• jamesroriston

Folk Proms: A new, vibrant and exciting BBC Prom

Updated: Oct 30, 2018

The minute bookings opened for Prom 27 titled 'Folk Music Around Britain and Ireland' I booked without hesitation. Julie Fowlis, the extraordinary Gaelic Folk singer was billed alongside Sam Lee who has re-imagined English folk songs on a recent stunning album 'The Fade in Time'. He has also featured on late night BBC Radio 3 a few times in recent years.


Other guests featured too: ALAW an instrumental virtuoso Welsh folk trio. The Unthanks from Northumberland and Jarlath Henderson on vocals and pipes. The first time for a 'folk' Prom, this was to be a new venture, adding to the list of experimental ideas that now feature in each year's concert listings.


Some reviews have rated the concert as 'bland'. Really? Sitting as I was on the left of the stage, right by the main orchestra, this was to my mind vibrant, multi-faceted and deeply moving concert.


The format of the programme brought together the cultures of the UK's four nations and short performances by each of the main acts were accompanied by the BBC Concert Orchestra. Truthfully, the featured artists were cut a little short performing two pieces each. Strange then that the BBC Concert Orchestra played alone for two rather dated pieces given the contemporary folk arrangements of the rest.


Julie Fowlis sung with a seeming incredible ease, something she has perfected over her career. At one point, her unaccompanied voice held a silence and stillness in powerful in contrast to the packed stalls and balconies.


It wasn't all stillness though as there were plenty moments of excitement too. One being, piper Jarlath Henderson and the BBC Concert Orchestra who came together in a punchy and engaging performance of traditional Irish music that built with intensity to a thrilling climax.


ALAW's Oli Wilson-Dixon on fiddle gave a virtuosic reinterpretation of Welsh music with a tinge of Eastern Europe. I wasn't fully taken by it in all honestly and lamented the lack of drones and searching modal harmonies that can make folk music truly transformative.


The Unthanks gave a flawless close harmony performance of Northumberland verse reflecting on the pagan and spiritual - how much more folky can you get than that I thought as I listened as again the dark harmonies brought a soft stillness to the Royal Albert Hall.


At the conclusion - a surging re-arrangement of a previously performed folk tune by 'The Unthanks' for all of the featured artists with dance thrown in. The BBC Concert Orchestra soared and I was left wanting more, albeit by that time it was already ten p.m. All round, an excellent and enjoyable evening. I hope the BBC do a folk evening again in next season's Proms.





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