The Urban Folk Quartet (UFQ) were formed in 2009 and play a form of folk that draws heavily on Celtic dance forms and traditional song, yet openly embraces other genres, from funk grooves to Middle Eastern-melodies, and beyond. Based in Birmingham, the quartet consist of Galician fiddler Paloma Trigás (The Chieftains, Sharon Shannon, Altan, Carlos Nuñez), fellow fiddle-player Joe Broughton (Albion Band), and percussionist Tom Chapman (Old Dance School). They’ve recently been joined by acclaimed banjo player Dan Walsh (Walsh and Pound, Seth Lakeman, The Levellers). Tom takes our questions.
Co-founder (and oud player) Frank Moon recently stepped down after four years with the band to be replaced by Dan Walsh. Is he a permanent UFQ member? Will he still be performing solo? How’s he settling in? How has the band dynamic changed?
We’re really excited to have welcomed Dan into UFQ as a permanent member and yes, you’ll still be seeing him work solo, too. You can catch him solo on Sunday at Towersey Festival (24 Aug), in fact! We’ve always added new material every tour, as we can’t seem to stop writing(!) but the new possibilities the banjo brings have really enlivened this process and Dan’s background as a lead singer has given the vocal stuff a huge boost. We’re delighted to be in the position of having some exciting and different new stuff to play in amongst a solid back-catalogue – Frank produced a series of DVDs from which Dan learnt the guitar parts for the chunk of ‘pre-Dan’ material we’re keeping. Dan relishes the opportunity to play the banjo in new and unusual ways and that’s a perfect fit with our ethos, keeping things very UFQ. As for the dynamic, he’s absolutely unbearable and no fun at all [laughs] … but you can’t have everything!
You’ve released a studio album … live album … studio album … live album – I spot a pattern here! Coincidence or part of a Master Plan?
Well spotted! To some extent it is coincidence … but it’s definitely a pattern we saw emerging and find quite appealing – it’s certainly not the way most people do it.
Do you feel the live albums are better representations of UFQ than the studio recordings?
Undoubtedly the best way to experience UFQ is in a live gig – it’s in the nature of our music and performance style… we’re a very ‘live’ band. Right now, Live II is our latest release, which we’re very proud of, so it probably is the best current representation. In reality The Urban Folk Quartet and Off Beaten Tracks were ‘live in the studio’ albums. We’re thinking of keeping up the alternating pattern of studio and live albums, so perhaps our next album will be a more conventional studio album, with overdubs etc. That approach offers up all sorts of other, equally exciting ways to represent what we do.
There’s a lot of different musical influences within the band – wouldn’t the ‘Urban Folk/ World/ Jazz/ Blues/ Fusion/ Mash Up Quartet’ (or something like that) be a more apt title?
Ha! [laughs] Well, that’s perhaps a little more descriptive but you’d never fit it on the posters! For us ‘Urban’ refers to the experience of living and working in the country’s second biggest city [Birmingham], where you can go out any night of the week and find high and low culture of every description. We’re folk musicians, applying the folk process and to us that means we end up with a higher proportion of rock, funk, classical, Afrobeat (I could go on) influences in our music because we genuinely love and respect that as much as we do the best trad’ music. It’s what fills our ears, in our time and place. I don’t think we’d be able to make honest music if we had to affect rusticity or pastoral, faux-rurality!
Do those specific influences come from particular band members? Or do you share them all?
There are blurred lines, for sure. The one thing that unites us is a thirst for good music of all types. But we’ve all got our specialisms – Paloma is highly classically trained, alongside her experience playing trad’ around the world with [famed Spanish musician] Carlos Nuñez. A large, early influence for Joe was electric blues and rock but he’s been involved in everything from a childhood stint in the circus, to major Conservatoires and composition commissions, via The Albion Band and more. I’ve got a degree in jazz studies but as is often the case with percussionists, have always worked in many spheres, from rock and hip hop to Bhangra, Cuban music and classical. Frank was also jazz trained but very busy in contemporary and ‘world’ music and Dan has literally taken clawhammer banjo around the world. Of course, that being said, we’ve all got ‘avoid in the van’ tunes on our iPhones that we know will make one of the others yell “turn it off!”
I gather this is UFQ’s first visit to Towersey Festival, who are celebrating 50 years this year … though some of you have played there before.
Yes. This is UFQ’s first visit and it looks set to be one of the highlights of the summer! I had a lovely time playing Towersey when I was in The Old Dance School a few years back and Dan had a blast playing solo last year. When I played we were on the bill with Swarb and Carthy and it struck me how great it is that Towersey invites younger, sometimes much lesser known acts to be part of an iconic, family festival on a line-up alongside some truly legendary acts.
Are there any acts on the 2014 Towersey bill you’d like to recommend that people see?
This is a very difficult question as the line-up is fantastic – it’s hard to think of anyone you shouldn’t check out! Special mention has to go to Richard Thompson as we’re all huge fans of his. If we go on recent ‘tour bus tunes’, Blair Dunlop, Nancy Kerr and James Fagan and Dick Gaughan have all been getting a lot of spins recently.
Joe’s Conservatoire Folk Ensemble will also be appearing at Towersey – what can we expect from them?
Joe’s Folk Ensemble is a force of nature. An amorphous mass of young musicians playing any instrument imaginable, that moves from funky forty-five-piece folk orchestra to Irish salsa big band via everything in between. Suddenly, the Bulgarian contingent are singing an a cappella trio, then we’re into a Polish drinking song, maybe via an alt-country combo… and before you know it, it’s an all guns blazing set of folk rock tunes, with nearly 50 performers playing, dancing, singing, jumping and generally doing their best to be the highest concentration of energy outside the Large Hadron Collider… I’m obviously biased but there is nothing like it and you really don’t want to miss it!
I notice you’re doing a few other festivals … including Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival! Who’s headlining? Brieoncye? Simply Red Leicester?
Haha! We’ve got a lovely run of festivals this season but as serious cheese devotees we were almost literally biting their arm off to play at that one! I’m hoping we’ll be treated to Cher-vre, Manfred Manchego, Feta Kuti and Mozzarella Fitzgerald.
There’s some pic’s floating around the internet of Paloma and Joe with Joss Stone – is she a fan?
Joss watched our gig at Green Man festival last year and came up to chat afterwards. She’s really lovely and since then she’s stayed in touch and come to see us on tour. When she needed something a little different for the strings on her new record she invited Joe and Paloma down to her studio where they had a great time making music and eating Joss’s incredible homemade chocolate cake!
What are your plans for the rest of the year outside of the spring tour and summer festivals?
We’ll definitely be recording the new line-up sometime soon, as we already have nearly a full album’s worth of new material. We might take a little longer over it than usual – with four albums in four years already under our belt and a packed schedule. The spring tour rolls nicely into festival season and then the first gigs of our autumn tour are in September, running through to the end of November, so it’s a pretty full year! Oh, and in the middle of that Joe and Paloma are having a baby…
Interview by: Dave Freak
Spring Tour 2014:
Apr 25, Calstock Village Hall, Cornwall
Apr 26, Helland Village Hall, Cornwall
Apr 30, Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham
May 2, New Longton Village Hall, Lancashire
May 3, Redditch Palace Theatre, Worcs
May 6, Cambridge Junction
May 9, Hanger Farm Arts Centre, West Totton, Hampshire
May 10, Stafford Gatehouse
May 11, Kirkgate Centre, Cockermouth
May 15, The Jericho, Oxford
May 17, South Devon Arts Centre, Totness
May 23, Maldon Town Hall
May 24, Fishguard Folk Festival
May 27, Dartford Folk Club
May 31, South Street Arts Centre, Reading
Jun 29, Folk On The Quay, Poole
Aug 02, Kendal Calling Festival
Aug 10, Boomtown Festival
Aug 14, Broadstairs Folk Week
Aug 15, Green Man Festival
Aug 23, Shambala
Aug 24, Towersey Festival
Aug 29, Burnham On Sea Folkfest
Sep 06, Swanage Folk Festival
Sep 13, Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival
Main UFQ Image: L-R: Joe, Tom, Paloma, Dan.