In this new feature (to rival PROLE JAZZ‘s dazzlingly popular, ground-breaking and mind-bending Broc On the Block column) we sent ragamuffin space-boy Captain Jack Avery into the lawless corners of bohemian Sheffield to delve into the cultural no-mans-land and collective psyche of this fine city. Jack agreed to seek out the musical kingpins of the region and record the conversations that ensued, for the delectation and delight of our discerning and wonderful readership.
In today’s episode he recounts a dialogue with Tim Feben, co-organiser of Sheffield’s legendary Folk Forest festival and guitar wizard of post-rock superheroes King Capisce. Over to you, Jack!
Jack: Look out of your windows my friends! Open your doors and your minds! Summer (in the form of torrential rain) is here! And summer means festivals…
Today it is a great honour and a pleasure to speak with Tim, head programmer and co-organiser of Folk Forest, one of the jewels in the crown of Sheffield’s wonderful summer festival scene. This year’s programme is a wild beast of enchantment, and includes everything from gentle folk music (Captives on the Carousel, Lau, Alisdair Roberts) to contemporary jazz (Têtes De Pois, Yussef Dayes) to upbeat sunshine funk and soul (Honeyfeet, Sheffield Beatles Project, Roy Ayers), alongside a ton of workshops and a craft market.
Captain Jack Avery: Hello Tim! Tell us a bit about the Folk Forest!
Tim Feben: The Folk Forest is a 2-day celebration in Endcliffe Park of independent culture in Sheffield, on the weekend of 6th and 7th July this year. There are loads of bands, some local, some international. My personal passion is good quality live music and I think that sometimes people miss out Sheffield when they tour, and I want to contribute to bringing bands you want to see to Sheffield. But it’s expanded beyond that, it’s a family festival, it’s a celebration of heritage…
Jack: Who is it organised by?
Tim: It’s organised by Regather Co-op, which is mainly a food business in Sheffield, involved in organic food and lasting system change about food. One of the ideas behind the Folk Forest, as well as to put on an incredible festival, is to give Regather a platform. We’re a community and so we want to bring people together to celebrate and connect and chat and build relationships.
Jack: Who’s it for? What kind of demographic is Folk Forest aimed at?
Tim: I think it’s for people who like music, but that sounds a bit arrogant, so I’m gonna rephrase it! I would say we’re definitely interested in music from a range of styles: it follows in the footsteps of a lot of UK music festivals, it’s music that sounds good in the sunshine, it’s about creating a vibe… I wish we hadn’t called it the Folk Forest really, because the Folk Forest implies folk music…
Jack: But you do have a lot of folk music!
Tim: Yeah but that’s because it’s good music to sit around in the park and listen to, not because it’s folk music.
Jack: Yeah you also have acid-jazz, and …
Tim: Last year the headliners were Portico Quartet, who are a modern jazz band, and Nubiyan Twist who are kind of a party band … so I wish we’d not called it that, basically!
Jack: What do you wish you’d called it?
Tim: I haven’t actually come up with a good different name, but something not genre-based, not any type of thing that can pigeonhole… genres are useful to get the message across but when you want to change you’re confined by them. The festival came about almost 10 years ago now, Tramlines had just started and mobbed the city centre and we were approached to organise something outside of the centre. It was our gig and went really well, we worked with Sarah Nulty and she was a great person to work with and that was a cool partnership. But over time we wanted to do our own thing more and keep the politics of independence a bit more clear. Tramlines consolidated and moved to Hillsborough and it wasn’t obvious what our role would be so it was a natural time to change. You know, to potentially move to a small tent in a field versus what we’ve got now, with five stages and all the different activities…
Jack: To me Folk Forest always had it’s own identity anyway, Tramlines was all over the city back in the day and the Folk Forest felt as if it had it’s own little solar system.
Tim: Exactly yeah. So it was been more laid back by design, but I don’t want it to stay the same, in ten years’ time it might not be what it is now…
Jack: It’s gonna be gabba!
Tim: The idea is it’s whatever is interesting and exciting, really. I very much want to bring exciting acts to Sheffield and I don’t want to pay too much attention to big names. You know sometimes you need big names to get people’s attention but it’s not just about that… we’ve had lots of people who are not necessarily big names but have been good quality over the years.
Jack: There are some music festivals that rely on the headliners, they rely on the big names to bring people in. Whereas you’ve got other festivals like Shambala where year on year you don’t necessarily recognise loads of the bands there…
Tim: Yeah the headliners are not always that big on the main stage.
Jack: …it’s more about the bands that you find there. You trust the festival to put on a programme that’s going to be great and you go along and discover new things and that’s part of the beauty of it.
Tim: I couldn’t agree more to be honest.
Jack: So I think that’s a really great idea for Folk Forest!
Tim: We’re definitely taking inspiration from Shambala, and we definitely take inspiration from that idea. I want people to like the vibe and trust that the vibe will be consistent whether the genre or acts are unknown. We’re not at the stage yet where we can just not release the artists like Shambala used to do, but I’d like to be able to do that.
Jack: I’ve been to Folk Forest a few times, it’s a nice mix of people, you have lots of families…
Tim: Yes we’re trying to be age diverse and we make an active effort to be family friendly. One thing we’ve been doing over the last few years is that we have a stage dedicated to 0-3 year olds and their parents, and in other festivals this kind of thing just doesn’t exist. We work with Concerteenies in Sheffield, they provide a family friendly atmosphere, there’s child-friendly narration and primary colours and bright lights and people can breastfeed and do whatever and feel confident…
Jack: So it’s a very inclusive kinda vibe.
Tim: That’s one example… we have other activities too, there’s a forest school and a mud kitchen and other bits and bobs, there’s a stage that’s curated for young people by young people that the Site Gallery are helping to shape. By this way we’re trying to say these are the different demographics in a city, let’s give something that’s tailored for them. And then we have the free access Birdtable stage that has predominantly Sheffield-based artists – it’s quite diverse but it gives a platform for local performers, really good quality bands, to play in front of a lot of people. The Main Stage brings people in and has the more well-known national acts in the Gladed Area, and they can also check out the local bands on the Birdtable. So yeah it’s kinda shaping up to becoming more like a traditional festival, even though it started out as a bit more of a weekend in the park! It’s somewhere in between now.
Jack: This year you’ve got particular awesome acts playing the Folk Forest, you’ve got an incredible line up. Who are you particularly excited about?
Tim: I think the number one act I’m excited about this year is Yussef Dayes. He’s a drummer from south London and he played in Yussef Kamal’s Black Focus album on Giles Peterson’s Brownswoods label and it was one of my favourite albums of 2016, it’s literally awesome. They split up but he carried on making tunes, he did a session at Abbey Road that is insane and you should all check it out and you’ll know what I’m talking about, it’s amazing kinda laid back funk and soul and hiphop with flair, it’s a beat driven sound… it feels like a warm wash. Even my mum could like it but there’s enough there to keep a musician happy, so I’m really looking forward to that. Obviously Roy Ayers is a legend, I saw him a few years ago and he killed it. He’s a great pioneer in sound and he fits in quite nicely with Yussef Dayes; they’re playing back to back on the Saturday. And before that we’ve got Têtes de Pois who are a Leeds-based modern jazz outfit on the Saturday too, so I’m hoping its gonna be a bam-bam-bam, if you’re interested in that, and you should in my opinion be interested in that! I’d heard a lot about Têtes De Pois but I hadn’t actually seen them until the Yellow Arch Future Jazz Festival and the same night I was like guys, come! And fortunately they were able to come. It seems like there’s a thing going on in the UK and in Sheffield, celebrating that contemporary jazz thing.
Jack: Leeds is strong for that.
Tim: Half the bands that night were from Leeds, because they have the music school.
Jack: Yeah Vipertime played that night too…
Tim: I personally play music sometimes from that kind of genre when I have the opportunity so it’s something I’m definitely passionate about. Then on Sunday when everyone is a bit hungover we have a slightly more folky vibe.
Jack: Alisdair Roberts is playing, he’s a favourite of mine.
Tim: Alisadair Roberts, an amazing songwriter, we have Lau who are an incredible trio and Honeyfeet as well which are kind of bluesy… but blues gives the wrong connotation, it’s a real mish-mash of genres with a good time vibe.
Jack: They’re a classic festival band, I’ve seen them at loads of festivals… they must have busy summers!
Tim: They’re really nice guys. And we have Sheffield Beatles Project…
Jack: Sheffield Beatles Project! I’ve seen them the last two summers at the Folk Forest and they are totally off the scale (*Ed’s note ~ check out our review of one of their White Album shows last year HERE)
Tim: And Abbey Road is one of the better albums.
Jack: They’re playing the whole thing?
Tim: I’ve given them an extra-long set so they can fit the whole thing in. A lot of people are really excited about them playing and understandably so, it’s a 30-piece extravaganza isn’t it really!
Jack: Last year the White Album was great, and the year before was Sgt Peppers and I remember the Folk Forest was jam-packed and it was completely incredible!
Tim: One of the highlights of the whole festival I think.
Jack: You have a long history of supporting local bands too and this year you have some amazing music from Sheffield… we’ve already talked about Sheffield Beatles and also on the line up are Oh Papa who are excellent…
Tim: They’ve got a uniqueness and quality to their sound that’s quite rare.
Tim: It sounds correct doesn’t it? I think that live they’re even better. I think they deserve to do well to be honest….. they’ve captured a vintage sound which is hard to do, especially as young people.
Jack: It’s the songs, I love songs and their EP is great, super chilled and laconic, I rate them a lot. I just cycled past their drummer! Then you have Captives on the Carousel who are beautiful…
Tim: I play in a band with Ben.
Jack: Ah yes I heard about this project, is that Woolly Mammoth? He told me about this band literally 4 years ago, almost to the day…
Tim: We’ve just started really slowly and lackadaisically to restring the album, with strings I mean … it’s a trio basically, 2 finger style guitars with a cello , then it grew with some extra instruments and some drums and bass and then sadly Ben became ill and had to take a year out… thank god he’s overcome that now. But in the meantime I went off to Africa for 6 months and Ralph who played guitar had a kid and moved to Bristol! It was a life-slap to the face, basically… Sometimes projects like that come together and sometimes…
Jack: Keeping bands going is tricky, sustaining line ups is hard!
Tim: But we have an album which is basically finished.
Jack: Instrumental right? Like Post-Rock, or Post-Folk anyway…
Tim: Well there’s no overdrive to it so it’s not rock in that sense… It’s changing, its going to be a string quartet with acoustic guitars .. it’s going to be a real floaty lullaby kinda thing.
Jack: Sounds good!
Tim: Back to Ben and his band Captives on the Carousel who are playing the festival, it’s going to be a full band thing and they’ve put a lot of effort in, so that should be pretty cool.
Jack: Talking about the local music scene, what inspires you at the moment?
Tim: I want to namecheck a crew, I don’t even know what the crew’s called, it’s Otis Mensah and Jackie Moonbather.
Jack: Ah yes Blancmange Lounge.
Tim: Yeah I think they’re an interesting collective doing forward thinking stuff, and people like Jackie Moonbather are referencing Roy Ayers completely. Otis Mensah is an incredible talent to be honest, he should be rinsing it because he has stage presence, he’s got lyrics, he’s got beats. So that’s a cool little scene, a cool little nugget of stuff. And Sheffield has a great DIY scene, and we have a lot of party bands. Jim Ghedi we’ve had a few times and he’s a big favourite.
Jack: Talking of party bands there’s KOG & the Zongo Brigade, they’re getting pretty big now.
Tim: We’ve been talking to Kweku (from KOG & the Zongo Brigade), they’re on the list for Folk Forest.
Jack: Have you come across ONIPA? They’d be great!
Tim: Another act we want to get… the list of people who have said tentatively yes in theory but couldn’t make it this year is longer than the list we have for this year… So yeah there is no end of good people!
Jack: So it’s been going for a while now, who is your favourite artist that has played Folk Forest?
Tim: Shit that’s tricky …
Jack: There was a guy with this headgear… Middle Eastern dress… from about 2 years ago, what was he called… Omar Souleyman, that was insane, Ive never seen anything like that to be honest!
Tim: When that first came up I wasn’t sure how that was going to go down, someone else suggested it and I thought I don’t know but I eat my words, it went off, it was wicked. It was just so different… it kind of reminded me of the sound of someone in a square in southern Europe and someone’s busking and playing a Casio keyboard really brashly and someone’s jabbering over the top but it was fine!! And there’s Field Music who played about 3 years ago who were incredible. Nubiyan Twist last year, that was great, they’ve got to be one of the best bands on the circuit at the moment, they’re fusing sounds so casually… I actually like a lot of the people who’ve played, I think everybody in their own way is wicked. I like the dynamic, you’ve got some people who are relaxed and people are sitting around having a picnic, and then you’ve got a dance-y act and each bit is cool in its own different way. That dynamic is important because you don’t want to dance the whole time and you don’t want to sit down the whole time.
Jack: Can I request you book Comet is Coming? They are so good live!!
Tim: I spoke to their agent actually… if I hadn’t got Yussef Dayes… but certainly one for the future.
Jack: So how much are tickets to Folk Forest?
Tim: They’re £35 for the whole weekend.
Jack: Woah that’s a bargain.
Tim: Or £25 for a day. Family ticket is just over two adult tickets, so kids get in for a fiver each or something like that. I appreciate for some people that’s still a reasonable amount of money but you have to consider that Roy Ayers by himself in London is £30, for one evening. It’s £35 for 2 whole days of music, 5 stages … and not only that Yussef Dayes would be £25 in London, by himself. I think we’re hopefully gonna cover our costs, no one needs to worry about us getting rich off this. Good music costs!
Jack: Yeah and we already have festivals like Peace in the Park which are free and focus on local bands, and do the local scene beautifully.
Tim: Peace in the Park was incredible, but as a musician I think you need to regularly see new people who inspire you, so if Sheffield’s gonna have a thriving music scene we also need to be regularly bringing in artists who are adding to the musical conversation. If you see someone who’s killing it for whatever reason it makes you want to incorporate that into your music. Part of the reason I got involved with this is because I wasn’t seeing enough bands that inspired me from outside the city playing in Sheffield.
Jack: It’s true we lack good venues of a certain size… the city has great venues for the local scene but a lot of touring acts miss out Sheffield and go to Leeds and Manchester.
Tim: Yeah and that’s something we’re working on with Opus to bridge that gap in the future…
Jack: Exciting! So is there anything else you’d like to tell us about Folk Forest?
Tim: I want to tell you that its run by a co-op, the bar was run by a co-op, the tents were put up by a co-op, the craftspeople are all self-employed local artists, we’re trying to keep it as independent and Sheffield-based as possible, whilst keeping it really good quality, so that’s a key part of the message I want to try and get across. And you know, just come along! Don’t make me sweat, buy a ticket in advance, people coming and enjoying it is what makes it a success. Last year was great and this year is hopefully going to be great too
Jack: OK lastly you’re in a band called King Capisce and you recorded a really great album a couple of years ago… what was it called…
Tim: What was it called…
Jack: I can see the image, a person falling out of the sky into an ocean…
Tim: Yeah … what even did we call that?! I’ve had a few pints now… Le Perdu?
Jack: Le Perdu?! No…
Tim: No wait that’s what it was going to be called… it’s called ‘The Future Cannot Be Born Yet, The Past Is Waiting To Die’
Jack: That is such a post-rock album name! (*Ed’s note: that was the title of their 2014 album, the last one was actually called Memento Mori!)
Tim: Our bass player is well into album names like that.
Jack: It’s a great album. So what’s going on with King Capisce?
Tim: Rosh who plays the bass did a stint in India, but he’s back! We’re gonna hopefully get together and write some new music. That album we did a tour and pushed it around… I’m keen to get back involved, at the moment I’m composing for film and trying to learn piano, and the bass player who is my brother in music has been travelling for six months… you know like we were talking about life getting in the way of things… it’s not dead!
Jack: It’s sleeping!
Tim: I quite like it because it means I do different things that keep me interested and when I come back to stuff I’m really keen, I like to be really excited about stuff. And I like being giddy! Where possible…
Check out the incredible line-up for Folk Forest HERE, and while you’re there invest in some tickets to this amazing summer showcase of Sheffield’s musical culture!
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