The London Folkfest 2015
Friday 3rd – Saturday 4th July 2015
The Bedford, Balham, London, United Kingdom
I was invited to the Friday evening show of Folkfest London to see some under the radar talent in the intimate setting of The Bedford Pub in Balham in South West London. The festival started on the Thursday and ended on Sunday 5th July and had over thirty acts playing across three rooms; The Theatre, The Ballroom and Tavistock Room across three floors.
For people who are either unfamiliar with The Bedford in London I can help shed some light on the subject.
The legendary Bedford in Balham has earned a reputation for being one of the most important and critically acclaimed venues in the country. The venue has a passion for performance and it is dedicated to discovering, developing and promoting the very “best of the best” in emerging acts, breaking artists and established performers. Folkfest London 2015 was proof of this philosophy.
Once I’d collected my wristband I decided to make my first stop in The Theatre. The room is a round shape with a seated ground floor with tables and a circle balcony which means that there isn’t a bad view in the entire room. Each room had a host who oversaw the evening’s events.
Our host Ben made some jokes about ‘sounding like a Tesco advert’ when he told us about the Bedford’s culinary delights and then explained that due to a printing error the next artist was actually called Harry Harris and not Jack Harris as previously advertised. Harry walked onstage with an acoustic guitar covered in stickers and explained that he’d recently released a ten track album called ‘Songs About Other People’ on Wild Sound Recordings. He kicked off his set with ‘If It Ain’t Easy’ and then halfway through the song he sang without a microphone and you could here his voice around the entire room. This in itself is a skill and artists such as the legendary Tony Bennett and the lead singer of the San Franciscan band Train are able to do this flawlessly in a live setting.
‘Make It Out Alive’ was an interesting one as when it started I thought it was about a rocky relationship and how they both wanted to get out of it alive (emotionally not physically). How wrong I was, as Harry began stamping his feet and singing ‘foaming at the mouth’ and a quite tender song turned into a type of nuclear disaster/The Walking Dead style tune. It messed with my head I’ll be honest and I felt it was a bit full-on. He was very talkative to the audience and wanted to explain the meanings behind the songs in detail. ‘The Ballad of Ronnie Radford’ who was a footballer for Hereford United and he scored a memorable goal during a famous 2-1 match against Newcastle United during the 1971–72 FA Cup.
What Harry explained was back then footballers weren’t paid as much as they are now and Ronnie’s other job was a roofer and his song was about people who waited for the roofer whilst he was playing football. ‘He could see the stars’ was a very clever and witty lyric and showed off this guy’s songwriting chops. ‘No Ball Games’ is a song about two young boys who are playing football on the street and the neighbour who tells them to stop. It is a pleasant song that tries to have you side with the boys and not the kill joy neighbour. He closed with ‘It’s Me’ and although the story behind the song was heartfelt it sounded a lot like its predecessors. He was perfect for Folkfest though and I enjoyed his quirky set. For more information visit: http://www.harryharrismusic.com/
I then made my way up to The Tavistock room on the third floor to see Australian singer-songwriter Joel Havea. He appeared with a cheeky smile and his acoustic guitar. From his first song ‘Fading Away’ I noticed similarities with both guitar virtuoso Newton Faulkner and American soul singer-songwriter Anthony David. His backstory is fascinating as he was born in Tonga, then moved to Melbourne, Australia and then he moved and has been residing in Hamburg, Germany for the past six years. Talk about international!
‘Found My Home’ had a reggae vibe to it as he told us how it was inspired by Tilmann Otto (aka Gentleman) who is a German reggae musician. He kept the crowd captivated and in high spirits especially with the incredibly funny ‘Day Job Blues’ as he sang ‘Even Jesus had a day job, workin’ for the man’. The crowd sang with Joel throughout and we all had a laugh on this summery Friday night. This was the a high point for me simply because of the energy in the room that Joel had generated which was extraordinary. Unplugging his guitar, Joel walked into the crowd and went into ‘Thankful’ which is about the important people in your life and how important they are. If anyone could relate to this song it was me and it made me realise that I couldn’t think of many songs (especially in the pop charts) with the subject of being thankful. I think that is a shame myself but anyway…
During his set Joel broke a string on his guitar and quipped ‘Bear with me, I’ve just got to restring this guitar unless anyone has a spare guitar I could borrow?!’ As he restrung he asked the audience how we were and smiled throughout. ‘Settle’ was confronting that old age question of ‘Should I carry on drinking or should I settle?’ This song went down a treat in London especially since The Bedford is a pub.
Closer ‘Going Gone’ straight away made me think of Lenny Kravitz when Joel began singing as both of their voices are similar. It is incredibly hooky and gives people the opportunity to clap along. It has radio airplay written all over it and left us all on a high as we signed up to his mailing list. His set was a great mix of lively and mellow songs, he has a luxurious voice and also he is a really friendly guy who is great to be around. For more information visit: http://joelhavea.com/
So onto my second evening of London Folkfest on Saturday 4th July or American Independence Day as it is also known. I’ll admit I didn’t feel like walking from room to room so I decided to arrive early and get a seat and table on the ground floor of The Theatre.
The first artist on was Liv Austen who is a London-based singer songwriter and actress. She was joined by an acoustic guitar player called Lee who Liv explained was giving her guitar lessons. She opened with ‘Working Man’s Dream’ which is the title track from her four track EP. She showcased brand new songs such as ‘I Just Wanna See Him’ which was a romantic song that had tinges of LeAnn Rimes about it in terms of delivery. ‘Rain On My Side’ was a happy song that featured the word ‘rain’ in the title and this is not a familiar occurrence which made it a refreshing song to hear. ‘Two Choices’ was about ‘making the best of things’ and lyrically it was very impactful. ‘Breathe Out’ included acoustic guitar which sounded like Keith Urban and was a brutally honest song about telling people that you are happy about being single. Her tone was great and it felt like it was a very personal song for Liv. Closing with ‘Independence Day’ it was an interesting song choice only because the song was about a woman leaving a relationship and becoming independent and not the American 4th July Independence Day. After her set I purchased her EP and I will be reviewing it soon. For more information visit: http://www.livausten.com/
After having a bite to eat, I waited for the acoustic trio Red Sky July to appear. Now Red Sky July is an interesting group as they have already released two albums and they had just performed at both Isle Of Wight Festival and Glastonbury. Suffice to say, the theatre was packed all around and on the balcony. The group consists of husband and wife Ally McErlaine from Glasgow, Shelly Poole from London and Charity Hair from Florida. ‘Already Gone’ from their first album had rich vocal harmonies. ‘Losing You’ was your classic country break-up song and I heard it and thought ‘That sounds like a good driving song.’
Shelly and Charity explained that Ally was a member of the band Texas who have had huge commercial success with their material but they have also constantly toured. They told us that Ally had a stage five brain aneurysm and he had actually died and been brought back five times. Their song ‘Here Then Gone’ was an extremely emotional song that is all the more touching with their terribly sad story.
‘Renegade’ was based on the novel ‘Blood Meridian’ and from what they said it doesn’t sound like a read for the faint-hearted. ‘A lot of our songs and music videos are about murders!’ Shelly laughed. It was a haunting acoustic sound and Ally’s guitar solo had quite an eerie feeling to it. They then did a cover of ‘Take It To The Limit’ and it was entertaining and fun as the crowd clapped along throughout. They then debated on whether to do another cover and they settled with ‘Travelin’ Soldier’ by The Dixie Chicks which is a really sombre song. The truth is, Red Sky July sing with pure heart and their own material is really strong. I would definitely see them live again. For more information visit: http://redskyjuly.com/
In conclusion, my first London Folkfest was a fun experience that was well organised by my friend Tony Moore and his colleagues who were all volunteers. In addition, I came away from the event with a lot of new artists to investigate and discover and the overall view that I would attend London Folkfest 2016. I highly recommend that you try and attend one of the music nights at The Bedford in Balham as the lineups are always diverse and it is at places like that where you can discover the Paolo Nutini’s, the Ed Sheeran’s and the KT Tunstall’s of tomorrow before they get huge and play the arenas. Also it feels quite nice to say ‘I was at that artist’s first London show’. Tony told me that he wanted to create something like the music events in Austin, Texas in Balham, London. Mission accomplished my friend.
It is a cliche but keep live music alive.
For more information about shows at The Bedford visit: http://www.thebedford.co.uk/
(Many thanks to Joel Havea for his support and kindness and to Tony Moore for his great organisation and his fight to keep live music going. Thanks also to all of the volunteers who worked tirelessly across the weekend to make the festival a success)