National Folk Festival Interview: Nancy Kerr

Nancy Kerr
Image Courtesy of Nancy Kerr

The headliner for this year’s National Folk Festival is the irrepressible Nancy Kerr, who will be performing as Nancy Kerr & the Sweet Visitor Band, Nancy Kerr & James Fagan and as part of The Fagans. We sat down with Kerr ahead of the festival to chat about what we can expect from her performances at The National.

Gareth Hugh Evans: You’ve played The National Folk Festival a number of times – how does it feel to be headlining the 50th anniversary with your various projects?

Nancy Kerr: Obviously I’m absolutely honoured that the festival has made it possible to bring the band and the family out to Australia. I have been away for three years and it’s been a big time for me so I can’t wait to present our new repertoire and sounds, as well as familiar pieces from the duo’s history, to what I know is an incredible audience to play for.

GHE: In terms of folk festivals around the world how does The National rate?

NK: I think what makes The National special for me is the way it homages and appreciates the raw, grass roots qualities of folk and traditional music, presenting it all with great respect on both big and small stages. The level of knowledge, friendliness and depth with which the audience throws itself into proceedings is second to none, at least as far as I’ve experienced at festivals around the world.

GHE: You’ve found “fame” (if there is such a thing in the folk scene) in your native UK but over the years you’ve spent a lot of time in Australia touring and performing at festivals. What is it about Australia that keeps you coming back (apart from the obvious)?

NK: Well it may be obvious but it’s also true! James [Fagan] and I have been together for 20 years now – or do you mean the weather? Australia is a huge part of my history musically, culturally and in terms of family. A British colleague of mine recently returned from her first trip to Aus and said to me “Ah, I understand you now – you’re Australian!” The subjects of many of my songs will be more current and recognizable here than they are at home in the UK. It’ll be so nice not to have to explain what a Jacaranda is.

GHE: You’re well known for involving yourself in numerous projects – is collaboration an important part of your art?

NK: It’s always been central and that’s why it took me until I was nearly 40 to make my debut solo recording – I think collaboration is the source of so much musical learning and strength but I also think it’s important to step into the light on your own terms sometimes – that way the listener gets to experience everything you’re capable of and things stay fresh and creative.

GHE: After The National what’s next for Nancy Kerr?

NK: My album Instar is nearly finished – the follow-up to Sweet Visitor and also self-written – and I’m delighted with how the band sounds on it – it’s released in September. I have tours with all my projects including a trio with Martin Simpson and Andy Cutting [Simpson·Cutting·Kerr], and I will also be recording and performing political songwriting collaboration “Sweet Liberties” which was commissioned by the Houses of Parliament.

The full list of shows for Nancy Kerr at The National Folk Festival are below:

Thursday 24th to Monday 28th March – The National Folk Festival, Canberra, ACT
Nancy Kerr & the Sweet Visitor Band:
– Friday 7pm – Buddawang
– Sunday 8pm – Marquee
– Monday 4:40pm – Buddawang
Nancy Kerr & James Fagan
– Saturday 8pm – Flute ‘n’ Fiddle
– Sunday 10:50am – Buddawang
The Fagans:
– Saturday 10:40am – Buddawang
– Monday 12pm – Marquee

Nancy Kerr Announced as National Folk Festival Headliner

Nancy Kerr
Image Courtesy of Nancy Kerr

As an extra special gift right before Christmas the National Folk Festival has just announced that its 2016 headliner will be none other than Nancy Kerr.

Kerr is a firm festival favourite and The National are very proud to not only have her headlining with her Sweet Visitor Band but also as part of her duo project with James Fagan and with Australian super-group The Fagans. That’s a lot of Nancy Kerr to get your eardrums around next year.

Along with the headliner announcement the National Folk Festival also slipped a bunch of other artists into its 2016 lineup including The Little Stevies, Frencham Smith, Sparrow-Folk, Sásta, Doctor Stovepipe, Miriam Lieberman with Lara Goodridge and Kate Adams, Black Mountain String Band, The Fiddle Chicks, Frumious and The Wheeze and Suck Band.

The 50th National Folk Festival takes place in Canberra over the Easter long weekend, 24th to 28th March. Earlybird tickets are available now via the official site.

30th Illawarra Folk Festival Announces First Round of Artists

Eric Bogle
Image Courtesy of Eric Bogle

This coming January is the pearl anniversary of the Illawarra Folk Festival and they’ve just announced a “pearler” of a first lineup announcement – their pun, not mine! The festival, held in Bulli just north of Wollongong in New South Wales, boasts 13 onsite venues and is easily one of our favourite events of the year.

The first round of artists for the 30th Illawarra Folk Festival include a bunch of Timber and Steel favourites including Afenginn, Eric Bogle (above), Ted Egan, Big Erle, The Bottlers, The BordererS, Chloë and Jason Roweth, Claude Hay, Cloudstreet, Fred Smith, The Go Set, Lime & Steel, The Lurkers, The Mae Trio, Margaret & Bob Fagan, Martin Pearson, The Morrisons, Sparrow-Folk, Stray Hens, Takadimi, Timothy James Bowen and many many more.

The Illawarra Folk Festival will be held at the Bulli showground from the 15th to the 18th January. For more information check out the official site here.

The full lineup announcement so far is below:

Afenginn (DENMARK), Anna Ludlow Band (CANADA), Bettina Schelker (SWITZ), Black Market Tune (SCOT/AUSTRIA), David Francey (CANADA), Debasis Chakroborty & Kriti Ensemble (INDIA), The East Pointers (CANADA), George Mann (USA), Jaron Freeman-Fox & The Opposite of Everything (CANADA), Kristina Olsen (USA), Melisande – Electrotrad (CANADA), Reg Meuross (UK), Scott Cook (CANADA), Tim Edey Trio (UK)

Stephan Pigram, Eric Bogle, Ted Egan, Folkaphonic Youth Orchestra (premiere), Allez-gator, Appalachian Heaven String Band, Azadoota, Bernard Carney, Big Erle, The Bottlers, The BordererS, Chloe & Jason Roweth, Claude Hay, Cloudstreet, Curragh, Dave de Hugard, David Beniuk, Deep River, Choir, Don Jarmey, Enda Kenny & Lindsay Martin, Fred Smith, Guerilla Zingari, Gina Williams & Guy Ghouse, The Go Set, Greg Champion, John Broomhall, Jordan C. Thomas, Junior, Lagoon Hill Zydeco, The Lazy Farmer’s Sons, Lime & Steel, The Lurkers, The Mae Trio, Margaret & Bob Fagan, Martin Pearson, Melbourne Scottish Fiddle Club, Michael Fix, Mike Martin, The Morrisons, Neil Adam & Judy Turner, Nick Rheinberger, On The Stoop, Pat Drummond, Sally Harris, Sparrow-Folk, Springtide, The Squeezebox Trio, Stray Hens, Takadimi, Terry Serio’s Half Truths, Timothy James Bowen, The Transylvaniacs and Kengugro, Vardos, The Wish List

Remembering Pete Seeger – Tribute Concert In Sydney

Pete Seeger

This Sunday the NSW Folk Federation will be hosting a very special tribute concert to Pete Seeger who sadly passed away at the beginning of this year.

Remembering Pete Seeger will be held at the Friend in Hand Pub in Glebe from 4:30pm to 7pm this Sunday and will feature performances from Bob & Margaret Fagan, Mary-Jane Field, Peter Hicks, The Lurkers, Christina Mimmocchi, Maurie Mulheron, Margaret Walters and Chris Wheeler. The second half of the concert will feature all of the performers leading a singalong of Pete’s best known songs.

Entry for the tribute is $10, or free for NSW Folk Federation members. For more information check out the official NSW Folk Federation site here.

National Folk Festival Interview: Kate Fagan

Kate Fagan
Image Courtesy of Kate Fagan

The Fagan family are truly of Australia’s most prominant folk dynasties (if such a thing exists in this country) and The National is the folk festival most associated with them. This year the wonderful Kate Fagan will be launching her brand new solo album Inner Nature with her full band – the first time she has played this new material with her full lineup. We sat down with Kate Fagan to chat about growing up in the festival scene, collaborating with her band and playing with Joan Baez.

Gareth Hugh Evans: You’re actually launching your new album Inner Nature at The National Folk Festival right?

Kate Fagan: Yes, launching it with a band. I actually sneaked it out towards the end of last year I must admit when I was doing a few shows as a soloist. But this is the first time I’ll be playing that material with a full band and I’m so looking forward to it because it’s a great crew of players and it will be fun to play with those arrangements.

GHE: Is there a reason why you’ve chosen The National as the venue for this launch?

KF: I love The National, it’s a terrific festival, and it’s one that I’ve been fortunate enough to play at many times in various different incarnations. I’ve been there with a bigger band to do a show with the family [The Fagans] many times. And I’ve been there in smaller ways as a duo and trio performing my material. But I’ve actually not been down there as the Kate Fagan Band which I’ve taken to a few other festivals. I really wanted the opportunity to play some of the stages that I love and in front of some of the audiences that I love with that set up. I just love being at The Nash basically.

GHE: I associate you with The National because that’s where I’ve seen you most, both with The Fagans and doing your solo stuff.

KF: It’s a bit of a spiritual home for our crew. It’s a great festival in the ACT which is within my home state of New South Wales so it’s a bit like a home festival in many ways. Always a great time..

GHE: I feel like because it’s a festival you have grown up in both with your family and solo I’d imagine you’ve got a built in fan base there.

KF: The audiences there are always terrific. They’re enthusiastic about music, they embrace all sorts of things and they are just really keen to get in and go along for the ride. So you get some terrific venues there and a great feeling for the shows. I’m looking forward to it. And I’ve been away for so many years from The National – I’ve kind of been on various little adventures between Nationals and now I have two little kids to bring to The National and start the cycle over. This will be the first time I’ve brought both of them to a festival so I’m really looking forward to that too.

GHE: That’s one of the things I love about The National – that it is generational. I was one of those kids that was brought along to festivals and now I go back as an adult.

KF: That’s one of the very very best things about the acoustic music scene across Australia and I guess around the world. It is very inclusive. It’s very diverse. It’s a great environment to do all that stuff in.

GHE: Tell us a little bit about the band that’s playing with you. I noticed that Heath Cullen, who we’re a fan of at Timber and Steel, is part of your band.

KF: He’s a wonderful musician and a fine songwriter and a dear old friend. He played on the album. I made the album a couple of years ago but again it was only recently that I had the space to mix and release it. So Heath was playing on that album, as was the marvellous, sensitive, funny percussionist Hamish Stuart who I just love playing with. So I feel very lucky that both of them were able to come down for Easter. So yeah, there’s Heath and Hamish and also Jason Walker. He’s a neighbour of mine up in the Mountains – I’ve not long moved to the Blue Mountains – and Jason is a terrific pedal steel player who is probably known to a couple of National audiences. He’s been a couple of times, he was last there with Toby Martin from Youth Group I believe. He kind of crosses into the world of alt-country and also I guess rock in some ways. And the ever handsome, stunning Robyn Martin will be joining us on bass and singing also. So it’s a really great crew and a bunch of people I enjoy hanging out with and feel very lucky to be playing with.

GHE: Do the songs on the new album lend themselves better to a full band setting? Or is that just how you wanted to present them this time around?

KF: I think it’s more that there was a chance to do it this time around. And again a festival like The National is big enough to support an extended, full band. It is a nice chance to bring a different sound to some good stages. These songs can go a lot of ways. I actually did tour a lot of them at the end of last year as a solo performer and they can work that way as well. It’s always fun to play with other musicians and particularly those of this quality. It’ll be a good old romp.

GHE: Do you discover anything new about the songs when you play them with a band?

KF: Yeah, I think definitely. There’s always a great lesson to be learned in a way in handing the work over to other people and saying “what do you hear” or “what would you like to play”. The generosity of players, what they bring to your material is just fantastic. I guess with this album I haven’t had a chance to do a lot of that, again partly because I’ve been busy on other projects. But the first real sense of that was when we recorded the album. Some of it had been played in small ensembles but a lot of it was new for the album. Some of those tracks really started to come alive in that way, in a place outside of my own head when we recorded them for the first time. It was just an exhilarating process to hear that. And stuff that you would never expect tends to fly into the room at that point. It’s something that I really love about collaborating with other artists.

I think you learn so much from the players that you get to stand next to. When I made my first solo album I probably didn’t understand that as much and you try to keep track of it all for yourself. It was quite liberating on this album to basically hand things over and say “whatever you hear I know it’s going to be stellar and I’m grateful for you for taking that and making something amazing with it”. The players on this album certainly brought that. Dave Symes plays bass on the album – he’s just a wonderful musician and producer and a very intuitive player. I felt like I was meeting the songs again for the first time again when I heard what Dave and Hamish were doing with those arrangements – they’ve worked together for a long time. There’s this unspoken magic between them.

So it’ll be great to listen to what this band does because we’ve never played together and we’ve been rehearsing in different towns and we’re just going to bring it all together with a bang at The National.

GHE: I was just assuming that you’d done hours and hours of rehearsals with the whole band.

KF: We will have by The National. We’ve all played together in different combinations. Heath and Robyn have played together forever and again have that understanding and that lock. It’ll be fantastic to put it all together.

GHE: One last thing I have to ask because I saw it in your press release – you supported Joan Baez last year. How was that?

KF: Amazing. And a tremendous adventure, a really big adventure. She was all that you would expect as a performer – she was gracious and funny and knowledgable. It was terrific to watch her go out every night and give to the audience. Every night it was as though she wanted to invite the whole audience onto stage with her and they felt included in her material. And I guess somebody like Joan Baez can choose from the vast pantheon of folk songs and just deliver them. So she was able to choose from this extraordinary array of material and just make these songs her own while still making the audience feel very connected to them and as though she was singing on their behalf. It was lovely to watch that and extra special to get a chance to sing with her every night.

GHE: She’s such a touchstone for so many artists, it must have been exhilarating.

KF: It really was. It was great fun and I felt lucky to be doing it and also very inspired to be doing it. We had a great month.

GHE: Fantastic. Thank you so much for talking with me today and good luck at The National.

KF: I’m really excited to bring this album down to The National and I can’t wait to get there!

The National Folk Festival takes place in Canberra from the 17th to 21st April. Kate Fagan’s set times for the festival are below:

Saturday 19th April – 4:20pm Budawang
Sunday 20th April – 5pm Marquee
Monday 21st April – 12pm Majestic

Festival Folk Sing Judy Small

Festival Folk Sing
Image Courtesy of Festival Folk Sing

If you’re a regular at Folk Festivals around Australia you’ve probably stumbled across the Festival Folk Sing project that each year produces a tribute album to a particular artist with the proceeds going towards music charity The Troubadour Foundation.

Having covered Joni Mitchell, Eric Bogle and Bob Dylan in recent years the 2013 Festival Folk Sing CD will pay tribute to legendary Australian folk singer Judy Small. The album will feature tracks from Penelope Swales, Ami Williamson, Jez Lowe, Peggy Seeger, The Fagans and more.

Festival Folk Sing Judy Small will be available at the National Folk Festival Shop this Easter and to order via Trad and Now from April. The full track listing is below:

1. The Sky of the Southern Cross – Rebecca Wright
2. Stolen Gems – Jane Thompson
3. From the Lambing to the Wool – Mandy Connell
4. The Futures Exchange – Penelope Swales
5. You Don’t Speak For Me – Ami Williamson
6. Turn Right, Go Straight – Jez Lowe & the Bad Pennies
7. Charlesworth Bay – One Step Forward
8. Mary Parker’s Lament – Peggy Seeger
9. Bridget Evans – Fay White
10. Love is a Fearsome Thing – Tangled Web
11. Walls and Windows – The Fagans
12. One Voice in the Crowd – Jenny Fitzgibbon
13. Until… – Enda Kenny
14. Lesbian Chic – Glenys ‘Willie’ Wilson

For more information check out Festival Folk Sing on Facebook or the official site here.

Illawarra Folk Festival Announces 2012 Program

The Quarry Mountain Dead Rats
Image Courtesy of The Quarry Mountain Dead Rats

While the summer months see some of the nation’s biggest festivals strut their stuff it’s the little regional folk festivals that really shine in our books. One of our favourite regional festivals roles around every January – The Illawarra Folk Festival in Bulli just north of Wollongong, NSW.

Being within spitting distance of both Sydney and Canberra the Illawarra Folk Festival manages to attract some amazing national and international talent and is set in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. The 2012 festival will be held from the 12th to the 15th January and boasts a program featuring the likes of Dougie Maclean, George Kamikawa & Noriko Tadano, The Beez, Andrew Winton, Cj Shaw, Evelyn’s Secret, Get Folked, Jack Flash, Lucy Wise & The B’Gollies, Margaret & Bob Fagan, Martin Pearson, The Quarry Mountain Dead Rats (above), Skipping Girl Vinegar, The Bearded Gypsy Band, The String Contingent, The Woohoo Revue, Big Erle & the Limb Looseners, Jane Aubourg and of course Wongawilli.

The program for the event has just been released and is available on the official Illawarra Folk Festival web site – which is also where you can get the full lineup and all the information on how to get tickets. Looks like our January is planned then.

National Folk Festival Fave: The Fagans/Nancy Kerr and James Fagan

The Fagans
Image Courtesy of The Fagans

This year’s National Folk Festival offered up a rare treat featuring performances from both The Fagans and duo Nancy Kerr and James Fagan. With the latter now based out of the UK (and doing very well for themselves over there) seeing these festival staples is becoming increasingly rare. With Nancy Kerr pregnant they seemed to be hinting that this would be the last time for a while that the couple would be in Australia.

I managed to catch The Fagans in full at the Marquee stage on the Friday of the festival. For the uninitiated The Fagans are a family group consisting of Bob Fagan, Nancy Kerr, Margaret Fagan, Kate Fagan and James Fagan. Focusing on traditional and contemporary music from Australia, USA and the Brittish Isles, The Fagans combine a wide variety of acoustic instruments (including violin, viola, guitar and bouzouki) with wonderful five part harmonies.

Sadly Bob Fagan had been ill prior to the National and was forced to rest his voice for the entire weekend. The rest of the group more than made up for his vocal absense but you could tell Bob was frustrated throughout the entire set, often mouthing the words along with the rest of the group or simply sitting songs out.

As usual the highlight of the set was the wonderful Kate Fagan. In both her solo work and with the rest of the family Kate really personifies the best in a female folk singer – her ability to tell a story through not only her words but through the emotions in her voice really sets her apart from her contemporaries. When combined with the talents of the rest of The Fagans (who truly are masters of vocal harmony) Kate’s voice soars. The Fagans really are a joy to watch and it’s easy to see why they are a firm festival favourite.

Nancy Kerr and James Fagan
Image Courtesy of Nancy Kerr and James Fagan

The duo show I saw with Nancy Kerr and James Fagan was in my favourite National Folk Festival venue The Coorong. The sound and acoustics in the Festival’s second largest hall (after The Budawang) are just magnificent and any act that is lucky enough to play the venue should count themselves lucky.

Nancy Kerr and James Fagan are simply superb. There’s a reason they are the darlings of the UK folk scene with a numerous accolades and BBC Folk Awards behind them – they really are magnificent at what they do. Nancy Kerr has this way of writing a song that makes it sound as though it has been around for 1,000 years – her way of storytelling has this timeless quality that feels as though it is continuing the tradition of hundreds of songwriters that have come before.

What impressed me most about Nancy Kerr and James Fagan’s performance was the musicianship of the duo. James’ skills with the guitar are enviable and his voice is absolutely golden. Nancy’s skills with the fiddle are some of the best I’ve ever seen – her ability to sing, play and pluck the instrument at the same time has to be seen to be believed.

Overall I was stoked to be able to see both The Fagans and Nancy Kerr and James Fagan over the weekend. These guys really are giants of modern Australian folk music and it’s a joy to be a part of their audience. Let’s hoping its not too long until we can see them all in one place again.

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