For the last three years the sleepy town of Kenilworth, situated just south of the University of Warwick campus, has come alive as an assortment of artists, musicians, writers and poets descend on the town for the Kenilworth Arts Festival. Organised by a dedicated team, and directed by Lewis Smith, this year the Festival ran over thirty events, bringing together award-winning musicians and best-selling authors to provide ten days of musical performances, talks, workshops, panel discussions and showcase events. The Boar has recently spoken to Smith about his role, and how he balances his commitments to the festival whilst also studying for his PhD.
Ruby Tandoh (of Bake Off fame) was one of the many authors in attendance at the literary weekend, promoting her cookery book Eat Up!. The panel discussions included Fiona Mozley and Kamila Shamsie speaking about their most recent book publications (Elmet, Man Booker Prize shortlist 2017 and Antigone, Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 respectively), with both panels led by Anita Sethi, the award-winning journalist and critic. The Verve Poetry Press Showcase also featured four local poets in a lively and up-tempo event. The newly founded press aims to bring the vibrant Birmingham poetry scene to print, with the festival being the perfect opportunity for some of their poets to have their work heard.
The festival ran over thirty events, bringing together award-winning musicians and best-selling authors
For the artist keen to hone their skills, there were workshops run by local members of the Kenilworth community, as well as more artists from further afield. With a vast variety of disciplines on display, there was very much something for everyone, with sessions on calligraphy, delicate mosaic work and even a session on drawing treehouses, run by Nick Rhodes (Switchopen), who himself has worked with the likes of bands such as John Grant and Explosions in the Sky.
I was lucky enough to attend an evening with the Emily Francis Trio, a jazz ensemble led by the brilliant as named pianist, with Trevor Boxall on bass, and Jamie Murray on drums. The trio took the simple and classic Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson approach to jazz straight into the 21st century, substituting the double bass for an electric one, and piano for a keyboard. The event was in conjunction with the Kenilworth Jazz Club, who offer frequent live jazz events throughout the year.
For the artist keen to hone their skills, there were workshops run by local members of the Kenilworth community
I have rarely seen musical passion greater than when Emily Francis took to the keys. The lack of lyrics can often put people off jazz, with a song’s story being lost in a whirl of notes and solos, but the pain and the joy visible on Francis’ face told a thousand words. Her emotive performance added to the pieces, demanding the attention of the audience, and refused to be annexed into the ‘lift music’ genre that can unfortunately happen with so much jazz music by an all-too-often bored audience. Her and Boxall’s witty verbal intros gave heartwarming and amusing context to their pieces: for example, ‘Shakey Jake’ about Boxall’s hyperactive toddler nephew, and ‘Two-bed on Mars’, a close to home social commentary on house prices only being affordable by the time Elon Musk has had his way. Francis’ solo piece was also charmingly introduced, a real highlight of the set: she explained that she wrote the solo as an escape from endless bills and emails, with the simple title ‘I’m tired’ – something I think we can all identify with.
The lack of lyrics can often put people off jazz, with a song’s story being lost in a whirl of notes and solos
The real star of the show was the exceptionally talented Jamie Murray, whose precise time keeping and varied approach, using all aspects of his kit, provided much of the emotional swell and intensity. This was highlighted with an exceptional moment of timekeeping from all members of the ensemble (to their obvious joy and our surprised delight) when a clearly much rehearsed tricky moment of synchronicity came off without a hitch. Murray is very much one to watch.
Readers looking to expand their jazz horizons should check out the Emily Francis Trio on YouTube or Spotify, or better still, get their album from their website. Famous influences on their Trio approach must include Bill Evans Trio’s Sunday at the Village Vanguard or Oscar Peterson Trio’s Night Train. If looking for popular contemporaries bringing jazz to a modern, 21st century answer to the classics, look no further than the Devlon Lamarr Organ Trio (Live at KEXP!). Yet another successful year for the Kenilworth Arts Festival has left all of us excited for what next year has in store.