New look for Derby’s popular Folk Festival
PUBLISHED: 09:17 04 September 2020 | UPDATED: 11:59 11 September 2020
Derby’s Folk Festival will look a little different this year. But, as local star Lucy Ward tells Nigel Powlson, there’s plenty to get excited about.
Derby Folk Festival has survived the 2009 financial collapse and the destruction by fire of its main venue in 2014, but faces its biggest challenge yet thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.
This October would have seen the 14th coming together of folk musicians and fans at multiple venues across the city but with live events still off the agenda in the current health crisis, organisers have had to think outside the box, for this year at least.
Like so many things in 2020, Derby Folk Festival will be a virtual event with a digital package of curated concerts substituting for the live music that was originally planned.
Derby Folk Festival at Home gives audiences the chance to connect with some of their favourite artists in the best way possible at the current time. There are four sessions, each featuring concerts from three artists which will take place on the same dates as the original event, from Friday 2nd to Sunday 4th October. It will feature concerts created especially for the festival from many of the artists who were booked to appear in person in the city, including Lucy Ward, Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman, Winter Wilson, Kitty Macfarlane and more.
Lucy Ward, the award-winning folk artist from Derby, is one of the festival’s patrons and she is delighted that something has been preserved from this year’s events to keep things ticking over.
She said: ‘The festival did a good thing in deciding very early that with the social distancing measures we thought might be in place it just wouldn’t be possible. Making that call gave us the longest time possible to create a really exciting online event.
‘The folk scene is a really welcoming, friendly, open community of people and because we are an October festival we tend to be the last before winter properly sets in and over the years of playing and being a patron I have felt that sense of everyone coming together before the year turns around again. I know that Derby Folk Festival has taken that on board and is making sure people can interact with us. I pre-recorded my concert, but I will be online chatting to people and responding in that way.’
Lucy plays guitar, ukulele and concertina, but considers her voice to be her first instrument. After getting her first guitar at the age of 14, she ventured into acoustic clubs, picking up her enduring love of traditional music. In 2009 she reached the final of the BBC Young Folk Awards and hasn’t looked back since.
She won the Horizon Award for best newcomer at the 2012 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and in 2014 was one of the youngest ever performers to be nominated as Folk Singer of the Year.
Still only 30, she is firmly established as a leading performer on the scene but her recorded session for Derbyshire Folk Festival at Home is still a new experience.
READ MORE: How Derby’s arts and culture sectors are tackling the coronavirus pandemic
‘It has been a learning curve,’ she says. ‘I had never done an online concert before lockdown and it’s a completely different skill. So much of the live performance is the relationship between the performer and the audience and the energy they are giving each other creating this feedback loop that leads to bigger and better performances.
‘But there is an art in being authentically honest about it being a different experience online. Recording for Derby Folk Festival was the first time in months I had been in a studio space, with a microphone and could hear my voice amplified which made it feel like a real live gig even though there was only the tech crew there.
‘They created this studio space in the Clubrooms at Derby Guildhall, which is usually used for the festival, so it was nice to be at the site where we normally have live music. I think having that space for some of the key concerts of the weekend will be great for audiences who are getting used to seeing artists in their kitchens.
‘Because it’s my home town, and home festival, I’m well placed to talk about our city as part of the show. Although we can’t be together in real life, it’s an opportunity to open up Derby and the festival to a whole new audience who might not normally join us.
‘I hope everyone is really positive about this - it’s not just a back-up, there is plenty to be gained from this experience.’
Normally a festival set happens in the moment and can’t be altered so has Lucy been tempted to watch her herself on playback and tweak with her performance?
‘No, but I did stop and start a few times,’ she explains. ‘It was such a hot day that my guitar kept going out of tune. A live performance is totally transient and there’s a built-in forgiveness because the moment is there and then it’s gone. But I did stop and start to make sure this was the standard I thought it should be. If I did that live, I would make a joke about it and carry on but watching me in their living room nobody wants to see me tuning my guitar for the 45th time!’
This year will be a difficult one for all musicians with the bread and butter of gigs taken away from them.
‘By doing this for the festival, I realised not only how much I miss it but how performance is a muscle you have to exercise. I finished touring in December and was due to start again in the spring, which never happened.
‘These are tough times, especially for people in the music sector who aren’t name artists and who don’t have audiences to call upon, and for techs and people like those who run Derby Folk Festival. I’m lucky to have a platform to do online concerts and connect with my audience and keep the finances ticking over.
‘It’s really important that people engage with the arts online because we are at a real crossroads. It’s fantastic that the Government announced a package of support for theatres and venues but no amount will be enough to save small grassroots festivals and venues and the less there are the less chance there will be for new and exciting artists to come forward. If people are asking what they can do to help arts and culture in their home county, then engaging with Derby Folk Festival online would be a joyous place to start. They can enjoy some great music and support an important cultural hub in Derby.
‘The first festival I ever played as a teenager was Derby Folk Festival and without that opportunity I might never have reached the place I have now in my career and be in a position to be its patron which is which is why I support it and shout about as much as I can.
‘It’s a fantastic advert for Derbyshire as well as attracting world class artists from elsewhere and it offers a place for emerging artists to make connections and find support which is really important.
‘There must be something in the Derbyshire water as we have some very prominent folk artists like John Tams and Bella Hardy - but they all needed a start somewhere.’
2020 is the 14th year of Derby Folk Festival, an event that has both showcased Derbyshire musicians to a wider audience and brought internationally recognised performers to the county.
It began in 2007, as Derby Traditional Music & Arts Festival, changing the name to Derby Folk Festival in 2010.
The festival took over the Assembly Room for a long weekend expanding to include The Guildhall Theatre as it grew in stature and popularity.
Following the Assembly Rooms’ fire in 2014, a marquee was erected on the Market Place to house concerts and The Old Bell Hotel, Derby Cathedral, and QUAD were used for events.
But with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the physical festival was cancelled for the first time.
‘Derby Folk Festival has never let anything get in the way of putting on a show which is testament to the sense of community and the importance of live music,’ says Lucy. ‘It was terrible what happened to the Assembly Rooms but it forced the festival onto the Market Place in a heated marquee and meant that we were doing so much more that was visible to everyone coming to the city and we had fantastic feedback. It resulted in more fringe events, and people engaging with folk music for the first time.
‘The festival has always evolved to meet the demands of the times and this year is no different.
‘As a songwriter I have written about the county and taken stories of Derbyshire on tour with me all over the world. As a young performer I was embraced into the Derby Folk Festival community so when I was asked to be a patron I jumped at the opportunity as it was lovely to give back to something that has supported me and because I’m really proud of where I am from. We are a county steeped in history not just the industrial revolution, but Joseph Wright, suffrage as well as fantastic stories of everyday folk. We have a lot to share and celebrate.
‘Who knows what will happen in the future as Covid-19 has raised so many questions about how we get back to normal or whether we shouldn’t go back but go forward to something better. Whatever happens, I know Derby Folk Festival will be doing its damnedest to present the best of folk and acoustic music to people.
‘A lot of live performance will move to being streamed or having limited capacity live audiences as a way back but our priority is that our audience and artists stay safe so for the time being we are online and sharing great content there.
‘Artists have had to learn new ways of engaging and have got better at presenting themselves online and audiences will be getting more used to accessing live arts in their own home which will open the world out for a lot of people. I think now it’s here, it’s here to stay but nothing will ever compare to the experience of being at a live performance for artists and audiences alike. It’s a fantastic relationship and I look forward to a time when it’s safe to be with an audience again.’
Alongside the concerts, there will be lots of other content, such as interviews and more to keep people entertained, as well as free Festival Fringe events taking place on the Derby Folk Festival Facebook page.
Tickets can be bought online at derbylive.co.uk, and more information about all the acts, and information about new additions as they are announced, can be found at www.derbyfolkfestival.co.uk.