First were the musicians at the ceilidh; as well as all the Hekety and Blackbeard's Tea Party, who were both fantastic. Pirate folk - it's a thing that exists! There was also a late night gig by Professor Elemental, Gentleman Rapper. I'm so pleased to live in a world where there are things like 'Pirate Folk' and 'Gentleman Rappers'. Just makes it all worthwhile really, don't it.
Anais Mitchell and Jeferson Hamer came to Nottingham and played in the back room of the Maze pubI'm a massive fan of Anais' after her amazing album Hadestown. It's a 'folk rock opera' that sets the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in depression-era America. I know that sounds nuts but it's a great combination. She writes some really smart lyrics - check out her song '1984'.
This latest album is a take on the Child Ballads, a collection of English and Scottish tunes put together in the late 1900s. Her and Jeferson's voices blend together perfectly rather than fighting for dominance, and give a fresh edge to these traditional tales.
The Child Ballads are great, and record the kinds of stories I always like to hear more of. Folk songs are often songs about life, in all it's complexities. Not just love, but death, trickery, difficult relatives, unwanted pregnancy, divided loyalties, everyday joys, social injustice, transformations and the growth of the characters all make an appearance, with a smattering of supernatural happenings thrown in.
There are several versions of each song, so it's possible to take something different away every time. The version Anais and Jeferson have chosen is about a feisty woman who falls pregnant by the fairy Tam Lin (very different to our modern concept of fairies as tiny dainty things now). Unwilling to keep the child of such a father she presents him with the problem and he promises to change into a gentleman and husband - provided she can hold onto him as he goes through the difficult process of changing. Compare their Tam Lin with Jim Moray's variant on the same story, Hind Etin. In this version the woman who is abducted and held against her will as the wife of Tam Lin until her son learns how to undo his father's hold over her.
And finally there was Sigur Ros. My friend Natalie had a spare ticket, so we hoofed it down to Wolverhampton on a Tuesday night. The Civic Hall isn't huge, but it makes for a comfortable venue. Big enough for a good-sized crowd, but not so big that anyone has to miss out on a decent view. The gig was everything you'd hope for from Sigur Ros - weird, artsy, eclectic, and very atmospheric. Natalie grew up in Wolverhampton, so she was telling me about times she'd played in the hall, where all the landmarks were, and then got very excited and bouncy when the band arrived. They're a favourite of hers. It was pretty adorable.
We particularly liked the visual effects they had, projecting images and using a screen that stretched the length of the stage to great effect. Many of the clips they used were organic objects - silhouettes, waterlines, microscopic things, but viewed close up so that they almost turned into abstract footage. Definitely worth seeing if you get the chance. It was densely foggy all the way back to Loughborough, and we did get slightly turned round, but overall it was a great night out.
Also, Jon Boden and John Spiers (best known as the lead singer and squeezebox player of the incredible band Bellowhead) are coming to Ashby in May. That's just ten minutes up the road! Of course I had to buy a ticket. I suspect it'll be quite a small and intense gig. Boden in particular is very charismatic as a performer. I'm really looking forward to it.
Is it possible to have too much fun? I kind of doubt it!