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Lau-Land comes to the Sage Gateshead

Who better to curate a new kind of folk festival than the genre’s free-thinking poster boys? Sam Wonfor buys a ticket to Lau-Land and talks to one of its top brass

Lau, will take over Sage Gateshead at the end of May
Lau-Land Festival - curated by folk luminaries, Lau, will take over Sage Gateshead at the end of May

As well as being up there with the best of the British folk scene, Lau are also known for being a trio of free-thinking pioneers with more than a dash of good eggness about them.

So it’s perhaps unsurprising that the band’s Martin Green (accordion, piano), Kris Drever (guitar, vocals) and Aidan O’Rourke (fiddle) decided to fit in organising a three-day folk festival around their already overflowing calendar of live dates and associated music making.

It’s appropriately called Lau-Land and will be enjoying a programme of crowd-pulling concerts, workshops and talks at Sage Gateshead for three days from Thursday, May 29.

“We did a curated week in a place called Kings Place in London at the end of 2012 and loved doing it,” says Martin.

“Obviously as musicians, we listen to a lot of music and there’s a lot of music that we love, so having a chance to put some of that on is really great.

“We’ve done quite a few bits of work with the Sage over the years and it seemed like an ideal place to do it.

“They’ve been really supportive. We’ve done a few things that a lot of organisations in their situation would be scared of. We did a big thing with an orchestra and a couple of other larger things too.

“They seem to be fearless. We love them for that.”

And so say all of us.

The festival follows a wave of acclaim for Lau’s latest album, Race The Loser and a fifth nomination for Best Group at the BBC Folk Awards.

Throughout Lau-Land, audiences will be continuously invited to enter into Lau’s particular musical world and experience some of the inspiring artists who have influenced the inventive approach they have to their own music.

“It has been a lot of work, but we like doing stuff to be honest. We all like making stuff and making a festival is a really nice thing to do. It has kept us busy for the past year and a half, but happy too,” says Martin, who is more than happy to offer a few highlights of the weekend’s proceedings, starting with some homegrown talent.

“We have an emerging music stage for musicians that we think should be better known. There’s a fair amount of local talent on that. There’s also Noise Choir who are an experimental vocal choir from the region,” he says.

“Eliza Carthy, who is based at the Sage now is also coming - and bringing her mum - and then in the pub there’ll be Ian Stephenson who is very well known up there is running a session after the Unthanks gig in the Central Bar in Gateshead.”


That would be The Unthanks gig booked for Hall One on Friday night.

“They’re doing a special show with Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill .... who are two of the best traditional Irish musicians in the world, and the Voice Squad, who are a fantastic harmony group,” says Martin.

“They’re putting together something very wonderful which will be amazing. Everyone is going to cry, but in a good way,” he assures before going on to get very excited about another special performance he reckons should not be missed by any experimental kindred spirits.

“Fred Frith is also coming on Friday, which is massive for us

“As experimental musicians go, he’s done such a huge amount - in both the body of work he has done, but also in the way he has thought about ways of getting sounds from the guitar that no other human ever would. I think he’s got a remarkable, individual mind.

“Any musicians who are interested in other ways of thinking and approaching music, shouldn’t miss it.

“I would travel a long way just to go and see him. To have him come to us is kind of unbelievable.”

But what about Lau themselves? It’s a knocking bet there’d be some sort of folk-soaked riot if the festival’s namesake didn’t so some kind of turn?

Martin laughs.

“We’re going to do our normal set,” he says, referring to the opening gig of Lau-Land, which promises to set the tone for the festival and features Aoife O’Donovan as support.

“But then we might pop up over the weekend here and there,” he teases. “It’s quite a folky thing to pile a few people on stage, so there’ll be a few mixes and crossovers of stuff over the weekend which is something we’re very keen on.”

Having undoubtedly assembled a top drawer line up for Lau-Land’s North East debut - there’s lots more to see on the website - I wonder aloud whether having a respected band at the festival’s helm has offered a shortcut to the inboxes and instincts of the artists who were on their wish-list.

“I suppose there’s something quite quick about communication between musicians as opposed to communication between musicians and management and stuff like that,” Martin says modestly.

“I don’t know to what extent Lau give it credibility to other musicians... but just the fact that we are musicians is really helpful because if it’s a job you do as well, then you’ve got more faith that things are going to be good, well prepared and everyone is going to have a good time.

“And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?”

No arguments here.

Lau-Land takes place at Sage Gateshead from May 29-31. For the full line up of gigs, talks and workshops, visitwww.sagegateshead.com or call 0191 443 4661. For more information on Lau, visitwww.lau-music.co.uk


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