New Street folk get musical treat

UK’s biggest folk band pulls into central railway hub.

Rail commuters and shoppers enjoyed a musical treat on Thursday as the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s Folk Ensemble performed a unique series of free concerts in Birmingham New Street station.

The Conservatoire Folk Ensemble features a stage-challenging 65 members and they all performed under the interchange’s main departure boards within the station’s domed atrium throughout the day. Among them are 15 horns, four cellos, five percussionists, five electric guitarists, plus fiddles, flutes, clarinets, double-bass, electric bass, euphonium, acoustic guitar, octave mandola, and a harp – with many also being vocalists.

The musical extravaganza was organised to coincide with the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s Music Open Day, which welcomed prospective undergraduate and postgraduate students to its new home, just a short walk from the station in the Eastside region of the Midlands city.

Professor Julian Lloyd Webber, Principal, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, said: “From Johann Strauss to Duke Ellington to Kylie Minogue, the railways have inspired musicians over the last 200 years and The Conservatoire Folk Ensemble have continued that tradition as they raised the roof of New Street station with their infectious energy and impressive musicality.

“We welcomed hundreds of visitors to our Music Open Day and many of those arrived by train at Birmingham New Street station. The performances by The Conservatoire Folk Ensemble provided a unique gateway to their wider visit and, for the thousands of other commuters, shoppers and residents who use the station daily, it showcased Birmingham as a culturally rich destination of international significance.”

The event was arranged in partnership with Network Rail, who also helped the Conservatoire’s parent institution, Birmingham City University, stage an ambitious fashion show in the station last year, where Fashion Design graduates showcased their latest collections along a specially-made runway.

Following a major redevelopment which opened in September 2015, Birmingham New Street station has been transformed into a major transport and shopping hub. Welcoming 140,000 passengers daily, its new concourse is now three and a half times bigger than before. This space is enclosed by a giant glass-roofed atrium, allowing natural light to brighten the entire area, including all 12 refurbished platforms.

The station also contains Parkside Platform, an exhibition space run by Birmingham City University and an addition to its Parkside Gallery which is located at its City Centre Campus in the Eastside of the city. Its current exhibition Archived is the result of a collaboration between the Historical Instrument Collection at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and the artistic responses of the University’s Photography BA (Hons) students.

The Conservatoire Folk Ensemble was formed by fiddle player and arranger Joe Broughton in 1997. He said: “The city of Birmingham is integral to the kind of folk music we make; noisy, full of energy and draws on the great breadth of music that Birmingham is famous for. To play in the rather unusual setting of the train station, right at the heart of the city, was really exciting and the reaction of commuters and prospective students as they are greeted by 65 musicians giving it their all was one I will never forget!

“The Conservatoire Folk Ensemble thrives on this multi-cultural city that we live in and our music is an all-inclusive, positive and raucous take on folk music from across Europe and beyond. Just as people can expect to be impressed with the regeneration of Birmingham and our state-of-the-art new Conservatoire building, we in the Folk Ensemble are constantly redefining what folk music should be and what boundaries we can push to give our audiences the most uplifting and memorable performances.”

Celebrating their twentieth anniversary in 2017, The Conservatoire Folk Ensemble embarked on a series of headline dates across the country and also found time to record and release their debut full length studio album, Painted (SAE Records). Run on an elective basis, The Conservatoire Folk Ensemble has become an enviable addition to the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s range of performing ensembles.

Front pic – Sophie Hawkesford