Another new year, and a brand new in-house night at Norwich Arts Centre with the first of their 'Folk That' evenings arranged for those fans of alt-folk who are open-minded enough to also welcome elements of anything from dream-pop to experimental electronica. As if to distinguish these nights from most of the more traditional folk gigs held at this esteemed venue, the seats have been removed, and the auditorium becomes standing-only, increasing the capacity and allowing the audience to get closer to the action.
As with the Arts Centre's 'Pony-Up' evenings, value for money is guaranteed with a line-up that consists of five acts for a door-busting price of £4.50. You couldn't even buy a pint of lager for that in trendier parts of London, or even some of Norwich's clubs and bars.
By juggling acts between the main auditorium and the smaller stage in the café-bar we are treated to an almost seamless evening of music, starting with Mat Riviere in the hall before Tom Eagle took a turn in the bar.
Mat Riviere I had seen previously supporting East India Youth at the Arts Centre, and his work is often dark and deeply personal, electronic sampling and beats mixing with his angst-ridden moody baritone vocals. Anyone who calls their album 'Not Even Doom Music' is clearly looking for something, and that in itself lends itself to the traditions of folk, even if the end result appears about as far away from Hey Nonny-Nonny as it is possible to get.
After Tom Eagle in the bar it's migration time for all but the hardiest and determined of drinkers back into the hall for Inlay, a four-piece that met in Norwich a few years back, yet whom I have never before had a chance to see. Tonight I get to hear three-quarters of the band - accordion player and percussionist Andy Weeks is missing, leaving Ross Grant (violin), Nick Sanchez-Ray (banjo) and James Porter (guitar and vocals) to provide me with my first listen. It is more like folk music as we know it Jim, supplemented with the ubiquitous Nord keyboard and some electronic pads to give it a modernist flavour in keeping with 'alternative'. Nice enough, but I would have loved to have heard that accordion fleshing out the sound a bit more.
Inlay (well, 75% of them)
True Adventures in the Bar may sound like a Sunday morning recap of a bawdy Saturday night out with the lads, but for this evening 'True Adventures' is the alter-ego of a certain Samuel Leonard Keith Leonard (real name). It's the third time I've seen him play - last time it was to a perfectly behaved audience just up the road in The Bicycle Shop. Tonight it is a more challenging set to the backs of people's heads as they refil their glasses at the bar, so the brave thing to do is to encourage folk to move forwards. Better playing to the whites of their eyes than their balding pates. It's a good move and, with the attention held, we are treated to his songs with gentle storytelling atmospherically driven by the electric guitar. There's even a free promotional CD on offer, featuring the beautiful 'North Atlantic Ocean'. The 'Sound And Vision' tribute to Bowie was a nice touch.
Last, but certainly least, Haiku Salut emerge tentatively onto the main stage, almost without the audience noticing. They are three musicians hailing from the Derbyshire Dales, and their second album 'Etch and Etch Deep' got mostly 8's and 9's in the press reviews on its release last year.
Referring to their own music as 'Baroque-pop-folktronic-neo-classical-something-or-other' may be slightly tongue-in-cheek, but it really is difficult to classify. When Louise Croft picks up the accordion we are in Yann Tiersen territory. Towards the end of the set, where all three are pushing the percussion whilst still playing their instruments, it reminds me of Woodkid. The glockenspiel is reminiscent of Jon Brion. In fact, the whole set is like a cinematic soundtrack, with the musicians far too busy scurrying around the effect pedals and swapping instruments to have time left over to acknowledge the audience with anything more than a mute smile. Some of their earlier gigs were supplemented with old charity shop lamps synched into a disco-box. Tonight we have nothing to watch except the three girls busying themselves. Addressing the audience is not essential, but for those of us unfamiliar with their work, a printed setlist would have been useful.
So, it can be concluded that the first 'Folk That' was a huge success - thanks to Will and Rosie for putting it together. The huge crowd was a fitting reward for all their hard work, and showing that when thinking of folk music it is most definitely possible to venture outside of the box, and still attract an almost full house.