FEATURE: Ouseburn Folk Festival | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Richard Dawson & Nev Clay

With the North East – and the Ouseburn Valley in particular – by no means short of festivals, it’s more vital than ever for start-ups to present something unique to a crowded market. One newcomer set to achieve just that is Ouseburn Folk, a weekend of events in and around the Valley promising not only a diverse, idiosyncratic take on traditional music, but also a novel account of what the term represents in the year 2019. Established by the team behind local folk institution The Cumberland Arms, and running from Friday 20th-Sunday 22nd September, its programme supplements a pair of gigs with all manner of additional activities, including ceilidh, workshops, art projects, film screenings and more.

“With Ouseburn Folk, we’re looking to showcase and promote folk music and traditions from different cultures of the North East of England and beyond,” explain lead organisers Jo Hodson and Isiobel Stewart. “Working with and for the community, we want to break down barriers and engage people in styles of music, dance, art and craft that they may not necessarily have thought was for them.”

In keeping with that ethos, festivities get underway on Friday afternoon at Hotspur Primary School, who usher in their new term with a special family friendly ceilidh. Led by caller Ruth Ball, the event will feature half-time entertainment and food from both Goodtimes Tacos and Friends of Hotspur, and at just £2 per person provides an ideal beginners’ experience for parents and children alike.

Friday evening’s proceedings take place at The Old Coal Yard, where local treasure Richard Dawson curates Myth & Movement, an evening of “musical, mythical mirth-making” showcasing an extraordinary selection of performers; from familiar home-grown names and cult favourites to envelope-pushing visitors from further afield. “I wouldn’t say I’m trying to ‘challenge people’s perceptions of folk music’ or anything like that, but I definitely wanted to offer something a bit different – something you wouldn’t usually find on a Friday night bill in Newcastle,” Richard reveals.

Working with and for the community, we want to break down barriers and engage people in styles of music, dance, art and craft that they may not necessarily have thought was for them

Certainly, you’d be hard pushed to find a more eclectic outfit than Yama Warashi, a band formed by Bristol-based Japanese artist Yoshino Shigihara. With influences ranging from Japanese folk, African music and Bon Odori to free jazz and psychedelia, the group’s engrossing, dreamy sound is a truly unique proposition, with Yoshino singing in her mother tongue of mycelium, nuclear power stations and plenty more besides. Elsewhere, Brighton performer Mary Hampton sets her own compositions alongside numbers recovered from silent traditional archives; coalescing them in a delicate yet potent acoustic setting which nods to turn-of-the-century European chamber music as well as older, more primitive sounds. Richard Dawson fans, meanwhile, may already be familiar with Afework Nigussie, after his remarkable support slot at the Peasant album launch at The Cluny back in 2017. Hailing from Gondar in northern Ethiopia, Nigussie’s music espouses the ancient Azmari belief in freedom of expression, celebrating his homeland’s secular and religious heritage via a host of stringed, woodwind and percussive instruments and a constant thirst for improvisation.

On the local side of things, Paisley-born Newcastle-based artist Dawn Bothwell will be treating us to fun, enchanting and exuberant electronic art pop via her Pentecostal Party project, before Richard himself takes to the stage, exchanging songs in a so-called ‘friendly derby match’ with the inimitable Nev Clay. What can we expect from this clash of local songwriting titans? “I’d like to think it’ll be formatted like a rap battle – only without the rapping, and without it being a battle!” Richard jokes. “Nev and I have known each other and enjoyed each other’s’ work for years and years. We’ve tried it once before – at The Bridge Hotel, I think? – and it was a lot of fun, so we’re definitely excited to give it another go.” Entry to this cauldron of delights will set you back a mere £12 – and anybody feeling peckish after an early start needn’t worry either, as Scream For Pizza supply tasty sustenance.

Saturday, meanwhile, features a wealth of free daytime events, including dance displays from local rapper, clog and morris teams; a rapper workshop with Newcastle Kingsmen and a clog dancing workshop with their Clog division; singing for kids with Becky Graham; a spoons workshop with Annie Ball and a singing session at The Cumberland Arms with The Keelers.

Later in the afternoon, there’ll be a special choir workshop, hosted by BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winning artist Lucy Farrell at The Old Coal Yard. Known for her work with Jonny Kearney, Furrow Collective, Eliza Carthy and more, the singer will lead a two-hour session before offering participants the opportunity to open that evening’s Heritage & Habit gig at The Cumberland Arms. As well as the choir performance and a solo set from Lucy herself, the bill will feature young fiddle and melodeon duo Jim Boyle & Dave Gray and traditional Cumbrian vocalist Holly Clarke & The Reivers, who recently snared ears supporting Billy Bragg at The Sage Gateshead.

“I always love coming back to The Cumberland Arms, and playing a new festival like this is exciting!” Lucy muses. “I’m looking forward to working with the Ouseburn locals on an arrangement to perform, before laying some new songs ahead of recording this winter.” Tickets for the choir session and gig cost £12, with the gig alone priced at £10.
With Sunday offering a relaxed day of tunes, film, tea, crafts, pints and sausage sandwiches at The Cumberland Arms, Ouseburn Folk’s broad and brilliant programme holds a little something for everyone. Head along and get involved!

Ouseburn Folk takes place at The Old Coal Yard and The Cumberland Arms from Friday 20th-Sunday 22nd September

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