Among the latest headliners unveiled for this year’s Shrewsbury Folk Festival (August 26 to 29) are – the alt-folk duo, The Breath, featuring guitarist Stuart McCallum and vocalist Ríoghnach Connolly. Last year the duo paid homage to Karen Dalton by marking the 50th Anniversary of her studio album “In My Own Time” with two stirring tracks: a beautiful cover of ‘Something On Your Mind’ and ‘Remembering Mountains’, a song she wrote but never released.
Thea Gilmore surprised many last year with the release of Afterlight, described on these pages as indisputably one of her very best albums. The album announcement was accompanied by a strong video for Of All The Violence I Have Known that premiered on Folk Radio.
Also headlining are festival favourites Edward II. Last year, the reggae folk band released Dancing Tunes, which nods to the shared hardships of communities some 4000 miles apart. This will be one to kick your shoes off to.
Kanda Bongo Man, 3 Daft Monkeys, Lauren Housley, Namvula, Sound of the Sirens and the Rosie Hood Band have also been added to the August Bank Holiday festival bill at the West Mid Showground. Other newly announced highlights include:
Amythyst Kiah released “Wary + Strange” last year, which Folk Radio’s Bob Fish reviewed. He concludes: “Amythyst Kiah has found a way to live in a world without restrictions. She is, at the end the day, an artist who goes her own way, which is what gives Wary + Strange the qualities that make it a truly great album from an artist who refuses to dwell in a world of limitations.”
Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage recently released ‘Ink of the Rosy Morning‘, their debut release for Topic Records, which Mike Davies described as “their most immediate, beguiling and, dare I say it, finest work yet.” As I’ve said before, Hannah and Ben deliver exquisite detail in their vocal harmonies and acoustic guitar interplay that really make their music shine. They also make it look so effortless, and their passion for the music comes through in the warmth of their delivery. If this doesn’t bring out the sun, I don’t know what will.
Another name that has been garnering some well-deserved extra praise and attention is Folk Radio favourite Lady Nade, following the release of her third album, ‘Willing’, reviewed here. It was an album made In the face of overwhelming odds but came through victorious. Having opened for Spiers and Boden on their extensive Fallow Ground Tour, the New Year saw Lady Nade embarking on her own headline tour. Her album went on to chart in the Official Americana and Folk Charts and continues to garner new fans across the media and BBC, where she has received airplay from BBC Radio 2 Mark Radcliffe Folk Show, BBC Radio 6 Cerys Matthews, Ralph McLean, Northern Ireland & BBC Radio Ulster, BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Wiltshire and Bristol. This is certainly a festival performance that would be among the top of my own list as she pours creativity into every song.
Sleeping Spirals was the debut album from Hannah James & Toby Kuhn. In his review, Thomas Blake notes that to say the album has its roots in the English folk tradition is true but also somewhat misleading:
While Hannah James (who also records as one-third of Lady Maisery) has been singing, dancing and playing traditional English music for years, she has always embraced the wider cultural influences that inform many of those old songs. Toby Kuhn comes from an altogether different background: a French cellist with classical training who has developed a completely unique style indebted to guitar, violin and double bass. Their debut, Sleeping Spirals, was recorded in Belgium and Slovenia and contains a song inspired by Bulgarian dance tunes as well as pieces written in Croatia and Turkey. In the hands of two such gifted musicians, such a broad range of styles never feels burdensome or hastily thrown together; instead, there are distinct threads of travel and place and self-discovery that come together to form a complex but unified whole.
Anglo-Irish quartet The Haar, featuring Adam Summerhayes, Cormac Byrne, Murray Grainger, and Molly Donnery, are a welcome addition to the festival; they return in April with their highly anticipated second album Where Old Ghosts Meet, from which we recently premiered their video for Wild Rover.
Another reasonably new name to many is Tarren, a fantastic new English folk project featuring Bristol-based artists Sid Goldsmith, Alex Garden and Danny Pedler. We premiered their English folk ballad Rigs of the Time a little while ago, an outstanding performance that lives up to the title of ambassadors for high-quality English Folk music.
Other headliners already announced include:
Judy Collins‘ latest album Spellbound, is quite literally an album of a lifetime that, spurred by a pandemic that put life on hold, has equally taken almost a lifetime to find its purpose in coming into existence. Mike Davies called it “Indisputably a late-career high.”
The Unthanks recently announced Sorrows Away and shared their lead single, The Bay of Fundy. Sorrows Away will be their first, full non-project-based record since their 2015 BBC Folk Album Of The Year, Mount The Air; it’s also been described as their most upbeat offering to date, so we’re sure this will prove to be another memorable festival highlight.
Grammy-nominated all-women string band Della Mae recently released Family Reunion, which Mike Davies described as an album up there with their very best; this is one get together you will really want to celebrate.
Like many of the artists announced for the festival, some have reached some spectacular heights, and Show of hands was no exception with their 2019 ‘Battlefield Dance Floor’, described by Danny Neill as one of the most cohesive, diverse and persuasive sets of their entire career and one of the most consistently adventurous collections in their catalogue.
Another band known for their crowd-pulling performances is Scotland’s Skerryvore. In 2020, they celebrated their 15th Anniversary with ‘Live Across Scotland’, an album that captured some of their stage magic that is sure to go down a treat at Shrewsbury.
More crowd-pullers already announced that are sure to keep the feet moving are Carlos Núñez, Canadian folk-rockers Blackie and the Rodeo Kings and the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.
Director Sandra Surtees said: “Our eclectic line-up really does have something for everyone. We’ve gained a reputation for bringing the best of North America folk artists to the festival with a growing world music interest too. As ever, we’ll have some of the best of contemporary and traditional British folk acts as well. We’re really looking forward to the international flavour of the festival after covid and travel restrictions meant we were unable to have overseas performers in 2021. It’s going to be great!”
The festival has four live music stages, a dance tent with ceilidhs and dance shows, dedicated festivals for children and young people, workshops and singarounds. There’s also on-site camping and glamping, a food village and festival shop, craft fair and real ale, wine and cocktail bars.
Day and weekend tickets for August 26th to 29th are on sale at www.shrewsburyfolkfestival.co.uk where you can find a full line-up.