Birmingham has set a weekend aside to celebrate all things folky. Simon Harper takes hey nonny notice.
Think of folk music and it'll probably conjure images of wily old troubadours with battered acoustic guitars, singing songs of love and death. Or you might dream of real ale and woolly jumpers.
Far removed from these stereotypes, folk music has undergone something of a renaissance in recent years, with a host of young upstarts reigniting folk's cultural fire, whether it's dragging the likes of Vashti Bunyan back into the mainstream, or waxing lyrical about the debt they owe to Bert Jansch.
Birmingham is already something of a focal point for this new folk revolution, thanks to the wondrous Moseley Folk Festival, and now an exciting line-up at the Symphony Hall and Town Hall is set to put the spotlight back on a flock of British folk acts.
A host of events, split between the two venues, are set to take place as part of the English Originals Folk Festival, from Friday April 25 to Sunday April 27. Among those performing are a number of musicians, both young and old, offering a mouth-watering selection of folk music shot through with a decidedly modern twist.
Kicking off on April 25 with a free performance by Birmingham-based octet The Old Dance School, at the Symphony Hall, the line-up for English Originals sees a heady mix of acoustic-led music, where traditional folk songs collide with the new and exciting products of genre hybrids, brimming with youthful vigour and intensity.
On the same evening, Billy Bragg will be treading the Town Hall stage. Exploring his own English roots - including a pre-concert session where he will be reading sections of his book The Progressive Patriot - the Bard of Barking will be joined by special guests for an evening of traditional folk songs as well as offerings from his latest album, Mr Love and Justice.
Bragg's love affair with folk music is well documented. Together with American alt-country stalwarts Wilco, Bragg put a selection of Woody Guthrie lyrics to new compositions as part of the two-volume Mermaid Avenue series of album releases, and his fondness for protest songs has long ensured that his voice stands out from the crowd.
English Originals isn't just about the traditional. The bill for Rising Folk (Saturday April 26) showcases some of Britain's brightest hopefuls.
Headliner Seth Lakeman will already be known to listeners who enjoy even a passing association with folk, having received a nomination for the Mercury Music Prize in 2005, and later scooping the Singer of the Year and Best Album gongs at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards last year.
Unveiling his fourth studio album later this year, the singer and violinist recently hit the headlines for his collaboration with Birmingham hip hop act Moorish Delta 7.
Such outings show that handfuls of young folk acts are twisting the genre into something interesting and unique, each putting their own delightful spin on traditional tales of yore.
This is certainly the case with digital folk pioneers Tunng. Embarking on a rich musical journey, originally as a duo, Sam Genders and Mike Lindsay have since expanded the band's line-up to a six-piece.
On their three studio albums to date - the first of which, Mother's Daughter and Other Songs, was released on Solihull label Static Caravan - their rampant experimentalism ensures that acoustic vignettes are combined with electronic gurgles and beats, and a host of percussion, crafting something dark, unusual and utterly captivating.
They're also joined by songwriter Sharron Kraus, who runs with the 'dark folk' theme and takes it to its logical conclusion, with pitch-black subject matter being married to a shimmering backdrop, reminiscent of English and American folk stalwarts.
On the final day of the festival, fans are given the opportunity to watch the BBC's acclaimed three-part Folk Britannia series, a documentary tracing the history of modern British folk, from the post-war period through to the present day.
Elsewhere, there's a feast of female folk artists to be found at the Symphony Hall. Firstly, there's a free show from Little Sister, who are billed as "Birmingham's answer to the Be Good Tanyas". Taking their cues from various UK regions and beyond, the quartet reinterpret folk songs from across the globe as well as performing their own original tales, pitched as part of a dizzying array of styles.
The main attraction for the evening, though, is the Daughters of Albion, a spectacular group of starlets which spans across a number of generations, showing that while those at the younger end of the folk spectrum are keeping the genre in good hands, the female performers that they look up to aren't quite ready to vacate the stage just yet.
Folk purists will be delighted to hear that June Tabor and Norma Waterson are joining the festivities, bringing their respective songbooks and underlining their place in the British folk pantheon.
Kathryn Williams has long cemented her reputation at the forefront of a new wave of sing-songwriters, since her second album - Little Black Numbers, released in 2000 - was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. Her latest full-length outing reaffirms the multi-generational pull of folk, being written and recorded with composer Neill MacColl, son of legendary performer Ewan MacColl.
There are also some surprising folk-inspired textures on offer from Lou Rhodes, who as well as being a solo artist, is known for writing and performing with the band Lamb, and her own compositions are chiming and charming in equal measure. The hypnotic sounds of Lisa Knapp will be worth checking out, built around circular arrangements and bringing traditional songs right up to date, as well as treating audiences to her own compositions.
It's also an opportunity to get acquainted with the startling music of Bishi, a DJ and multi-instrumentalist who combines English and Eastern folk traditions, setting sitar melodies to electronic flourishes.
They will be joined on stage by a special 'house band', featuring Britfolk legend Martin Carthy and Tim Van Eyken, himself a former Waterson: Carthy acolyte, rounding off what looks set to be a fascinating weekend of folk treasures both old and new.
Tickets from thsh.co.uk/englishoriginals or 0121 780 3333.