Following our recent interview with Eliza Carthy, in which we celebrated her 30th year in the business, someone contacted us to say it was high time they updated the way they thought about Ms Carthy and her peers. It seems there’s a tendency amongst our older readers to think of that generation as up-and-coming. “Ah, those sprightly wee things,” they smile fondly. “The tradition is in safe hands.”
As long as Carthy the Younger and her friends keep on doing what they do, of course, the tradition has no obvious health warnings. It’s worth noting, however, that there are musicians from generations since who have been doing their utmost to keep the patient stable. You’ve got your Jim Morays, your Lisa Knapps, your Jackie Oateses and your Jimmy’n’Sids. You’ve got your Nick Harts, your Sam Sweeneys, your Burd Ellens and your Angeline Morrisons. And then you’ve got the generation that has yet to pass the tender age of 30 – the generation that this article is concerned with.
Over the initial 12 months of Tradfolk’s existence, we’ve had the great pleasure to hear some extraordinary young artists, all of whom have wowed us not only with their musical chops but also with their passion for traditional music. Some play it straight, some come at it from tantalizing new angles. All are worth your time and attention. The tradition is safe in their hands providing they’re able to feed themselves while attending to it. Seek out their recordings, buy tickets to their gigs.
Here, then, is our list of young folk musicians we (and a few of our friends – you’ll see) think you ought to hear. Some you’ll have come across already. Some may seem like they’ve been around forever. The criteria, just so as we’re on the same page, is that they’re all under 30 (or the majority of the band is), they’re firmly engaged with the English tradition (we could look at the Irish, Scottish and Welsh traditions, too, but they’re considered to be in more robust health, and we’d be here all night), and they’re actively engaged in making a career for themselves in the traditional folk arts. If there’s anyone you think we’ve missed, or that others should be aware of, feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments section below.
This article makes mention of…
- Frankie Archer
- Sam Baxter
- Broadside Hacks
- Janice Burns & Jon Doran
- Louis Campbell
- Holly Clarke
- Filkin’s Ensemble
- Granny’s Attic
- Jack Hogsden
- Tom Moore and Archie Moss
- Maddie Morris
- Henry Parker
- Shovel Dance Collective
- Also worth keeping an eye on…
The most refreshing and interesting treatment of traditional music that I’ve heard in ages.Jim Moray
Although we’ve only heard three singles so far, Frankie Archer is clearly a creative force to be reckoned with, as those at Manchester Folk Festival this year will confirm. Her recent citing of Jim Moray as an influence came as no huge surprise – her willingness to stretch the old songs and engage with them in non-traditional settings will appeal to fans of the older artist’s work. Purists that balk at the way in which Archer tinkers and adjusts would do well to remember that old Dave Swarbrick adage: “You can do anything to music. It doesn’t mind.” Start with ‘Over the Border’, her exquisite remake of an old Northumbrian tune, and join us in dreaming about what her first album might sound like.
“Frankie is a great singer and top-level fiddle player, but, most interestingly to me, she’s also a really great producer. Her singles so far have been startling because there’s so much attention to detail in the sound itself, weaving intricate arrangements around the possibilities in her multitracked voice and violin. It’s the most refreshing and interesting treatment of traditional music that I’ve heard in ages, and the potential of her solo live show makes me really hopeful for the next decade of forward-looking English folk.” – Jim Moray
Frankie Archer: Instagram | Bandcamp
I love that I can’t really tell where Sam Baxter’s ideas have come from.Jim Moray
We first saw Sam Baxter, an incredibly gifted guitarist, fiddle player and singer, as part of an afternoon concert given by young folkies at Sidmouth Folk Festival in 2019. Still a teenager, he already stood out amongst his peers. Singing his repertoire of traditional songs, he didn’t seem to be performing them so much as channeling them from somewhere else.
“In a genre where wearing your influences on your sleeve is the norm, I love that I can’t really tell where Sam Baxter’s ideas have come from. He’s obviously spent a long time studying old singers, and he’s looked to traditional music from elsewhere in Europe for inspiration, but the effect is sounding like nobody but himself. He doesn’t make the music sound pretty, but it never sounds like he’s not in complete control. I think he’s only going to get better with time.” – Jim Moray
Sam Baxter: Instagram
They have an admirable knack of taking traditional music into areas where it is least expected… and leaving a trail of fresh tradfolk converts in their wake.Jon Wilks
There’s currently something of a trend for amorphous folk bands that look like a raggle taggle gang of folk club attendees shuffling onto prominent stages (see also Shovel Dance Collective and Filkins Ensemble). Broadside Hacks are perhaps the better known of these, having garnered plenty of column inches in magazines devoted to the indie scene from which they came. As with Shovel Dance Collective, they have an admirable knack of taking traditional music into areas where it is least expected, wowing an unsuspecting audience, and leaving a trail of fresh tradfolk converts in their wake.
Other achievements to date (should you need further convincing) include a celebrated debut album on their own label (Songs Without Authors, Vol 1), a documentary that included Shovel Dance and Boss Morris and received its debut at Kings Place (The Broadside Hack), and the soundtrack to a forthcoming movie. Look out for their second album in the not-too-distant future.
Broadside Hacks: Instagram | Bandcamp
Janice Burns & Jon Doran
Jan and Jon bring strength through subtlety, joy through harmony and depth of knowledge to everything they do.James Fagan
The Newcastle Folk Degree was a fertile breeding ground for the generation that produced Emily Portman, Fay Hield, Lucy Farrell, and a good number of others. There’s a sense that Janice Burns and Jon Doran will follow in their footsteps and become key figures in traditional music for generations to come. The kind of musicians for whom the phrase, “the tradition is safe in their hands,” makes perfect sense.
“One of the joys of teaching on the Newcastle Folk Degree has been meeting young musicians at the very start of their careers, sharing my experiences of the songs and the scene with them, and then watching them take it in their own direction. I met Jon and Janice as students before the pandemic – and knew they were going to be very popular when people finally got a chance to hear them live. In a sometimes overcomplex and bombastic milieu, Jan and Jon bring strength through subtlety, joy through harmony and depth of knowledge to everything they do, and I am overjoyed to see them finally getting to bring their brilliant music into the world.” – James Fagan
Janice Burns & Jon Doran: Website | Instagram | Bandcamp
He auditioned with a fingerstyle jig and a Bon Iver song… how could I not love that?Sam Sweeney
These days you’re most likely to find Louis Campbell performing with either his former National Youth Folk Ensemble mate, Owen Spafford (who is equally enthralling and as thoroughly deserving of your attention), or the NYFE’s former artistic director, Sam Sweeney. Wherever you encounter him, you’ll find yourself mesmerised by the way in which his fingers dance effortlessly across the strings of his guitar in a manner that guitarists twice his age wish they could master. Check out the new Owen Spafford and Louis Campbell album, You, Golden, to see where all this is heading.
“From the moment I met Louis Campbell, in an audition for the National Youth Folk Ensemble, I knew he was a phenomenal musician but also a fascinating one. He auditioned with a fingerstyle jig and a Bon Iver song… how could I not love that? For me, Louis has the thing that I feel all musicians should have – a love for and fascination with music of all kinds. Sure, he can play the pants off trad music but not in a reverential way. He has the usual reference points within the folk world but those references are part of a huge interlocking, encyclopaedic web of influences and inspirations. That’s what is crucial in folk music and the ‘scene’, whatever that might be, right now. In a world where people are still worshipping the ashes of extremely dated records, musicians like Louis could (and should!) be key players in rescuing our bizarre and dying scene. He’s awesome!” – Sam Sweeney
Louis Campbell: Website | Instagram | Bandcamp
With her wide repertoire and newly penned songs about her native Cumbria, Holly is a rising star in the folk firmament.James Fagan
Holly Clarke came to Tradfolk’s attention through her involvement with Sophie Crawford and George Sansome’s Queer Folk Project. Also a member of the Americana trio, Holly and the Reivers, she is perhaps better known to audiences in her home country of Cumbria (where she is a champion of local songs) and the Northeast, (where she has been Artist in Residence at the Sage Gateshead). It’s clearly time that the rest of the country got to know her better.
“One of my favourite young singers in England right now is Holly Clarke. Like Janice Burns and Jon Doran, Holly was one of my vocal students on the Newcastle Folk Degree and she was a bundle of fantastic energy from the moment she arrived on her skateboard with her guitar on her back. Holly has a big and tuneful voice, is a great guitarist and is as beloved for her ensemble work as her solo shows. With her wide repertoire, from traditional Irish ballads to old and newly penned songs about her native Cumbria, Holly is a rising star in the folk firmament.” – James Fagan
Holly Clarke: Website | Instagram | Spotify
Separately, the members are known for making great music, but together they create a sound that is truly joyful.Jon Wilks
Largely made up of musicians from Birmingham Conservatoire, Filkin’s Ensemble has grown around two core players, Chris Roberts and Seth Bye (also known, somewhat confusingly, as Filkin’s Drift). A band to rival Bellowhead in size and shape (there’s 15 of them, including a full string quartet and a brass section), this bunch of young upstarts caught the attention recently with an inspiring live video recording of ‘Arthur McBride’ [Roud 2355] and a couple of festival appearances. Separately, the members are known for making great music, but together they create a sound that is truly joyful.
While there’s very little recorded material available to get stuck into just yet, the quality of musicianship and arrangements they’ve demonstrated so far suggests that this is a big festival band for the future.
Filkin’s Ensemble/ Drift: Website | Instagram | Bandcamp
They demonstrate the kind of chemistry and intuitiveness that you only really get from having been in a band together since you were in short trousers.Jon Wilks
It’s hard to believe that Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne, George Sansome and Lewis Wood still fit the category “young folk”, such is their presence and longevity on the folk scene. It goes to show how much you can get done when the tradfolk spirit takes you. With four albums and an EP to their name, each of them have also forged impressive solo careers. Cohen is a much-sought-after concertina player and arranger, George is part of the communal brains behind the Queer Folk project (as well as being part of a duo with Matt Quinn, and a wonderful solo guitarist in his own right), while Lewis recently released a debut solo album and is known to dance and play fiddle for multiple Morris sides.
Clearly influenced by Faustus, they produce a similarly muscular sound onstage and make for a wonderful festival band. But there’s a tenderness about them, too – The Brickfields, an entirely instrumental album, was one of our favourite releases of 2021, demonstrating the kind of chemistry and intuitiveness that you only really get from having been in a band together since you were in short trousers. If you’re looking for a Christmassy tune to take you into the festive months, ‘Boxing Day’ is an instant classic. Whether they’re playing together as a three-piece or as individual solo musicians, I’d expect these three to be stalwarts on the scene for many years to come.
Granny’s Attic: Website | Instagram | Bandcamp
Jack has a great knack of unearthing a really satisfying Morris tune or previously unknown traditional song.Jackie Oates
Jack Hogsden‘s website explains that he’s a “folk singer, guitarist, melodeon player, producer, sound engineer and label owner.” That’s a lot of things to have achieved before you’ve even finished university, but Hogsden seems to have the tradfolk bug (for which there is no known cure) particularly badly. Uncannily like Saul Rose in his performance style, he also shares the older musician’s penchant for bells and leaping – check out this video of him Morris dancing at Sidmouth. The lad’s a powerhouse.
“Jack’s playing is steeped in the English tradition and he has a great affinity with tunes and songs from Suffolk and East Anglia. He is able to get to the heart of a song or a tune, and his arrangements are very thoughtful and adept. He also has a great knack of unearthing a really satisfying Morris tune or previously unknown traditional song.” – Jackie Oates
Jack Hogsden: Website | Instagram | Soundcloud
Tom Moore & Archie Moss
It was all we could do to concentrate on our camera work, such was the beauty of the music.Jon Wilks
Like Granny’s Attic, this pair of old friends (formerly two parts of Moore, Moss, Rutter) have been around for what seems like a very long time indeed – and that experience really shows. Their music, rooted in the tradition but forever exploring and experimenting, seems entirely instinctive, and the chemistry between them is unique. When Tradfolk filmed them for the Squash Court Sessions at FolkEast this year, it was all we could do to concentrate on our camera work, such was the beauty of the music that Tom Moore and Archie Moss produced (in a single, unrehearsed take, too).
All of that said, they’re both hugely in demand for their individual skill sets, too. You’ll find Archie Moss squeezing boxes onstage with everyone from Jim Moray to Sam Kelly and the other Lost Boys, and he’s the proud creator of a new solo album, PH(R)ASE. Meanwhile, Tom Moore is an in-demand producer whose work includes the acclaimed albums by Nick Hart, and a musician with a host of bands, including False Lights.
Tom Moore and Archie Moss: Website | Instagram | Bandcamp
It takes great bravery to be vulnerable, and Maddie Morris’s music is rich with both of these qualities.Angeline Morrison
When Maddie Morris opened for Angeline Morrison at Cecil Sharp House last month, there was a real sense that she might upstage the headline artist. Maddie’s mostly-unaccompanied versions of traditional songs were electrifying, sounding as though she had been embodying them for decades longer than time would naturally allow. An openly political artist, Maddie’s rewrites of traditional lyrics are as incisive and brave as the original songs that pepper the set. A powerful, vital voice that engages with the tradition fearlessly, placing it firmly in the present.
“It takes great bravery to be vulnerable, and Maddie Morris’s music is rich with both of these qualities. That lovely liquid voice, graceful playing and fearless exploration of queer and feminist themes in folk and traditional music make Maddie an extremely important artist.” – Angeline Morrison
Maddie Morris: Website | Instagram | Bandcamp
As adept at plugging in and letting his freak flag fly as he is standing up in-front of a traditional folk club crowd and playing unplugged.Jon Wilks
Those who miss the 60s and 70s heyday of folk guitar troubadours will find lots to love in Henry Parker. As adept at plugging in and letting his freak flag fly as he is standing up in-front of a traditional folk club crowd and playing unplugged, he’s something of a Jansch-esque guitar hero for the 2020s. His debut album, Lammas Fair, highlights his broad range of talents perfectly and is a must for anyone who treasures their Trailer and Topic collections.
More recently, Parker has released Live After Lammas, an album that showcases the young psych folk whizz with his live trio. The cover art alone will plunge you into nostalgia for a decade you may or may not have lived through.
Henry Parker: Website | Instagram | Bandcamp
Shovel Dance Collective
Listening to Shovel Dance Collective, you feel like you’re nestled amongst the roots of ancient trees.Angeline Morrison
At the time of writing, Shovel Dance Collective was about to release what (in this writer’s humble opinion) is one of the most beguiling, profound and original traditional folk albums in years (The Water is the Shovel of the Shore). Politics of race and gender are high on the agenda for this extraordinary 9-piece, who manage to mix the cerebral and the earthy with thrilling results. Listening to their music is like communing with ghosts. Of all the young English folk groups to wear a Lankum influence on their sleeves so prominently, Shovel Dance Collective is perhaps the most exciting, and their recent appearances at more mainstream music festivals have seen them bringing traditional songs to an audience that might not otherwise have encountered them.
“For me, Shovel Dance Collective is thrilling, inspiring, and ground-breaking. In their dance between the ancient and the contemporary, their music connects the listener firmly back to the earth, so you feel like you’re nestled amongst the roots of ancient trees.” – Angeline Morrison
Shovel Dance Collective: Instagram | Bandcamp
Their brains just seem to naturally work on a level of curiosity and invention that most of us only aspire to.Jim Moray
Wychbury are Che Bradley and Rhiannon Kenny-McGrath, a folk duo from Stourbridge in the West Midlands. Despite being in their early twenties they have been playing together for over a decade and are both recent graduates from the folk course at Leeds Conservatoire. Prominent members of the growing Leeds folk scene based around the Hyde Park Folk Club, you’ll also find the duo at the centre of the five-piece band, Helian.
“Rhiannon and Che are amongst the most complete young musicians that I’ve met in the last few years. Rhiannon’s endless creativity as a songwriter feeds into the way she interprets traditional material, and Che’s incredible intuition as an accompanist and arranger gives it the space to bring the songs to life. Their brains just seem to naturally work on a level of curiosity and invention that most of us only aspire to.” – Jim Moray
Wychbury: Instagram | Bandcamp
Also worth keeping an eye on…
Finn Collinson is a rare breed, for there can be few other traditional folk musicians that have made names for themselves on the recorder (Michelle Holloway of Bonfire Radicals being the only other notable that instantly springs to mind). He can be found playing in the Finn Collinson Band, Stroma and Aurai, the latter being a young recorder quartet, which suggests that he’s not the only young recorder whizzkid in town. finncollinson.com
Ellie Gowers tends to write original songs with a strong interest in the tradition. On occasion, however, you’ll catch her singing unaccompanied traditional songs as part of her set. Her involvement with the above-mentioned Filkin’s Ensemble shows that she’s becoming an impressive interpreter of old ballads, too, and the fact that she became one of the first female Morris dancers to perform at Saddleworth Rushcart indicates a fierce passion for the tradition. elliegowersmusic.com
Will and Joe Sartin share more than a striking physical resemblance to their esteemed father, Paul. Both are exceptionally talented musicians. Joe, still a teenager, is already showing himself to be a confident, beautiful singer with a strong traditional repertoire that owes much to his upbringing. Will is an incredibly dexterous mandolin player with the superb ceilidh band, Out of Hand, and the two of them have recently launched themselves as the duo, Patakas. Click here for their Instagram channel.
Grace Smith is certainly one to watch. The comments beneath her Instagram videos are littered with encouragement from the likes of Sam Sweeney and Archie Moss, and rightly so. A fine fiddle player, clog dancer and band leader who, only this week, headlined her own show at the prestigious Cecil Sharp House. We await her first recordings keenly. gracesmithmusic.co.uk
Sorry to see no mention of Wales here. Wales is located to the western most part of what we call England.
Other names for you Anna Hester, Me For Queen, Spoil the Dance, Juni Habel to name a few