It’s almost time for Chester Folk Festival 2016 and once again the organisers will be putting on a celebration of all that’s best in traditional and acoustic music.

Running from May 27-30 this is a family festival that takes place in the village of Kelsall. It mixes showcase concerts, featuring some of the biggest names around, with more informal events such as ceilidhs, dance displays, sessions, workshops, a craft fair and a full programme of children’s entertainment, including things like circus skills and Punch and Judy, provided by Panic Circus.

Multiple BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners Nancy Kerr and James Fagan and legendary duo Richard and Jess Arrowsmith will be appearing as two separate couples as well as combining to play as the amazing Melrose Quartet.

Musical outfit Melrose Quartet
Musical outfit Melrose Quartet

These Sheffield-based friends and neighbours have been capturing imaginations wherever they go with their bold take on old and new English songs and tunes.

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Bringing their brand of gutsy folk rock back to Chester are 2016 Folking Award winners Blackbeard’s Tea Party. Traditional songs and folk tunes are given a heavy rock edge with playful arrangements and driving dance rhythms.

Last year the Wilson Family of five brothers from Teesside celebrated 40 years of singing on the folk circuit. Their strong unaccompanied harmony singing of traditional songs and songs of social comment, together with their humour and camaraderie on stage, have attracted innumerable fans over the years, including Sting who asked them to be part of his Last Ship production which premièred on Broadway in 2013. Their appearance at the BBC folk Prom concert with Kathryn Tickell was another highlight, winning them many five star reviews.

This year’s festival will be the 40th since its inception and to celebrate, organisers have booked a series of returning favourites who have been regular visitors for much of that time.

They include the dark brown voice and relaxed singing style of Yorkshireman Dave Burland; the hilarious performances of his own crazy (and clever) poetry of the self-styled professional idiot, the inimitable Les Barker; the glorious singing and gentle Irish humour of Seán Cannon, formerly lead singer with The Dubliners; the masterful playing and singing of Bill Caddick, one of the foremost songwriters on the scene; and the distinctive voice of the multi-talented ‘one man folk industry’ Pete Coe, this time appearing with Alice Jones.

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But there is also plenty on offer that is new to Chester. There’s Kelly Oliver who The Times speaks of as ‘an artist who blends traditional values with hints of a bold indie-pop sensibility’; Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker whose performances helped make them winners of the Best Duo category at the 2015 BBC Folk Awards; folk singer and songwriter Kim Lowings who fronts a collective of musicians called The Greenwood; “one of England’s finest young singers” Gavin Davenport, teamed with the energy, exuberance and emotion of fiddle player Tom Kitching; and banjo player and songwriter Dan Walsh who is described as ‘eclectically inspired and consistently brilliant’.

Blackbeard’s Tea Party
Blackbeard’s Tea Party

From further afield the festival will welcome the scintillating Miriam Backhouse-Erasmus. Fondly remembered from when she was a force to be reckoned with on the UK folk scene before her move to live in South Africa, she has continued to impress on her return to performing.

In addition there’s a full line up of talented musicians, singers and dancers from around the country including some regular local performers such as Fiddlestone, Full House, Roy Clinging, Graham Bellinger and The Waite Collective.

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And the festival isn’t only about concerts. Once again there will be a daily series of events aimed at the 12 to 20 age group, each one led by festival guest artists from a similar age range.

The Youth Room gives young participants the opportunity to exchange ideas, questions, and experiences, and to create music together; they are encouraged to bring their own instrument and/or voice or just come along to listen. These are non-ticket events, so friends and fellow musicians who aren’t sure about buying full festival tickets can still come along and sample what goes on.

There’s plenty for dancers too with a ceilidh each evening as well as a Saturday afternoon dance aimed at all the family. Some of the top exponents of ceilidh dance music will be taking part, including The Black Box Band, All Blacked Up, Hekety and local heroes The Time Bandits. Experienced callers, like Baz Parkes, Pete Coe, Gordon Potts and Martyn Harvey, will also be on hand to help everyone join in, experts and beginners alike.

Day and evening tickets as well as full weekend tickets are available and can be purchased on site by going to the festival office which is located near the Lord Binning pub. You can also buy tickets in advance through the festival website www.chesterfolk.org.uk/ where you will also find more information.