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This is folk for now – upbeat, uplifting and highly unique, a distinctive fusion of musical composition that soars with passion and personality.

14 October 2021,
Sam lee band at firth hall 2021
Don Murray

This TalkingGigs event features a first half conversation between Alasdair Dempster and the artist, including musical illustration in context, while the second half is all music. This tried-and-tested format explores the inspirations behind the artist’s music, giving the audience an extra depth of appreciation for what follows.

Sam’s early life story is fascinating. His responses to questions were considered and passionate, detailing his immersion into British folk music due to meeting a family of Scottish travellers and folk singers, first learning, then collecting, traditional songs.

Sam sang three acapella songs to a hushed and anticipating audience, including 'Moorlough Maggie' by his mentor Stanley Robertson and 'Bonny Portmore', about an ancient tree felled in Ireland, which Sam suggested resonated with the recent Sheffield street tree campaign.

He finished the first half talking about his book The Nightingale and ended with 'Birds in the Spring', highlighting the diminishing numbers of nightingales in Northern Europe whilst mirroring the effects of climate change more widely.

Throughout the first half, his pure unaccompanied voice in the acoustic of Firth Hall was powerful and evocative of centuries of British history.

The second set consisted of the full Old Wow Plus album set with a band featuring James Keay (piano), Joseph O’Keefe (violin), Misha Mullov-Abbado (double bass) and Josh Green (percussion).

As in the first half, Sam beguiled the audience with his powerful storytelling. Performing to a full hall bedecked with oil portraits of gowned academics, he cut through convention. The music was meaningful in so many ways, as his expressive and versatile voice powered through a set of playful, poetic, jazzy and soulful renditions, while he danced like a folky Mick Jagger.

From the deeply traditional renditions of the first half, the second set evolved into a distinctive fusion that soared with passion and personality. This is not folk as it was, though clearly it’s inspiration comes from Sam’s love of the historical tradition. This is folk for now – upbeat, uplifting and highly unique.

One might be forgiven for not being drawn to Sam’s style. What we can’t deny is the message he's trying to convey about the historical record within musical tradition, our relationship with nature and the urgency of song.

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