AN EXCITING, inspirational and ambitious programme of some of folk music’s biggest stars starts this weekend at Sunderland’s newest arts venue.
The Fire Station’s programme features the top tier of folk stars from England, Scotland, Ireland, Ukraine and Canada – from legends such as Sharon Shannon and Kate Rusby, to phenomenal live acts such as the amazing DakhaBrakha, Blazing Fiddles and Le Vent Du Nord, to rising stars and new collaborations from the likes of Grace Smith, Youth Ensembles and Unthank:Smith.
The programme starts this Sunday (February 12) with the highly-anticipated visit to Sunderland of one of Irish music’s best loved stars, Sharon Shannon and her trio. Over a long and highly-successful career, Sharon has made the accordion cool, and while rightly known for her spectacular arrangements of traditional Irish tunes, she has always been keen to explore new styles and collaborate with other musicians working in different genres.
This has led Sharon to record and tour with a who’s who of the Irish and global music industry, including Bono, Jackson Browne, The Waterboys, Willie Nelson, Nigel Kennedy, Sinead O’Connor and Alison Krauss.
The programme continues on Thursday, February 23 with the visit of two of the UK’s premier youth ensembles headlined by rising star and violinist Grace Smith. The Grace Smith Trio also consists of Sam Partridge (concertina) and Bevan Morris (bass) who create an unforgettable sound forged in bellows, bow and brass.
The trio will be joined by the prestigious National Youth Folk Ensemble and Folkestra. The orchestra brings together talented musicians aged 14-18 from across the UK and, working with Sam Partridge and others, creates a contemporary take on traditional music from England and beyond.
Founded by folk music legend Kathryn Tickell, and now led by piper Andy May, Folkestra is a vibrant group of young musicians who are based at Sage Gateshead.
Three days later (Sunday, February 26) The Fire Station will be throbbing with the music and energy of a powerhouse of the Scottish folk music scene – Blazin’ Fiddles.
Blazin’ Fiddles are one of the world’s most prolific fiddle groups and formed for a one-off tour of the Scottish Highlands in 1999.
Encompassing a rare and virtuosic selection of the fiddle’s diverse Highland and island voices, with ensemble and solo-led sets both backed by guitar and piano, the ‘Blazers’ pack all the power, passion and sensitivity of Scotland’s traditional music, into a single show.
- If you book for both Grace Smith and Blazin’ Fiddles, you’ll get £2.50 off both
Next up in the programme (Sunday, March 12) are another Scottish folk institution – legendary duo Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham, the backbone of the Transatlantic Sessions. The pair have been packing concert halls all over the world since they came together in 1986. Since then they’ve scooped a host of awards – including the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards – Best Duo Award – and thrilled audiences wherever they’ve performed.
The high-profile names continue the following month when north east audiences will get a rare opportunity to see two of folk music’s greatest innovators, singer songwriters and guitarists – Martin Carthy and Martin Simpson – play together for a very special double bill at The Fire Station.
They’re both masters of their art – Martin Carthy was awarded a BBC2 Radio 2 Folk Awards Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014 while Martin Simpson has won Musician of the Year in the same awards twice, being nominated an astonishing 32 times across a range of categories in the same awards.
The iconic pair arrive at The Fire Station on Sunday, April 2 and tickets are selling fast.
And talking of dynamic duos, the following Saturday (April 8) will see Unthank:Smith perform. The venue has pulled off a coup in producing a show featuring two of our region’s finest Mercury Prize-nominated artists, from different musical worlds – The Unthanks’ Rachel Unthank and Maximo Park’s Paul Smith. Their new album, Nowhere and Everywhere, is released next week (February 17).
Rachel’s knowledge of traditional song allowed them to add material to the original songs Paul was writing, in addition to Seven Tears, an Unthank original, inspired by Norse mythology. They performed together as part of Lauren Laverne’s Great Northern Soundtrack at the 2018 Great Exhibition of the North, as well as recording a live session for Lauren’s BBC6 Music show.
Later in April, DakhaBrakha, a Ukrainian folk group with a massive global following play the venue (Tuesday, April 18). The Sunderland date is one of only four shows in a short DakhaBrakha tour – the other venues include London’s Southbank Centre.
DakhaBrakha, which means ‘give/take’ in Ukrainian, formed in 2004 at the Kyiv Centre of Contemporary Art by the avant-garde theatre director Vladyslav Troitskyi. They have since played more than 300 concerts and performances and have taken part in major international festivals throughout Eastern and Western Europe, Asia, Australia, and North America.
But perhaps, the biggest name featuring in the programme is Kate Rusby, often hailed as the ‘first lady of folk’ who will appear at The Fire Station on Saturday, April 22. During a stellar 30-year career, Kate has headlined everywhere, from the Royal Albert Hall to the Cambridge Folk Festival.
Tamsin Austin, Venue Director at The Fire Station: “We are absolutely thrilled to introduce Kate to Wearside – her popularity has rightly endured for decades and she has legions of fans all over the world for her intimate and entertaining live shows with her brilliant band.
“Kate will be performing a selection of her much-loved classics as well as some of her newer songs from her most recent albums – including her latest 30.”
Kate will be joined on stage by her band, each a virtuoso in their own right and including her husband and producer Damien O’ Kane.
Canadian folk superstars Le Vent du Nord will present their raucously unpredictable blend of guitar, fiddle, hurdy gurdy and lusty French vocals when they arrive at The Fire Station on Wednesday, May 17. Their dynamic, modern brand of Quebecois folk is rooted in Celtic music from Ireland and Brittany and has won them legions of fans on both sides of the Atlantic.
The following month (Sunday, June 18) hugely-popular Irish folk band The High Kings will bring The Fire Station’s folk programme to a successful conclusion. The group has charted across the world, performed in front of Presidents and Prime Ministers as well as wowing audiences at festivals such as Glastonbury and the Isle of Wight (three times).
Tamsin added: “We’re really proud of the diverse folk programme we’ve put together of rising stars and established legends. It incorporates many different strands and sound worlds, all rooted in traditions from both sides of the Atlantic but all of our performers are united by quality.
“Our programme really is the very best of folk, and we hope our Fire Station audiences enjoy the talent we’re bringing to Wearside and the north east.”
For further information or to book tickets please go to www.thefirestation.org.uk.