Illustrations Aidan Saunders.

Illustrations Aidan Saunders.


Leigh-on-Sea. Thu 27- Sun 30 June 2019.

The Golden Thread Project’s very own Aidan Saunders has appeared at Leigh Folk Festival with his Print Wagon for several years, and his illustrations adorn their website and promo t-shirts.

SO we, ZEEL and Orson, determined to also sample this festival. First we crossed from Hastins in East Sussex all the way into deepest Essex, spanning the lower portion of that vast expanse forming a lower buttock to the southern rump of England. To the north shore of the estuarine Thames we came, all on a fine and sunny Saturday.

To the right we see a young folk-fanatic en route (Orson of sometime folk act Jam Bank) —>

What could be described as semi-pagan donut-babies at the excellent local bakery.

What could be described as semi-pagan donut-babies at the excellent local bakery.


Throughout the four day Leigh Folk Festival, events are well distributed about this charming resort. Beginning at the top of the hill and descending toward the barnacled wharves of Old Leigh.


On These days the musical action took place in the evening at venues like Leigh Community Centre. On Thursday acts included Kitty Macfarlane from Somerset, (her evocative album Namer of Clouds is well worth a listen).

On Friday Justin Hopper & Sharron Kraus appeared, delving into Kentish myth and landscape during a performance of their album Chanctonbury Rings. Also, Leigh plunged into the emotionally raw “Trash-Gospel”- music of Longy, with his sung observations of everyday-folks’ lives.


Library Gardens, perched up in New Leigh hosted several stages offering a range of musical styles; from vaudeville, a smattering of UK folk styles (such as longstanding Leigh fixtures Famous Potatoes), to what could perhaps be described as ‘slightly-wasted-but-very-well-played-good-time-psychedelic-Carlos-Santana–infused-Louis-Prima-and-Xavier-Cugat-covers’ by the Levent Taylor World Band. In an even more ‘good-times’ mode than usual.

The atmosphere lay somewhere between village fete and small town Brueghel-esque bacchanal, with music, pungent food preparation, stalls of fancy goods, records, and art activities for kids.

Orson was able to immortalise a stand-out element of the fun on paper-

He writes of it thus-


While enjoying the folk activities that Leigh-on-Sea had to offer, me and my fellow festival-goers were continually encountered by the strange man below. Dressed in a beige smock, geriatric leggings, leather moccasins, and cloth headgear, the grizzled old boy clenched a tankard of what one would assume to be beer. The man stumbled across the town crying out ancient tales and songs, sometimes stopping families or passersby to drench them in a particular folk story from long ago. Legend has it that the mythical figure has and always will traipse Leigh during the festival

Exhausted by these phantasmagorical sights, we repaired to a sylvan glade to recover our energies as the evening drew in.


Refreshed by the kind hospitality of rustics in the Essex hinterland, we ventured out again on Sunday taking in some of the folk acts in detail, but not before finding out a little more about Old Leigh. Leigh-on-Sea boasts a deep history of gathering fishy bounties from surrounding waters, and more recently, as part of a conurbation of pleasure in the Southend area that extends along the strand from Leigh to Shoeburyness, Flourishing there to serve those seeking escape from the muggy confines of London for a winkle, perhaps a beer, and a paddle among the worm-casts. We found that all manner of fascinating Leigh-on-Sea intel can be gleaned at the local Heritage Centre, a friendly and excellent example of what an enthusiastic historical society can achieve.


Our impressions of the acts that we heard down in Old Leigh that day:-

Tailors Twist playing some lovely Irish folk music, including the Steve Earle song Galway Girl. @ Inside at The Hatch, which was Old Leigh Foundry back in the day..

Illustration of Tailors Twist by ZEEL.

Illustration of Tailors Twist by ZEEL.

Orson writes about Tailors Twist-

‘THE FIDDLERS’: This fruity fiddling band were very much to my liking, their kinetic fingering ‘n’ fretting generated a blithesome atmosphere in the airy cafe which acted as their musical venue. Here are several depictions of them at full-folk-throttle...

Illustrations by Orson

Goodnight Crow playing inside at The Hatch.

This duo, playing with guitar and viola on the songs we heard, were much more from the mould of a contemporary folk band, singing with real love and feeling for the history and heritage of their families and the way of life of working people. Dan Forbes introduced his father Jacks song Starvation Boys. Plus we identified the strains of a stirring folk standard- Blackleg Miner.

Goodnight Crow are Dan Forbes (vocals and guitar) and Kate Waterfield (vocals, strings and concertina).

Illustration by ZEEL

Illustration by ZEEL

Lunatraktors playing at Strand Wharf

Illustration by ZEEL

Illustration by ZEEL

You could say that this band has ‘divided the critics’ at Golden Thread Project HQ, with some being challenged somewhat, and others feeling open to the spirit of adventure and experimentation within this Margate Duo and their nascent style. Percussionist Carli Jefferson began their performance with a humorous plea for the audience to lend her some Clog-dancing shoes in her size, as she had left hers at home. It seems that this follows the spirit of folk community, ever social and conversational. Musically Lunatraktors are certainly trying their very best to experiment and bring out new facets of traditional folk tunes, with percussion being struck from any possible surface, and Clair Le Couteur singing from phrase to phrase in the voices of legion channelled spirits, one second reminiscent of Richard Thompson, the next Shirley Collins, Anthony Hegarty, or even Paul Robeson perhaps? Lunatraktors describe themselves thus - “Broken folk experiments by Clair Le Couteur (vocals, loops) and Carli Jefferson (vocals, percussion)”.  


Lastly The Hoy Shanty Crew singing at the Hoy Stage were our favourites, presenting shanties in exactly the right context, on a wharf, in the sun, with beer and goodwill.

Illustrations by Orson, He writes-

SHANTY SINGING SAILOR BOIS: Ale in hand, skin crisp from the midday sun, and voice boxes guttural, the disorderly crew of sea laddies chanted many a classic tune about adventures upon the salty sea for more than half an hour. The audience made of Old Leigh denizens and folk fanatics enjoyed the set so much that they warranted an encore!
Illustration by ZEEL

Illustration by ZEEL

The Hoy Crew’s rendition of “A Drop of Nelsons Blood” was particularly efficacious. It is not known whether any of them are real ‘Boys ashore’, as elderly fishers are known in Hastings. According to their charming website: “The Hoy Shanty Crew was formed several years ago, originally based on regular members of The Hoy at Anchor Folk Club….. The Crew has a well-earned reputation for gutsy and passionate rendering of shanties as well as other chorus songs, particularly if they involve the partaking of beer”. Their encore was a treat in itself, the wonderful Chicken on a Raft.


We only had the time to skim the surface of this fine, well organised and (largely) FREE festival. There is a heap of great music and dancing to experience at Leigh Folk Festival and it would be great to try and dig a bit deeper into it next time…

Illustrations by Aidan Saunders

Illustrations by Aidan Saunders