Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Fee Fie Foe Fum @ Cargo, 16/12/08, featuring Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons, Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit, Jay Jay Pistolet and more.

This year’s been a good one for homegrown folk music. A whole host of bands and solo artists have emerged, acoustic guitars in tow, to create a veritable sonic movement. New-folk distinguishes itself with an emphasis on earthy, acoustic musicality and stylistic integrity – a breath of fresh air in a digitally manufactured and commercially driven industry.

Fee Fie Foe Fum is new-folk’s Christmas party. It feels just like it, too, as the artists stand among the audience between sets, supporting one another and celebrating their individual successes and collective critical acclaim. We arrive to catch the end of Cherbourg, but cannot help being distracted by Laura Marling and Marcus Mumford, just a few feet away, in a romantic clinch. Most of the acts on the bill tonight have been touring together, across the globe, in one combination or another throughout the year, and there is an observable sense of community that makes the rest of us feel like the lucky gatecrashers.

Lucky is the word, though. Jay Jay Pistolet looks quite solitary as he takes to the stage after Cherbourg. He is softly sung, the vocal distorted by a mic effect that resounds in Cargo’s warehouse rafters as though emanating from a gramophone. There is an faux-sadness to his performance that is impossibly endearing, and a respectful hush falls upon the onlookers for each quiet, melancholy love song. What he lacks in versatility is more than compensated for in charisma, as he wishes us all a pleasant evening and, doe-eyed, departs the stage.

Mumford & Sons are next as the midnight hour approaches and the mood in the audience loosens up. The talented four-piece are waistcoat-clad and stand in a line, each absorbed by the task at hand as they dance, subconsciously. Their set is infectiously jubilant – there are soon people jigging in the audience, bottles held aloft. Mumford & Sons come off best in passages of magnificent male harmony (‘The Banjolin Song’) that sees all four of them singing like a dog-eared, growling Fleet Foxes, but without the same drifting tonality. If anyone steals the show it is Marcus and friends – and seeing as they don’t have an album out yet, that’s good going.

A little later, Laura Marling comments on how honoured she is to be playing on such an amazing line-up. “You are the line up!” someone shouts back from the floor, and is duly ticked off by Marling. She does look singularly beautiful in a dress and make-up tonight though – as though the boyish, dressed-down girl that we’ve all grown to love finally learned to take pride in her pretty face. She plays a meagre four songs – one new – and creeps off, before being encored back to the stage by the crowd. A rendition of ‘My Manic And I’ turns into a bit of a sing-along, which is utterly bizarre for a fatalistic little number without anything even approaching a chorus. But everyone loves it, and so we sing all of the well-worn words, encouraged by delighted smiles from the Joni Mitchell of new-folk.

“No one should ever have to follow Laura Marling,” Johnny Flynn grumbles as he takes to the stage. Although he is absolutely right, he still manages it as well as anyone possibly could. Flynn makes an angelic, if visibly nervous frontman, showing off extensive talent on any number of instruments while his band provide musical and moral support, ribbing him for his anxious chatter. Though it is the evening’s most unsure performance, with a lyrical slip-up mid-set, it still encompasses all of the best of qualities of new folk – earnest musicality, inclusivity, and humility. There’s not a single person without a smile on their face by the time Flynn and his band play the closing chords.

Forget idiotic day-glo lycra and faddy electro – if tonight’s anything to go by, 2009 will belong to new-folk.

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