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Apr 23 2012

10 Years of Newcastle’s Folk Degree

I absolutely love the Cumberland Arms right. It’s great. It sort of typifies everything you really should expect from an English pub. Good quality locally brewed cask ales, cosy indoor seats with fire in the winter, vibrant atmosphere, an excellent outdoor area with views and BBQs in the summer, great food and also great live music. And that’s not just music upstairs but also downstairs in the back room – folk musicians regularly gather in there on various nights of the week – ukulele players, banjo players, fiddlers and singers – and play around you while you enjoy your pints and converse with friends.  This was exactly the Cumberland Arms I walked into on Good Friday, when, to celebrate 10 years of the Folk Degree (more about this later), the pub invited people to come and enjoy the rising stars of the UK folk scene, Walsh & Pound, for FREE!

Despite being raised on a good pedigree of music in general, folk had never really been on my radar. That was the case, anyway, until the late 90’s early 00’s when upon the release of the album Nixon by American band Lambchop and the discovery of the alt-folk genre, I began to flirt with the idea that folk music might actually be cool. Beck, Jeff Buckley and Elliot Smith quickly became part of my musical world. It wasn’t until the mid 00s however that I began to really track the folk genre back to its revival in the 60’s. In 2005 I joined a band, the drummer of which was one of these people who had grown up with folk. He knew everything about it and his playing and writing style not only on drums but also guitar, was heavily influenced by folk and folk rock. It was from him that I began to really ‘get’ the whole folk thing. The innovative guitar playing of Davey Graham and Bert Jansch (Johnny Marr’s biggest influence), the brilliant Pentangle and the addictive storytelling and musical prowess of Fairport Convention (Liege & Leif is one of my favourite albums of all time) really helped to hammer home to me how utterly vital folk was to the UK in terms of music but also culture and identity.

Over the last decade a huge number of folk musicians have been attracted to the North East to study on Newcastle University’s undergraduate BMus in Folk and Traditional Music. The university is now considered to be a leading centre, worldwide, for the study of the genre. During the ten years that the course has been running, The Cumberland Arms has supported students from the course, organising gigs and encouraging people to gather in the pub to play together.  Next month, on Sunday 6th May, as part of the celebrations to mark 10 years of this relationship, the pub has invited all musicians who have graduated from the course and graced The Cumberland’s Stage to come and perform. The event will take place throughout Sunday and could see over 100 performers entertain customers, who won’t even have to pay for the pleasure of seeing some of the best folk musicians in the UK today.  Because of touring commitments, however, two of the most exiting graduates from the Folk Degree – Banjo genius Dan Walsh and Harmonica wizard Will Pound – won’t be there. I was lucky, however, to catch their show earlier this month and I was completely blown away by the technical brilliance of these two young folk stars.

Since watching the Cohen brother’s classic homage to Homer’s Odyssey ‘Oh Brother Where Art Thou’ as a 14 year old, Dan Walsh has been somewhat obsessed with bluegrass and the claw hammer banjo. He is now considered to be the best claw hammer banjo player in the UK and Maverick Magazine has hailed him as the new ‘face’ of folk and country music.  Will pound is also internationally renowned for his a playing style, which is considered ‘unique’ by other harmonicists and saw him receive a nomination for Best Musician at the 2012 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. On Good Friday the duo were amazing and if I’m honest I’m not sure if I’ll see a better gig this year!

Dan will be returning to the North East at the end of May for The Hexham Gathering and there is likely to be other Walsh & Pound shows pencilled in for the North East this year too – go and see them! And definitely come along to The Cumberland on 6th May for the 10 year celebration.

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