The Leigh Folk Festival has long styled itself, tongue somewhat in cheek, as ‘The Antidote to Glastonbury’. This year of course, with their great rival enjoying a fallow year, no Mummers Play style magic remedy is necessary, but it really is all the more reason for festival lovers to head on down to the northern shore of the Thames Estuary or the ‘Thames Delta’ as many musically-minded souls prefer. Now in its second quarter century, the Leigh Folk Festival continues on its singular path of challenging the boundaries of ‘folk music’, with their unique, volunteer-run, community-based event, taking place in indoor and outdoor venues around Leigh-on-Sea. Happening as ever over the last full weekend in June, this remarkable festival continues to succeed in enticing discerning music lovers in their thousands to head east to the vibrant Essex fishing town and artistic hub, rather than looking west to that canvas metropolis in Somerset. And the event has steadily evolved and grown over its impressive period of existence, and has long been recognised as the largest free folk festival in the country, with an estimated attendance of 20,000 across its four day run.
And there are some mouthwatering prospects on this year’s menu. As well as key concert performances featuring the fine folk / early music ensemble The Emily Askew Band and a rare live outing for the acclaimed three-way collaboration Alasdair Roberts, Amble Skuse & David McGuinness (both St Clement’s Church, Saturday 23), there will be the usual huge array of music of all flavours across the weekend, along with the pageantry of the centrepiece procession through the Old Town on Sunday 25, once again led by the legendary Dagenham Girl Pipers. As ever there will be a plethora of dance displays in evidence, ranging from the traditional – morris, clog, rapper, to the contemporary – salsa, disco, belly-dancing, as well as poets, mummers, story-tellers, comedians, and more besides. And the festival vibe will be complete with a larger than ever range of craft and clothing stalls, foodie outlets and bars.
As usual the music will encompass everything from the local to the international, the arch-traditional to the most ‘out there’ avant-folk, all spread across a huge array of indoor and outdoor venues, these centred around Leigh Library Gardens and the Broadway area on Saturday 23 before moving down the hill to Leigh Old Town’s waterfront area for the Saturday night and Sunday 24. Some of this year’s highlights include the highly rated trio You Are Wolf led by renaissance woman Kerry Andrew, vintage psych-folksters Stone Angel, folk club favourites Mick Ryan & Paul Downes, from Berlin the fine cello and violin duo Mein Haus, long time Folk Festival favourites Stick in the Wheel, the wonderful French vocal trio Tartine de Clous, the massed ranks of the Maspindzeli London Georgian Choir, strangeness from Thomas Truax, general insanity from Mad King Ludwig & the Mojo Company, as well as performances from Mary Hampton, Doomed Bird of Providence, Men Diamler, Markers, Bird in the Belly, Said the Maiden, Trevor Moss and Hannah Lou, and the perennial Diamond Family Archive.
And as ever there will also be a gamut of local acts of all styles and shapes appearing, among them Digby Fairweather & Band, Famous Potatoes, Lucky Strikes, Tuppenny Bunters, Angel & the Melodyhorns, Arfur Doo & the Toe Rags, David Woodcock & the Fixtures, Daisy Bowlers, T Bitch, and a debut from new duo Masal. Mention should also be made of the Festival’s opening night event (Thursday 21) where the hugely popular El Rey Club relocates to Leigh Community Centre, and a collaboration with Southend YMCA (Friday 22, Twenty One, Southend) for the official launch concert of the fundraising CD ‘A Place to Dwell’, which features M.G. Boulter, Robert Sunday, Circle/Temple, Goodnight Crow and the great Alasdair Roberts (reviewed here).
Apart from three ticketed main feature performances, the Leigh Folk Festival continues to be a free, open event relying on a range of local and national sponsors to keep the show on the road, and most particularly public donations over the weekend. Many have commented that a typical ticketed festival on a similar scale would charge £150+ for a weekend pass, so festival-goers are being asked to dig as deep as they can into their pockets when encountering one of the Festival’s army of ‘tin rattlers’, with every single pound collected counting toward another free festival in 2019 and beyond.
Thursday June 22: Leigh Community Centre + St Clement’s Church, Leigh
Friday June 23: Twenty One, Southend, St Clement’s Church + other venues around Leigh
Saturday June 24: Library Gardens, St Clement’s Church, and venues around Leigh
Sunday June 25: Leigh Old Town