With sustainable touring becoming an increased discussion point in the music industry, Filkin’s Drift are about to set a new benchmark among folk bands: not just talking the talk but literally walking the walk, touring on foot along the Welsh Coastal Path. John-Paul Davies spoke to the Birmingham-based duo.
Chris Roberts, classically-trained guitarist of Anglo-Welsh folk duo Filkin’s Drift, confesses that this crazy idea – a tour of the entire Welsh coast, with he and bandmate Seth Bye travelling on foot – was his to start with. “The tour came about for two reasons, really. One is that as musicians, we spend so much time driving, or on trains, or on flights, which isn’t great for us or for the health of the environment. And equally, if you only have one show in the south-west then audiences travelling eat up just as much carbon as we do getting there.
“So we thought, what if we just walked everywhere? Is it possible to spend two months touring on foot? And after five years in Birmingham, I was missing Wales and thought, why don’t we do this tour around the coast of Wales? So we just went for it to see if it was possible – and now it’s happening!”
Inspired by the Welsh bardic tradition that Chris studied for his last solo album, Filkin’s Drift are perhaps creating the most authentic folk tour experience possible. It’s titled CERDD // ED – cerdd meaning music in Welsh, and cerdded meaning walk. But how will this process influence the performances and have an impact on the audience?
Says fiddle player Bye, “The set will evolve as we go. Actually, we’re just finalising some new material, lots of Welsh tunes. But the plan is to collect stories and collect songs from the communities that we visit, so we’ll be learning from the places along the way. As we go we’ll collect more material that becomes part of the story of the tour.”
Rembard’s Retreat, the EP that this innovative tour is promoting, is an equally incredible example of music influenced by its surroundings., recorded in the Saxon manor house of the eponymous abbot, seems to breathe with ancient air and space.
“It feels like a very special place being in that land,” says Seth. “Surrounded by this old walled garden and the last remaining structure of this old manor house. You’re surrounded in it, and you feel like you’re outside, even though you’re inside. You have the quiet of being enclosed but there’s lots of open light space.
“We wanted to try and capture the really intense and close relationship of playing in a duo. There’s a spontaneity in that, without the rest of a band to keep on board. So when we play together it can be quite freeform – we wanted to capture that essence, so everything on the EP is single-take performances. It’s literally us sat a few feet away playing next to each other.”
With such an exceptional EP, full of characterful interplay and stunning performances, Chris and Seth have found some equally exceptional places to play on their walking tour. For intrigue factor Chris picks St Cwyfan’s on Anglesey: “A chapel on a little island where you can only walk to it at low tide. So we’ll all meet on the beach [band and audience] at low tide, walk over together, do the gig and then all walk back. I think that’s going to be a pretty magical experience to share with the audience. No room for encores though!”
With around 40 gigs across an 870-mile trip over two months of touring, Chris and Seth have roped in their friend Freddie to keep them sane, help with gear and document the tour on the band’s socials. But a bigger network of mutual support surrounds this groundbreaking endeavour.
“Along the way we’re raising money for Live Music Now. They’re a charity Seth and I have worked with for four or five years and it felt that their values really aligned with those of the tour. One of their main things is to bring music to places where it doesn’t normally reach – hospitals, care homes, special needs schools – which is kinda what we’re trying to do on this tour as well, as we’re going to some pretty remote communities at some points.
“For the PR and digital aspect, we’ve had some funding from Help Musicians’ touring and live fund. And Fusion Cases have given me this insane guitar case that attaches two rucksacks to it, with a rain cover and everything! It’s like they were waiting for someone to do this insane project.”
As insane as it sounds, with a folk band as dedicated to sustainable touring experiences as they are to authentic music making, this could be the first step on a new path for old music.
Filkin’s Drift’s Welsh tour starts in St Anne’s, Rhyl on Mon 4 Sept and finishes in St Luke’s, Chepstow on Tue 31 Oct.
JustGiving link: here
words JOHN-PAUL DAVIES