Wednesday, 11 August 2010


2/8/10, Sidmouth Folk Festival (Ham Marquee)

Kerfuffle are a four-piece: two brothers on fiddle and bass guitar (though the bassist is soon to leave to get "a proper job", we were told), a guitarist, and a diminutive girl called Hannah who sang, played accordion and clog-danced... spectacularly. Not sure I've ever seen clog-dancing. As performed here, amplified, by a woman in a bright orange dress and halterneck top, it was thrilling, and rather overshadowed the rest of their set, of which I remember little.

Blue Murder are a folk super-group: Martin Carthy, his wife Norma Waterson, their daughter Eliza (six months pregnant), their niece Marie Waterson (daughter of Norma's sister Lal) plus Coope, Boyes and Simpson, which is why we were there. (Norma's brother Mike was supposed to be there too but was evidently ill, and Norma has trouble with her hips to judge from her crutch and the fact that she sang sitting down.)

The Watersons/Carthys are folk royalty, even though their singing on this evidence is not outstanding (with the exception of Eliza). I think it must have something to do with the fact that they're a family. They manifestly represent The Tradition, of songs handed down the generations and written by ordinary folk (though once you become a professional folk-singer, can the songs you write be classed as such?), and being part of The Tradition is more important than making a pleasing noise. (I'm not qualified to judge their musicianship, though I suspect they're pretty accomplished.)

Coope, Boyes and Simpson on the other hand sing and (especially) harmonise wonderfully. The beauty of the sound they make knocks the Watersons into a cocked hat. They also have a clearer sense of theatre, three men in a line dressed in variations of black, very slick, very tight, whereas Norma and Mike and their clan are a bit all over the place, rambling and backchatting between numbers, forgetting what they're supposed to be doing next, dressed all anyhow.

The combination worked well, though. When all seven sang in (mostly unaccompanied) unison they could be exceptionally moving, especially in Dennis Potter's favourite hymn, "Will there be any stars in my crown?" which brought the hairs on the neck to attention. Otherwise the highlight for me was when Coope, Boyes and Simpson sang two of Mike Waterson's songs about Hull fishing, On the Cold Coast of Iceland and I Saw Three Ships.

Marie Waterson seemed a bit lost: she had an adequate voice for two solos, but she lacked the theatricality of Norma and Eliza, throwing their arms wide and rocking to the music, and she was in a rather old-fashioned grey woollen dress, unlike Norma's gypsy-peasant garb and Eliza's altogether funkier stuff.

Interestingly, neither D nor I can remember any other individual songs from the set.

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