Personal hygiene is important. So too is personnel hygiene when you’re part of such a super-huge, energetic (and often sweaty) outfit like the Birmingham Conservatoire Folk Ensemble.
Boasting dozens of immensely-skilled musicians, all putting their collective backs into electrifying performances, the ensemble, led by Joe Broughton (Albion Band, The Urban Folk Quartet, Joss Stone) are joining forces with The Destroyers for Destruction Party – a rabble -and rubble- rousing send off for the Adrian Boult Hall (ABH) on Sunday 19 June.
We caught up with Joe to talk about the gig, Gremlins and anti-perspirant…
There is an awful lot of you. How do you manage to all be in the same place at the same time?
Easy! Everyone wants to get together to play some great music so quite frankly why wouldn’t you want to be there!
It looks like incredible fun to be part of, what can we expect to see at the Destruction Party? I’m assuming no dour Joy Division covers…
I would sincerely hope not! You can expect to see 70 musicians on stage together ripping it up and absolutely giving their all. Wherever we go we are the biggest band there and generally people don’t ask us to collaborate on things for fear of stages collapsing under the weight of suspect folk dance moves but the Destroyers are made of stronger stuff and the ABH… well the ABH is due to be demolished anyway so this is it, it may never happen again but the Folk Ensemble at nearly 20 years old is ready to party like 20-year olds do.
Can anybody bring an instrument and join in, or do you have specific requirements for playing with the ensemble?
To join the folk ensemble you need to be studying at BCU but we don’t run auditions, we take any instrument and anyone with any level of folk experience. Sometimes the best ideas come from the people with the least experience and sometimes the best playing comes from those who are not playing their first study instruments.
I love the folk process where everyone brings something to the mix… The Folk Ensemble always sounds like the Folk Ensemble but every year it has a new twist as different people come in and out of the band. This year we have three electric guitar players – that’s a first and makes it extra noisy, just the way I like it.
Did you always intend to have such a big ensemble, or has it just kept on multiplying? Did you once get a fiddle player wet, Gremlins style?
People just kept joining the folk ensemble… it’s infectious and people never want to leave, apart from me perhaps but that’s because I have to do the paper work… Gremlins? I don’t know about that but there was once an incident with a goat, a tuba and a soil profile diagram.
How much of your material is pre-written? It must be hard for that many of you not to get carried away. Is improvisation encouraged? It certainly appears very spontaneous.
Everything we play is devised by the band standing round in a room together. Written music is never used. The band members have never seen a single note of any of the music written down. In that sense we’re really a very traditional outfit, learning by ear, passing tunes on to each other, responding to the present world around us. For me, that is folk music. The fact that you might hear an out and out funk or ska groove is really beside the point. We live in Birmingham, what’s trad folk here and now? Heavy metal?!
Your recent Sunday Classics gig at the Spotted Dog was pretty rammed, not least because of the amount of musicians on stage – I bet there aren’t many claustrophobics in the band?
We do end up in some pretty tight spaces, you can find a youtube film of 47 of us playing in a small tent for Bob Harris a few years back… we have to get on well and use plenty of deodorant.
You’ve played some incredible places and festivals such as the Royal Albert Hall and Shambala. Do you have any specific memories of performing there? And do you have any fond memories of Adrian Boult Hall?
It’s great playing on these famous stages of the world and it’s always nice for this band to play on a stage that is big enough to fit us on! A home town gig is always a special one though. I remember playing my first solo on the stage at the ABH back in 1995 and I loved every second of it.
In the ABH, over the years, I have done workshops with primary school children, played with the folk ensemble, done solos and put on big concerts, I’ve seen more outstanding concerts than I can remember and now that it is coming to the end I’m so pleased that the band I have invested so much in over the last 19 years can make a final salute to this great venue.
The Birmingham Conservatoire Folk Ensemble join The Destroyers for Destruction Party at Adrian Boult Hall on Sunday 19 June.