Live Review: UK Folksters storm SXSW

SXSW (said South by Southwest) is a yearly Texan industry music festival. This year, a host of UK folksters took the festival by storm with music journos from across the pond giving rave reviews to Mumford and Sons in particular. FFS’s Matt Hardy takes us through his SXSW experience.

Walking down 6th Street in Austin (Texas) for the first time cannot fail to take your breath away.  Host to the annual SXSW music festival, practically every bar, restaurant, takeaway, parking lot and cupboard plays host to the widest variety of musical acts from around the globe. Well known names from the UK play venues no bigger than your local boozer to crowds of unwitting Americans, jostling for weak beer at the bar – clearly oblivious to the treat they are missing.

First stop for this reporter comes on Wednesday night for Mumford and Sons at a venue called Friends. I say Mumford and Sons but in fact it is only three of the four comrades – pianist Ben Lovett is missing for tonight’s show. The band captivate an appreciative audience – including a certain Laura Marling no less. Highlight of the night probably comes from banjo wielding Winston Marshall – apologising to the Texan crowd for playing their British brand of bluegrass in the home of country music!

Thursday afternoon witnesses a sterling performance by Edinburgh based songstress Jennifer Concannon at Dominican Joes on South Congress.  The venue, an independent not-for-profit Café established to sell coffee direct from the Dominican Republic, provided an intimate setting and silent crowd for Concannon’s blend of poetic lyrics and ever enchanting and unique vocal style.

Thursday evening was spent taking in the Bella Union official showcase at the Ranch on West 6th, featuring Peter Broderick, Paul Marshall, Ohibijou, My Latest Novel and The Low Anthem.  The stand out performance of the night came from Portland’s, Broderick, a multi instrumentalist who stole the show with an beguiling set of looped instruments (piano, guitar and violin), low-fi samples, spoken word and hushed melodies.

Friday starts with a rousing performance by New York-based The Felice Brothers at the packed out Dirty Dog venue on 6th. Complete with fiddles, wash-board and accordion, and boasting a former travelling dice player in their line-up, this band of brothers blasted their way through a set of sweat soaked numbers that would get any saloon dance floor pumping. “This next song is about drinking whisky and killing your woman” they announce. You can’t help but believe them.

Friday nights highlight is without doubt the performance of Laura Marling at the Central Presbyterian Church.  Backed only by Marcus Mumford, Marling treats this packed-out Church to a set made up almost entirely of new material.  Clearly more country-orientated than her first recording, Marling’s performance displayed a maturity that belies her tender age – with a set that should certainly appeal to a wider audience but may confuse, and possibly disappoint, her younger pop-minded supporters.

Words: Matt Hardy