This weekend a new annual folk festival descends on Manchester showcasing the best of contemporary English folk and acoustic roots music.
With over 16 concerts featuring more than 30 diverse artists playing a mix of intimate and large-scale gigs at venues across the city, it would be wise to discard any pre-held notions of what English folk music means to you here and now.
From sit-down concerts, film and theatrical experiences to artists in conversation, craft workshops and proper pub singarounds, the programme is varied with the distinct aim of encouraging audiences to experience new sounds and styles, with everything from protest songs to old-world ballads on offer.
We spoke to Manchester Folk Festival’s director David Agnew ahead of the festival to find out what’s in store.
What’s the festival all about?
We honestly can’t wait. The festival will see a combination of audiences experiencing venues for the first time and some amazing musical talent. The 4-day programme runs across a mix of different types of spaces to give a full range of great live music experience from theatre spaces to club venues, great pubs, and craft sessions. Folk means lots of things to different people but it’s always inclusive and engaging. There will be many special moments.
You’re also artistic director of the Met in Bury and Head For The Hills festivals. What made you want to get involved?
It wasn’t for a lack of something to do. I suppose a combination of things happening which made for this being the right point. English Folk Expo was looking for a home. It’s an industry event which promotes English folk music worldwide which attaches to a public festival. With the opening of HOME and what I could see as a new hub and network of venues which could inspire Manchester audiences as well as international delegates, the more I talked to people the more it seemed like a good thing. Manchester’s cultural reputation and entrepreneurial attitude may have played a part in inspiring me to take the leap also.
Why do you think the Manchester Folk Festival is important for the city?
I think there is a great opportunity to shout louder about live music – and folk music. I’ve had a great reaction to the festival from the many venues and promoters already working here and I’m optimistic we can find new audiences to support an even stronger live arts and music scene.
Some people see English folk as being very olde worlde. How are you switching things up to appeal to all ages?
Yes, I can see that. It’s not a quick win to turn that around but the artists growing and developing in the last 10 years are really inspirational and quite innovative. They are enhancing and improving songs and stories that have stood the test of time. That’s a pretty strong argument I think. The programme features plenty of diverse styles of folk artists – young and old, reverent and irreverent. Each concert has three artists showing plenty of contrast in inspiration and style of music.
For anyone who may not have listened to folk music before, what would you say to encourage them to give it a go?
There’s a huge depth to the music and its background combined with the very best in current musicianship on stage. Each concert offers brilliant experiences with some pretty nice people in excellent venues.
What can we expect from the festival?
From Afro Celt Sound System to The Young ‘Uns, Kathryn Tickell to Keston Cobblers Club, there are countless different sides to folk – and English folk. Those attending a few concerts will find a great variety with a common factor of passionate artists and truly moving performances.
19 – 22 October 2017 at HOME, Gorilla, The Ritz & International Anthony Burgess Foundation. For more information click here. Tickets £6 – £23.50