sat 02/03/2024

Unamplifire Festival, The Master Shipwright's Palace, Deptford | reviews, news & interviews

Unamplifire Festival, The Master Shipwright's Palace, Deptford

Unamplifire Festival, The Master Shipwright's Palace, Deptford

The Nest Collective celebrates a decade of the best in folk and world music

Stick in the Wheel light up Unamplifire's campfire stageClaire Shovelton

Set in the grounds and rooms of the Master Shipwright’s Palace on the Thames at Deptford, Unamplifire brought together more than 30 artists over eight hours, with new and ancient folk and world music stirring from the riverside wing of the building – a stripped-to-the-plaster-and-floorboards palace, one you might find yourself in after a revolution.

Built by master shipwright Joseph Allin in 1708, it’s a rich historical anomaly bordering the bleak remains of what was once the King's Wharf, established by Henry VIII in 1513, and about to be redeveloped by a Hong Kong investment company. The area's soaked in history, lore and usage, and proved the ideal setting for this festive all-dayer to mark The Nest Collective’s 10th birthday.

Founded and run by Sam Lee, the Collective’s purpose is to “seek the unusual, the overlooked and often the very best in New Folk, Old Folk and No Folk”, and that broad church was out in force. Outside there was the main camp fire stage – useful for the April evening chill – and the Crane House, a wooden hut by the water where the likes of US folk legend Tom Paley could just about be heard, his fiddle and voice set against the sound of the ebb tide on the Thames. In the Palace itself, a rolling roster of acts spread themselves about, in the Blue Room downstairs, and upstairs in the Red Room, Piano Room and River Room, filling and emptying with their own ebb tides of artists and audiences. Each set lasted 45 minutes or so, with artists doing two sets on one stage or another between 4pm and midnight, making it easier to catch everything on offer.

Olivia ChaneyUpstairs in the River Room, a beautiful bare-brick space with great sound resonance, the trio Effra pulled in a lot more bodies than could be easily contained, with their limpid, lucid instrumental tunes on fiddle, accordion and guitar. Later in the evening, the expansive Piano Room featured great work from Olivia Chaney (pictured right) on harmonium, guitar and piano, drawing from her debut album The Longest River, and concluding with two songs from Purcell’s The Faerie Queen (she’s also at the London Festival of Baroque Music on 15 May at St John Smith’s Square). Following her, a trio version of Penguin Café featuring Arthur Jeffes delivered beautiful compositions, their music’s subtle, shifting tones perfectly attuned to the room’s ambience.

Elsewhere, the likes of The Buriers and Flux energized audiences, while the BBC Folk Award-nominated Stick in the Wheel – around the campfire and later in the Blue Room –  unleashed their rich, raw repertoire of London songs and ballads.

Highlights among the solo artists were Bella Hardy, performing new songs in the Crane House as a stripped-down guitar-voice duo, and Lisa Knapp, albeit suffering from some bleed-through from the band downstairs, who delivered a superb, unaccompanied “Outlandish Knight” and a spine-tingling version of “Babes in the Wood”, that darkest of ancient tales set to the loveliest of English tunes.

Artists and audience came together late in the day on the campfire stage for a festive communal sing – the shanty tune “South Australia”, Lal Waterson’s classic “Bright Phoebus”, and the Copper Family’s “Thousands or More”, with Hardy, Knapp and others joining Sam Lee for the verses, everyone else bellowing the chorus.

That sense of intimacy and involvement, without the need for PA systems, sound engineers and cables, is part of The Nest Collective’s ethos and history. For 10 years it has brought new folk and roots music, source singers, world music and ceilidhs to stages across London and the UK – around bonfires, above pubs, in urban and rural settings, and now here at this magnificent 17th-century palace on the Thames at Deptford, where it’s worth pointing out the imperiled future of the building.

With a huge Boris-Johnson-sanctioned redevelopment by Hutchison Whampoa slated for the adjoining Convoys Wharf (opposed by many in the community), the Palace's future is in some doubt. But just as Bob Copper once said you could inhabit traditional songs any way you wanted so long as you didn’t neglect or destroy them, so it is with the Master Shipwright’s Palace. It's a part of living London, and who wants to consign that to the historical record? The hundreds of tunes rising from its grounds and windows during the Unamplifire Festival – many at least as old as the building itself – may be taken as a charm to ensure such London landmarks stay standing, inhabited, and cherished rather than lost to the high-rise bloat of international investment companies getting their way.

Stick in the Wheel could probably write a good song about that.

BBC Folk Award-nominated Stick in the Wheel unleashed their rich, raw repertoire of London songs and ballads

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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