to warm up at the campfire one last time.
Remarkably, even after witnessing 23 performance, the music wasn’t finished yet. However, the last train didn’t know that! In the immortal words of Brian Fallon, the only thing know is it’s getting dark and we’d better go.
UnampliFire Festival 2018 will be held on Saturday June 9 featuring Sam Amidon, Sam Lee & Friends and several people that aren’t called Sam, including Thom Ashworth and many more.
All-day tickets are a reasonable £35 on the door but cheaper still if you buy online in advance. See thenestcollective.co.uk/shows/unamplifire-2018 for details.
For another trip down UnampliFire memory lane, check out my review of UnampliFire 2016 featuring Redrospective favourites Emily Barker and Stick In the Wheel.
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