Concert Review – Lichfield L2F Opening Night

Lichfield Arts Review
L2F 2015 Opening Night – DragonHead/Mitre’s Well/The Exmouth Shanty Men
Lichfield’s third L2F festival of folk was started by two well known local groups, and a headliner that had travelled much further. The grandeur of the Guildhall was turned into an intimate folk club, as the three different acts played songs from the traditional folk canon, as well as much more populist fare.

Dragon Head 1Opening act, Dragonhead, a married duo of Anne and John Harris played many folk favourites, with Anne’s nimble fingered Melodeon adding a dash of zydeco and Cajun to the mix. John’s spirited guitar playing and fine, clear voice were well matched to the surroundings.  Songs such as openers ‘I’ll tell me ma’ and ‘Fog on the Tyne’ were well received by the audience. They may have been easy choices, but the inventive arrangements added nuance. Jake Thackray’s ‘Castlefield Ladies’ and Steve Earl’s ‘Galway Girl’ showed a more driving sound, and a slightly more catholic approach to the cannon. Paying respects to the Sea Shanty singing tradition, ‘South Australia’ helped to raise the roof, whilst the Cajun strains of ‘Down on the Bayou’ were a suitable ending to a brief set.

Mitre's WellThe three piece, Mitre’s Well followed, with the three musicians, Stephen Edkins, Stephen Swoffer and Malcolm Robinson, playing between them whistles, bass, guitar, mandolin, and some fine harmony singing. With a wide ranging set list, some energetic bass, humourous interplay, and some complicated whistle playing they soon won the audience over. With a set that included some of their own material, and songs by Jez Lowe, and Steve Knightly, including some fine readings of the miner’s ballad Cousin Jack, and Cheltenham Town which closed their set.

Headliner’s The Exmouth Shanty men already had some fervent fans in, for Lichfield Lighthouse Company made up a large number of the audience. Describing themselves as ‘The Original Bouy Band’ their amusing onstage banter and well honed performance skills have seen them play festivals and concerts throughout the country. Their versions of songs from the sea shanty tradition were taken at a slower pace than may have been expected, but this allowed far more space for harmonies, and narrative structure to be seen.
Exmouth Shanty Men II

The 11 man crew took the audience through many of the better known shanties, ranging from set opener Rollicking Randy Dandy O, Sally Rackett, Roll Alabama Roll, and New York Girls, but they also left room for more unusual songs, such as a haunting rendition of No More Option Block, or the sea ballads of Fire Down Below, and Lower Lights.
The singers were all strong solo performers, but some of the choral singing in songs such as Santi Anna, or Blow the Man Down was particularly impressive.


EXmouth Shanty Men 4More spirited numbers finished the second set with the nursery rhyme like Blow the Man Down, or Billy O’Shea being particularly well performed. As has become traditional at L2F, Lichfield Lighthouse Company joined the Exmouth Shanty men for their last song, the aptly chosen Rolling Home, with the massed harmonies receiving a warm round of applause.

Images: Dave Jones: Words: Ben Macnair

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