The Leigh Folk Festival has long styled itself, tongue somewhat in cheek, as ‘The Antidote to Glastonbury’, claiming the presence of even more mud, unveiled twice daily when the tide goes out. But there are much better reasons for festival lovers to head on down to the northern shore of the Thames Estuary, or the ‘Thames Delta’ as many musically-minded souls prefer. Now in its second quarter century, the Leigh Folk Festival continues on its singular path of challenging the boundaries of ‘folk music’, with their unique, volunteer-run, community based event, taking place in indoor and outdoor venues around Leigh-on-Sea. Happening as ever over the last full weekend in June, this remarkable festival continues to succeed in enticing discerning music lovers in their thousands to head east to the vibrant Essex fishing town and artistic hub. One of the landmark events in the local calendar, the event has steadily evolved and grown over its impressive period of existence and has long been recognised as the largest free folk festival in the country, with an estimated attendance of 20,000 across its four day run.
And there are some delicious prospects on this year’s menu. As well as key concert performances featuring the extraordinary Liverpool guitar-beaters Ex Easter Island Head and long-time festival favourites Diamond Family Archive (both St Clement’s Church, Saturday 29), there will be the usual huge array of music of all flavours across the weekend, along with the pageantry of the centrepiece procession through the Old Town on Sunday 25, led by the massed forces of the London Northumbian Pipers Society. As ever there will be a plethora of dance displays in evidence, ranging from the traditional – morris, clog, rapper, to the contemporary – salsa, Irish, flamenco, Polish, Indian, as well as poets, mummers, story-tellers, comedians, and more besides. And the festival vibe will be complete with a larger than ever range of craft and clothing stalls, foodie outlets and bars.
As usual the music will encompass everything from the local to the international, the arch-traditional to the most ‘out there’ avant-folk, all spread across a huge array of indoor and outdoor venues, these centred around Leigh Library Gardens and the Broadway area on Saturday 29 before moving down the hill to Leigh Old Town’s waterfront area for the Saturday night and Sunday 30. Some of this year’s highlights include the highly rated trio Granny’s Attic, the Anglo-Irish ensemble United Bible Studies led by the redoubtable Alison O’Donnell, Italian Americana from Angus McOg, veteran free improv. exponents Trevor Watts & Veryan Weston, traditional mother & daughter duo Belinda Kempster & Fran Foote, the extraordinary violin duo of Laura Cannell and André Bosman, the splendid PicaPica fronted by the wonderful harmony vocals of Josienne Clarke and Samantha Whates, riot-grrrl punk courtesy of Petty Phase, the much vaunted Trials of Cato, female Mexican mariachi duo Las Guadalupes, as well as performances from The Dials, Kings of the South Seas, M.G. Boulter Trio, The Hut People and a hugely welcome return for local heroes the Goldmaster Allstars. Mention should also be made of the Festival’s opening night event (Thursday 27) headlined by the acclaimed singer Kitty Macfarlane, and Friday 28’s performance from Longy & the Gospel Trash (both at Leigh Community Centre), and finally a collaboration between writer and poet Justin Hopper, and psych-folkster Sharron Kraus with a much-anticipated launch concert for their new Ghost Box album ‘Chanctonbury Rings’ (Friday 28, Twenty One, Southend).
Apart from four ticketed main feature performances, the Leigh Folk Festival continues to be a free, open event relying on a range of local and national sponsors to keep the show on the road, and most particularly public donations over the weekend. Many have commented that a typical ticketed festival on a similar scale would charge £150+ for a weekend pass, so festival-goers are being asked to dig as deep as they can into their pockets when encountering one of the Festival’s army of ‘tin rattlers’, with every single pound collected counting toward another free festival in 2020 and beyond.
Thursday June 27: Leigh Community Centre + St Clement’s Church, Leigh
Friday June 28: Twenty One, Southend, Leigh Community Centre, St Clement’s Church + other venues around Leigh
Saturday June 24: Library Gardens, St Clement’s Church, and venues around Leigh
Sunday June 25: Leigh Old Town