Tag Archives: Hillbilly Troupe

Folk In Hull – a celebration of local music

Songs are poems put to music; music is a story with no need for words.

Folk in Hull was a tale told in nine chapters, taking the audience on a journey of the city and its music makers.

Our initial narrators were Lyn Acton and Martin ‘Mad Dog’ Jones, who kept the audience engaged with their humorous conversation and endless jokes, bridging that gap from the stage. It was in quick succession that each band took their part, mere minutes as they bounced from one side of the stage to the other.

Farino (Paul Newbon Photography)
Farino (Paul Newbon Photography)

Up first were guitar-yielding duo Farino, who released their debut album in 2008. Influenced by any music genre which includes the guitar, you could hear the Latin vibe in their opening track. As is often the case, we launched straight into the music, with a fast-paced instrumental to which you could easily picture dancers strutting around the room to. Showcasing all that you can do with the instrument, the audience was swiftly warmed up, energised by the sound and eager to hear more.

Crooked Weather (Paul Newbon Photography)
Crooked Weather (Paul Newbon Photography)

Describing themselves as earthy, unruly and original, Crooked Weather were next on the bill. It was difficult to place them into a genre, having a folk-rock look and with more of a blues sound, this five-piece introduced the art of storytelling into the night. Performing four songs, one of which lead vocalist Will Bladen described as “the folkiest thing you’ll hear all evening”, they pulled the audience in by the heartstrings.

Returning the focus back to the instruments were RPM (which stands for the first initials of each member: Rob, Paul and Mike). With roots in improvisation, they performed a block of consistent powerful sound; the drums and bass getting your feet tapping, while the saxophone made you sway.

Pearl's Cab Ride (Paul Newbon Photography)
Pearl’s Cab Ride (Paul Newbon Photography)

The last band before the short interval was Lyn Acton’s own Pearl’s Cab Ride, ending the segment with the funky soul of this large band, meant that everyone was eager for more.

The mood was set by the musicians, bouncing as they did from one stage to another, building up that kaleidoscope of sentiment.

The highlights for me were yet to come, and they did not disappoint.

Hillbilly Troupe, feat. Martin 'Mad Dog' Jones (Paul Newbon Photography)
Hillbilly Troupe, feat. Martin ‘Mad Dog’ Jones (Paul Newbon Photography)

Hillbilly Troupe were the fifth act on stage, instantly raising the roof of Hull Truck. Performing without Mick McGarry, Lloyd Dobbs and Mick Murphy took on lead vocals while Martin Jones joined the ensemble to play trumpet during ‘I Wish There Was No Prisons’, during which Dobbs mimicked picking his pocket.

Heron String Quartet (Paul Newbon Photography)
Heron String Quartet (Paul Newbon Photography)

Bringing the volume down, but leaving the energy high, the Heron String Quartet took over with. The back curtain now lit up like the night sky, they performed three classical collaborations, taking us on a wordless journey into the night, which including one which mixed ‘Beethoven’s Fifth’ with The Beach Boys’ ‘Surfin’ USA’.

Micky Fegz - Fire: The Unstoppable Force (Paul Newbon Photography)
Micky Fegz – Fire: The Unstoppable Force (Paul Newbon Photography)

Next up were dark grunge artists Fire: The Unstoppable Force. I’ve seen these guys a lot recently, and I’ve been saying they’re suited for a stage like this one. And, as their name suggests, the stage was unable to stop them; Alfie Steel did not instantly pick up his guitar, instead opening with a wolf call before taking the stairs in order to penetrate the audience. I’ve always said they are fantastic performers, and they proved this with every movement, reminding us that we were sat in a theatre and that music is more than just noise made by the instruments. Anyone who hadn’t seen them before were quickly enthralled, with members standing between songs as they applauded.

Fire: The Unstoppable Force (Paul Newbon Photography)
Fire: The Unstoppable Force (Paul Newbon Photography)

Wedging together two of my favourite bands, Tom Skelly and The Salty Beards took up their instruments next. Opening with ‘Morning Sun’, they started softly, easing us in while focusing our attention on Skelly’s luscious voice. Never failing to capture my heart, the world around them dissipated, fading to insignificance; those people who’d distracted me before as they stood to top up their drinks no longer there. The Salty Beards filling the space between songs with sound, you were kept hanging on, your heart beating in time with the music, which grew in ferocity.

Bud Sugar (Paul Newbon Photography)
Bud Sugar (Paul Newbon Photography)

Concluding the night, popular boys Bud Sugar were described by Lyn Acton as “one of the hits of the festivals last year”, and the calls from the crowd certainly back this up. Mixing rap, reggae and just about anything which takes their fancy, the audience clapped along as they played, casting the music around the entire room.

An amazing variety of talent, covering every genre of music and building the performance into the sound, Folk in Hull demonstrated exactly what makes this city strong. A tale which took many turns, saw many characters and ended with a happily ever after.

I wrote two reviews for this event – this one featured in Browse Magazine. You can read the other over on the Yorkshire Gig Guide.

All photography by the wonderful Paul Newbon.


The New Years Eve Eve Sesh 30.12.14

I’d never seen so many people packed into The Polar Bear as I did for their New Year’s special Sesh. In contrast to the icy outdoors, we were warm and comfortable, enjoying the jolly folk music of three fantastic bands.

Mick McGarry - Hillbilly Troupe
Mick McGarry – Hillbilly Troupe

Hillbilly Troupe, unable to play the headline spot, took over for the warm up. Performing acoustically, they stood in front of the stage; a more intimate setting which enabled the crowd to huddle around, engaging with the band. Playing tunes from their album, with one Des O’Connor track which they’ve only played a few times before, we were all able to join in, singing and dancing. I was with friends from two corners of the country, visiting for New Year celebrations, and they knew the songs well enough to join in and become one with the crowd.

Christopher Frost on piano - Hillbilly Troupe
Christopher Frost on piano – Hillbilly Troupe

A firm favourite in the city, Hillbilly Troupe performed a fun and energetic set. Never ones to let anything stop them, when facing an issue with the bass guitar Mick McGarry simply stepped to the rescue by singing ‘Luckiest Sailor’ unaccompanied by the instruments. Sadly, being in the warm up spot meant that many people were still deep in conversation, and this was the first time I had experienced anything but silence during this track: usually, the full audience is captivated by Mick’s voice and his sorrowful tale.

The Quicksilver Kings lead singer Keith Hogger
The Quicksilver Kings lead singer Keith Hogger

The Quicksilver Kings were next to take on the stage and the now swollen crowd, stood right up to the front even between performances. Their sound is blues/folk with a pulsing rock beat. More mellow than Hillbilly Troupe, I recognised that they would have suited the warm up spot; the audience swaying in reaction, where we’d been tapping our feet and bouncing to Hillbilly Troupe.

The Quicksilver Kings
The Quicksilver Kings

Their energy increasing throughout their set, we were moving more and more, warming the room again, and preparing ourselves for the headliner.

With Danny Landau, it’s easy to assume you’re getting the one man and his guitar experience – not something you expect for the final slot of the night. But the stage was filled with characters, playing a range of instruments. With Landau as the focal, centre stage, it was easy to compare with similar great singers as Frank Turner, who performs with equal levels of enthusiasm when acoustically solo or supported by a full band.

Danny Landau
Danny Landau

We were dancing again, whether we knew the songs or now – I was pleased that I did recognise more than expected – and the room was a wave of energy. The sound was powerfully upbeat, easy to enjoy and move to.

They concluded at midnight, with a loud, crashing instrumental, after having been called for en core and playing popular song ‘45’. If anyone’s enthusiasm for the night was beginning to wane, if tiredness was taking hold, this was cast out. The cheerful DJ set which followed continued to keep the room filled with merry characters.

Folk music is the true nature of storytelling, and this was a wonderful way to conclude the year, for many of us acting as preparation for the exhilarating New Year’s Eve celebrations. All singers had voices which drew you in: Mick McGarry, the Godfather of Folk, a jovial heart-breaker; Keith Hagger’s charming tones; and Danny Landau’s enigmatic charisma. It was cold outside, but in The Polar Bear, it was warm and charming: a fire lit in everyone’s hearts.

We certainly enjoyed ourselves
We certainly enjoyed ourselves

Originally written for Browse Magazine.

Photo credit goes to my good friend Heather Irwin.

Hulloween – Round One – Friday Night

The dress code was ‘dark and surreal’ and many took this on board. Most notably the bands performing in Halloween-inspired garbs.

I, sadly, left everything to the last minute. Usually one to be designing Halloween costumes over the summer, I could be found transforming a rah-rah skirt into a suitable witch’s mess of cobwebs, spiders and skulls. I was not to let this deter me though; Halloween is time to let those guards down and test your limits.

Catching the bus was a bit of an issue when the colourful aspects of your outfit only show up under a UV light. Thinking that missing the mode of transport would be the worst thing to happen this Allhallow’s Eve, I giggled with one of the Blues Brothers who noted that he’d had the same issue.

I was early for the first performance at the Alive With Art exhibition so, spotted by a former colleague, I joined friends in Pave for a pleasant catch-up.

As catch-ups do, this overran so that I missed The Dyr Sister perform, but one friend accompanied me into the exhibition to watch Mein Host perform to a speckled crowd among the artwork. One man and his guitar, the intimate venue was a perfect place to capture his enchanting voice and personality. When we followed Mein Host upstairs to Union Mash Up, where he sang three more songs, he performed to each one of us. Moving around the room, he engaged with each of us who attended early into the evening, enjoying the calm ambience with a vampire movie silently playing in the background. It was at this point, aiming to get a shot where he wore a butcher aprin emblazoned with the event’s logo, that I realised just how unorganised I had been. Having uploaded the images from Tuesday night’s Sesh, I’d left my SD card in my laptop, and would be carrying around a fully-charged and utterly useless camera for the night.

It was about 9pm when I headed down to The Polar Bear, saddened that I’d had to make the decision between the collection of bands there and the performers at Union Mash Up. I would have liked to see Lewis Young (AKA My Pleasure) perform again, and certainly would have enjoyed the change of plan for Rachel Harris who would be performing a piece on heroin and the work of Michelle Dee. The atmosphere had been delightful and calm, with a comfortable collection of chairs and a chance to chat relax, chat and drink.

But, as if hearing Grant Dobbs practising his wolf howls, the call of the wild was drawing me to The Polar Bear, where The Cotton Gussets were playing and another group of friends were aiming to meet me within minutes. Clapping along, the first band stepping down as I order my drink, I looked around at the decorated room and the few decorated customers to have joined thus far. There were many surreal skulls and a fantastic werewolf costume, but many people had opted to come simply as themselves.

Spooky Friends
Spooky Friends

Dead Hormones performed spattered in blood, the volume turned up loud and bouncing around the walls. In fact, one friend commented that they were so bouncing that he need not shake when visiting the little boys’ room just the other side of the wall from the stage. Playing a mixture of original tracks and covers, the audience was able to join in whether they knew the band or not, shaking their shoulders to their version of Stuck In The Middle or tapping their foot to General Error.

It was wonderful to watch the increasing swarm of participants; the general public as well as members of the many Hull bands who were there in support of their fellow musicians. There were a mixture of outfits, from the traditional witches (myself included), zombies and cats (why?), to fully decorated skeletons and gothic-inspired ensembles. The efforts of both bands and customers were noted in conversation, people chatting with strangers about the application of make-up and choice of outfit. From our table there was a long discussion about the appropriate manner in which to ask Jacob Tillison if we could get a picture of his backside, decorated with two bloody handprints.

Hillbilly Troupe performing
Hillbilly Troupe performing

Fire – a truly unstoppable force – performed a collection of horror-themed songs, including Jack the Ripper and Psycho Killer. Alfie Steel’s voice was strikingly haunting, and would not go amiss as a voiceover introduction to a slasher movie. This, teamed with the wolf howls in Bad Man which were echoed back from the audience, painted an auditory picture of the joy of Halloween, the fantastical pleasure that comes so close to fear.

Last minute headliners were the Hillbilly Troupe, having only been announced that morning. With a mixture of eyeliner efforts and unusual wardrobe choices – Mick McGarry did comment on Lloyd’s “lovely knees” during on-stage discussion about his selection of dress for the evening – they crowded the stage before an eager audience. This band always get the crowd moving, playing their favourites from the current album and even getting down to dance with the people. Ending the night in a fit of energy, they left me, and I am sure many more, hungry for more.

A thoroughly enjoyable Halloween evening; easily chatting along with an array of characters dressed as assorted characters, with fantastic music and two welcoming venues. I’m certainly ready to do it all again tonight, when a second set of bands take to The Polar Bear’s stage which includes the mysterious Tobias Reaper & The Graveyard Shift (playing at 11pm).

A clue?
A clue?

This time I won’t be donning my witch’s hat and wand, but I will have a camera I can use. So, at the very least, tomorrow’s review will look nicer.

A Change in the Tides; Hull’s Impact on my CD Rack

Everyone has their own go-to band; that one which you refer to when people ask who or what you’re into. Everyone has that song which takes them back in time to a better place, mostly because you only ever seem to listen to it when the world seems dark and unforgiving. And everyone has that party tune which perks them right back up.

Manic Street Preachers – insert in The Holy Bible, featuring images of the members as children.

I’ve always had the Manics in my life. They enveloped my teenage years and still are the most referenced name on my CD rack. I’ll collect their albums long into the time when CDs are museum pieces, because they are something I want to be able to hold in my hands, to pass on to my children and say ‘this was my childhood’. One of the songs from their first album is adorned on my back in a most permanent fashion. And yet, I am prone to flow with tides of change. Though they remain the raft I return to when the seas get choppy and uncertain, they feature less and less on playlists than they used to. My love for them is strong, but my need for them is no longer all-powerful.

Last year I was obsessed with Plan B, getting into rap for the first time since that one Eminem song I liked once. His music tells a story of modern life for so many, and, at the time, I needed to feel a passion like that which vibrated from my stereo. I had lost my mojo and I was seeking it out in the only place I felt confident to find it: music.

After Plan B, it was OneRepublic. My song of 2014 is probably their hit Love Runs Out. Again, Ryan Tedder is a fantastic poet. He was the one who’d written most of the songs I heard on the radio, where I would say that I didn’t particularly like the performer but the song was amazing. That one song – that was Ryan Tedder’s. time and time again.

And then I attended Press Pack and started writing for Browse Magazine. I’d decided that I wanted to do some more writing and I expected that there would be a spattering of both local, national and international talent which pooled across the pages of my blog. It didn’t really matter anyway, as I was writing for myself and not anyone else.

Ricky Wilson at the Adelphi30 gig – Friday 3rd October 2014

And then I wasn’t just writing for myself and I had followers and deadlines.

And I was writing about local, national and international acts. Toploader played the Trinity Festival, a free festival set in the picturesque grounds of Trinity Square. And in the same week I got press pass to see Kaiser Chiefs perform at another iconic spot, The Adelphi. I was there alongside other journalists and I was playing about with my photography, honing skills I didn’t even consider needing until the moment when I was told photographs were a necessity to any decent article.

Now my CD rack still features the name Manic Street Preachers more than any other band. But atop their collection, I have a new assembly of musical joys. Just as I have a ‘Hull Tunes’ playlist now on my computer, which is my first port of call for musical ambience when doing just about anything, I have a collaboration of CDs from Hull artists. Tom Skelly, Hillbilly Troupe and Streaming Lights sit above Plan B and even my first love from Hull, The Beautiful South.

The Hillbilly Troupe

When I need a quick pick-me-up, I will turn to the joy of The Hillbilly Troupe, knowing that I’ll know all the lyrics and the energy from their last gig will overtake any negativity in my heart. If I need a physical shake then I can trust Counting Coins will have me perform a one-woman mosh-pit in my living room, sparking adrenaline rushes and pumping endorphins around my blood stream. When I need something to chill me out and allow me to focus mostly on my work – the dull reminder of needing an ‘adult responsibility’ – I switch Tom Skelly or Jody McKenna on, with their poetic lyrics and melodies.

Hull is slowly but surely digging its way into my very soul, and turning me from small town girl, holding onto a loose connection with Wales in order to ensure that link with the Manics, to a city girl who wants to scream at anyone who questions this wonderful place I call my home. I’ll spend my weekends, and often weekdays, at gigs in a former fruit market or a local bar supporting local talents, rather than paying to watch someone perform at a huge venue.

At the Adelphi30 gig where I saw the Kaiser Chiefs, I was more excited about having a chat with Paul Jackson and finally getting to speak with Black Delta Movement’s Matt Burr than I was about touching the sweaty body of Ricky Wilson. Don’t get me wrong, it was ridiculously exciting to get the opportunity, but when the end of the night came I was singing Life’s Crawling and smiling at the gentleness with which Jacko spoke with my friend and me. These are the things I will share with my children, when my eyes will brighten and my soul will shine.

I want to share Hull’s music with the world. I want to support our bands and promote them and give them that platform they deserve. But I also kind of want to keep them for myself a little bit, ensuring I have that much more real connection.

Folk, as defined by the folk of Hull

Last weekend saw the second annual festival dedicated to Hull Folk music, following the various strands of the genre from traditional to contemporary.

With the concept of “give Folk a chance” it embodies Hull’s need to be recognised, in the same way that Folk music is no longer branded as a single genre. An event which has not been as hyped-up as those which sandwich it, Hull Folk Festival offered something different, with a range of musicians as well as over 50 Morris Dancers and fringe events which include “Survivor Sessions”.

And so I had to ask, what is Folk? A representative from organisers Sowden & Sowden said there were 6 strands, but gave no further details than “traditional” and “contemporary”. The only people to ask: the folk of Hull.

Questioning people who attended the main stage, based at the Minerva pub, members of the general public about their business in the city centre and a collection of my own friends, there seemed a clear inability to put the genre of music into simple words. It is not that Folk music is fractured in any way, but that many found it difficult to refer to as a form of music or as defined by any era of time in the way we can categorise other genres.


UK-touring Folk act, The Hut People commented during their set that “when you think of Folk Music and a popular tune, you think of Morris Dancing” and requested the audience to get their “hankies at the ready”. Yet, even this could not be defined with a singular expectation. Several Morris Dance groups were showing off their skills alongside the marina, dressed in a range of costumes. From traditional peasantry attire to leather corsets, you could see from the different dynamics of Yorkshire’s Morris Dancers that there are no rules on maintaining all the customs associated with the Folk dance. There was certainly a modern feel to what can only described as a Morris Dance-Off with performances based on Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and comments from the crowd such as “I’ve never seen Morris dancers with blacked-out faces before” – this referring to Hull-based Rackaback Morris, who wear their black, purple and green colours throughout their outfit.

The age-range of Folk fans too is cross-generational. Starting at midday on Saturday with a 100-deep audience stretching three generations, I asked various people what Folk truly meant to them. The consensus was that of two ideas, though nobody could offer a pure definition.

It certainly seems that Folk is a genre broader than music; that you cannot place it in one hat. And still Folk as a genre is undefinable, and more an experience. One couple who had planned to attend the festival admitted that they never listened to the music in their home and that “if there was a building offering folk dance [they] wouldn’t go in”. Yet, “when it’s like this … scattered” they thoroughly enjoy it, arranging their weekend around the event.


This tied in with the view of a mother and daughter who both described themselves as having grown up with Folk music, and said that it is important in maintaining heritage. They explained that to them Folk music is the telling of stories and keeping history relevant. Two performers in the festival echoed this, with Sally Currie (stage name The Dyr Sister) stating that “Folk is quite broad nowadays … for me Folk is like storytelling” and Lyn Acton agreeing and adding that this was dependent on where in the world the story was being told as to what genre it matched musically.

And so I find that the notion of Folk is constantly changing and indifferent to place and time. Folk music and dance both tell a story, but can be adapted to ensure that it is entirely applicable to its audience.

Hull at one time was the third-largest fishing port in the UK, and the people of Hull are proud of this heritage. Simply holding the festival at the marina and displaying the docking of the ships brought this home.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor me, Folk has always been about remembering the past and sharing your experiences. Whether this is sea shanties which remind me of those family members who served as fishermen or songs about completing a 1000-piece jigsaw, Folk is about sharing your experiences with a wider audience and finding that common ground. Folk is about holding onto the past while you sail into future horizons.

Bands such as The Hillbilly Troupe, local favourites, define true Folk. They not only headlined the Folk Festival but also closed as headliners at Freedom the week prior. And the next big music festival in Hull features them too. With former Paddington’s Lloyd Dobbs there is an indie-punk element to their music, and – again crossing generations with the introduction of young Victor on flute – an eclectic mix of instruments.


What is Folk?

Folk is everything and almost anything.

Folk is the past. Folk is the present. Folk will exist in the future.

Folk is storytelling, the passing of knowledge and understanding from one generation to the next. It is a chance to be something collective and the possibility of sharing yourself with the world. As Hull is becoming a bigger piece of the jigsaw that is the world of culture, Folk is at the heart of Hull.

Article was originally written for Yorkshire Gig Guide.