The UK’s biggest folk band is heading for Chester.
The mighty Conservatoire Folk Ensemble will be bringing their 50 or so members to Alexander’s on May 31.
The appearance will be followed by the release of their new single, Sleepy Maggie and a series of high profile festival appearances.
The band was formed at Birmingham Conservatoire, part of Birmingham City University, by fiddle player and arranger Joe Broughton in 1997. Joe himself is no stranger to Chester having played at the Chester Festival at an earlier stage in his career.
The band say it has been ‘a heady 12 months’ for the ensemble with their acclaimed studio album Painted racking up ‘a string of jaw-dropping reviews’. The collective also guested on an acclaimed Fairport Convention album.
Meanwhile in their hometown of Birmingham the full band stunned commuters at Britain’s busiest railway station with a pop-up gig and wowed audiences at one of the biggest St Patrick’s Day celebrations outside of Ireland for the second consecutive year.
The stage-shaking 50-plus ensemble is now heading out for their annual summer tour which includes the fifth edition of their very own festival, Power Folk, apart from releasing what they describe as their ‘remarkable new track’.
A four-and-a-half-minute instrumental, Sleepy Maggie is said to perfectly encapsulate the ensemble’s richly layered and powerful sound.
With sweeping strings, rolling percussion, tight brass, a fleeting guitar solo and an unexpected Eastern vocal incursion, it’s a dramatic track, both muscular and delicate, oozing global influences.
Band leader Joe said: “Sleepy Maggie is a traditional tune which we’ve deconstructed and re-arranged in typical ensemble fashion pulling in ideas from various members of the ensemble to create something that sounds very very different from versions you might have heard before.
“The roots of the tune remain, which you can hear in the fiddles at the beginning, but the new arrangement heads off to some interesting and surprising places.
“It’s supposed to be deliciously over the top!”
A series of surprising remixes and re-imaginings by various members of the ensemble push Sleepy Maggie further into new musical territories.
“The idea of remixing the track is very much in keeping with the group’s approach to making music, of using what could be a straight-forward melody as the basis for a tune and seeing how that can be developed, or pushed, to create something that still acknowledges the original source, but is somehow transformed into something new and exciting,” Joe added.
The Conservatoire Folk Ensemble’s energetic live sets are described as ‘a sight to behold’ featuring a 15-piece horn section, four cello players, five percussionists and four electric guitarists, plus fiddles, flutes, clarinets, euphonium, tuba, and accordion. They also all sing too.
Though rooted in traditional folk tunes the personal influences and interests of each member shapes the set-list pulling in everything from full-on rock, funk, jazz, hip-hop and reggae to sounds from Eastern Europe and Asia. It’s a sound they’ve dubbed ‘Power Folk’.
In their 21 years, the band, based at what is now the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, have packed out the Royal Albert Hall and played some of the biggest festivals in the UK.
“Our main aim is to send people home a little happier than when they arrived,” said Joe
Sleepy Maggie is released on June 10 with the band on tour from May through to July. For more information see www.folkensemble.co.uk .