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AAA Music | 25 July 2024

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FOLK BY THE OAK 2013 – Live Review

| On 30, Jul 2013


Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, 21st July 2013

Folk By The Oak, set in the beautiful grounds of Hatfield House, is a one day festival with a very distinctive personality. The enchanting festival field, known as ‘The Queen Elizabeth Oak Field’, is where, in 1558, whilst sitting under an oak tree, Elizabeth I was told that she had become Queen.  In recent times it’s developed a reputation for bringing the finest folk acts together in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

Talented songwriters Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts were ‘BBC Radio 2 Folk Award 2013′ nominees for best duo. With a lap tapping guitar, fiery fiddle and distinctive harmonies they merge folk, bluegrass, country and rock and, despite traditional storytelling roots, they’re refreshingly original .’Doctor James’, with a lively chorus and delicate mandolin, refers to a 19th century doctor with a scandalous secret. Their second album ‘Up from the Deep’, secured them a ‘Hancock Award for Best Original Song’ for the supernatural ‘Fleetwood Fair’.

Fay Hield played very distinctive, confident and timeless songs. With her fine voice ‘Wicked Serpent’ was upbeat and impressive whilst ‘Bad Girls Lament’ sounded haunting and soulful. Her debut solo album ‘Looking Glass’ earned her a nomination for the ‘Horizon Award’ at the ‘2010 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards’ and her classy second album ‘Orfeo’ sensitively explored lesser known traditional songs. She was joined by the talented musicians ofThe Hurricane Party’: Andy Cutting (accordion, melodeon), Rob Harbron (concertina, fiddle, vocals), Sam Sweeney (fiddle, viola, cello, vocals) and Jon Boden (fiddle, guitar, percussion, double bass, mandolin, banjo and vocals). Also appearing with her was influential musician Martin Simpson who’s been nominated an amazing 29 times in the 11 years of the ‘BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards’, more than any other artist. His album Purpose and Grace received much critical acclaim.


To celebrate the 10th anniversary of his influential and revolutionary debut album Sweet England, Jim Moray collaborated here with the ‘Doret Ensemble’ to perform this cult classic live. The album was originally controversial and adventurous in fusing traditional songs, modern arrangements and trip-hop programming. It drew on ambient soundscapes and the impact was such that it once dominated the ‘BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards’.

It was marvellous to see four outstanding folk violinists and singers perform together, impressively combining their different styles and backgrounds. These were ‘Mercury Award’ nominated superstar Eliza Carthy, Bella Hardy, winner of the ‘BBC Radio 2 Best Original Song 2012′, Scotland’s rising folk star Kate Young and folk award nominee Lucy Farrell. Their jazzy version of Peggy Lee’s forties hit Why Don’t You Do Right?had tight harmonies and the Patsy Cline country song Walking After Midnight? was joyful and playful. They turned  the unconventional shanty 100 Years’ into a French cafe accordion song.

Lau are an exciting, creative and innovative folk band with intuitive interplay. They’re intriguing and exhilarating with inspired vocals and stunning guitar work by Orcadian songwriter Kris Drever, fine accordion and electronics from Martin Green and timeless, melodic tunes by Scottish fiddler Aidan O’Rourke.  ‘Horizontigo’ was elegant and furious whilst ‘Midnight Feast’ was a merry, gentle and erotic song by the late Lal Waterson. Their debut album Lightweights and Gentlemen mixed traditional tunes with adventurous new arrangements of songs and their third, Race the Loser, was awarded ‘Album Of The Year’ by the ‘BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2013′.


Kate Rusby is well established in contemporary English Folk after twenty years in the world of music and her remarkable interpretations of traditional songs have won fans not normally interested in her genre. With beautiful, expressive vocals she sung ‘The Elfin Knight’, a traditional Scottish folk ballad dealing with supernatural happenings and the need to perform impossible tasks. There was emotional depth to ‘William and Davy’ a love affair which took unexpected twists when brothers who fell in love with the same girl let her decide between the two of them. Throughout, the audience also experienced the delight of Kate’s legendary Yorkshire wit.

Completing the evening were Oysterband who create modern acoustic British folk, often a little noisy and inspired by their travels. They’ve toured extensively in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and North America and performed for the ‘British Council’ in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Morocco. Once a dance band, they experimented with radical arrangements of traditional songs, giving them a Celtic feel and, in 2003, they received the ‘Good Tradition’ award at the ‘BBC Folk Awards’. A lively version of well known ‘Blackwaterside’ told the traditional story of a woman whose heart was broken when a suitor went back on his promise. As the moon appeared on the horizon, they played ‘By Northern Light’ and the audience could then reflect on the spectacular light effects in their own personal surroundings. It had been a fine and glorious day of good music and endless sunshine.

Anthony Weightman