Music Friday, July 8th Words by: Mark Bowen, pictures by: Mark Bowen

Weirdshire Weekend: Exploring the strange side of Herefordshire

Music Friday, July 8th

Weirdshire Weekend: Exploring the strange side of Herefordshire

It's official Herefordshire is a 'weird shire'. Ian Smith, founder of agri-psych band Sproatly Smith and organiser of the Weirdshire Festival, even tells us so. The weekend's Weirdshire Weekend certainly confirmed it with an eerie edge to much of the folk music being played. Plugging into the county's folklore seems an obvious thing to do when the countryside positively transports you back to the past. The allure of much of this music is to take the listener to the dark heart of many of our indigenous songs, serving as a timely reminder that it's a darkness suffused with beauty. 

The bill included David Ian Roberts, Andy Skellam, Mike Whittaker, Steve Ashley, Bird Radio, Sproatly Smith, Mark Stevenson, Alula Down, Elspeth Anne, Bones and the Aft, Lisa Harres, Tobion and Vaginapoclyspe. There was even a visit from 'Gandolf' who issued warnings about the issue of fracking. Here Ian tells us about one of the county's most esoteric festivals and the inspiration behind it.  

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Sproatly Smith performing at The Booth Hall for the Weirdshire Weekend

Can you tell us what Weirdshire is and why it's held?

Weirdshire came about through the cancellation of a one day festival in Bristol called Weird Lore, organised by Froots magazine as a showcase for British psych folk acts. We were due to play, but the event was cancelled at the last minute due to poor tickets sales. I hastily arranged an afternoon and evening in The Barrels, Hereford, with two of the acts, and a host of local alt-folk musicians and DJs. And we all had a lovely time!

Is it an annual event?

Since then we have invited a variety of top psych-folk artists to play in Hereford like Sharron Kraus, Marry Waterson supported by local talent. American folk troubador In Gowan Ring was in the country, so I cadged him to play here, and the next night Lancashire folksters A Harp And A Monkey were passing by so we called it a Weirdshire Weekend. Two great nights in two great venues with seven great acts. Weirdshire will continue to bring quality folk entertainment throughout the year to the shire, and hopefully there will be another weekend.

IMG 6047Mark Stevenson from Ledbury brought his brand of traditional folk to the event

Why was the event called Weirdshire ?

Ian A. Anderson (Froots editor and folk blues guitarist) had made up the genre Weirdlore (folk–lore with a twist) to describe the alt-psych folk boom that's been happening in the last few years. He has also described our music as Agri-psych. And Herefordshire is a wee bit of a weird shire!

What is it about the county that inspires folk musicians?

I think that one's environment has a massive influence on everything including the music, it's not just folk music that the county inspires, there's a big thrash/metal scene too, and I'm sure other genres too. As for the folk, it's always been a source for traditional songs and singers. Cecil Sharp and Vaughan Williams would visit the shire collecting songs, with Ella Mary Leather, from itinerant farm workers before the First World War. Elgar's works have that pastoral bucolic feel, clearly gathered from his rural surroundings. There's no other county like it. And then there's the cider, although I'm an ale drinker myself if anyone's buying.

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Bird Radio

Is there a strong folk scene in the county? Who do you consider the most important Herefordshire folk musicians?

There is clearly a wonderful scene going on at the moment. Not only through Weirdshire, but acoustic open mic nights and the busking stage at the Left Bank on Saturdays. I like my folk music with an eerie or darker edge. The weekend's Weirdshire event clashed with the Bromyard Folk Festival, and the two are poles apart (although headliner legend Steve Ashley would fit sweetly into both). Some of the musicians playing this weekend have left the shire to pursue their musical careers in cities with more opportunities than ours: Andy Skellam, David Ian Roberts and the amazing Bird Radio. Others remain and make their music here for its own pleasures, ourselves, Tobion, Elspeth Anne, Mark Stevenson, Vagpox (Vaginapoclyspe).

Who organises Weirdshire?

Myself and DJ Jus'Jay are the main culprits, but it kind of organises itself. We choose the acts, ask the venues if they can accommodate us, and that's it. We try to make it as cheap as possible, entrance to the whole three day festival was £6. This is thanks to the generosity of the venues and the musicians, and sound engineers.

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Steve Ashley

Is there a Weirdshire compilation coming out?

Last year we issued a compilation called 'Beating The Bounds'. It was sold all over the world and is long since unavailable. There is a follow-up CD coming soon, which promising to be even better, including music from ex Herefordians: Vic Mars, Morgan Davies, Bird Radio and Michael Tanner plus some great home made songs. The proceeds of the CDs help to pay for the gigs, and to bring bigger acts to the county.

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