Southern Tenant Folk Union - Biography
Formed by Belfast born five-string banjo player Pat McGarvey in 2006 and taking their name from the groundbreaking multi-racial union of sharecroppers and non-landowning tenant farmers founded in Arkansas in the 1930’s (the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union), the Edinburgh-based Southern Tenant Folk Union are now one of the most highly rated folk and bluegrass outfits in the UK today.
With their fourth album they’ve continued to appropriate themes and ancient sounding chord progressions from traditional folk songs. Using these to document and reflect modern life they keep the essential simplicity and directness of style but often with a modern update to the underlying lyrical subject matter. New tunes that touch on atheism, intolerance and most recently (on ‘The New Farming Scene’ and ‘Pencaitland’) a post fossil fuel, post technological, agrarian future.
Pat McGarvey served his musical apprenticeship touring the world and recording a number of albums with bands like The Arlenes & The Coal Porters in London. That grounding plus countless other collaborations with key independent Americana acts including Peter Case, Tandy, Amy Rigby, Rosie Flores, Jason McNiff & Bob Neuwirth (Dylan’s road manager in the 60’s) gave him the real experience needed to fuse together the band’s American folk and British roots sound with his own Celtic heritage.
Keen to find a more personal outlet for his writing McGarvey gathered a collective of like minded musicians that share his love of traditional music, but each with their own individual take on such tradition; Musician’s like singer & guitarist Jed Milroy (The Aliens), Adam Bulley on mandolin (The Halton Quartet), Ewan Macintyre on lead vocals/harmonica and three stalwarts of the Edinburgh folk music scene, Chris Purcell on guitar/vocals, Carrie Thomas on fiddle and Marty Camino on double bass.
Once up and running, Southern Tenant Folk Union released their debut album of original material in January 2007 to acclaim, positive reviews and national radio play. The rest of the year saw them playing festivals, arts centres and clubs around the UK and Ireland and only a little more than twelve months after the self-titled LP a follow-up was released. ‘Revivals, Rituals & Union Songs’ - a real step forward for them with its strong, confident tone. With positive reviews coming in and even more well deserved nationwide recognition (including a live session for BBC Radio 2’s Mark Lamarr and airplay from Steve Lamacq) the band played an extensive UK & European tour before going back to studio at the end of 2008 to work on new material. The year-end saw the album named by the Morning Star as one of the top ten albums of the year. The STFU continued to gig through 2009 whilst their third album was being produced in Edinburgh.
'The New Farming Scene' came out on Johnny Rock Records in June 2010 to widespread critical acclaim. The Sunday Times described it as ‘More than simple roots-music revivalism’ and The Independent awarded it 4 stars and praised it as ‘A bold concept piece’ as well as Andy Gill mentioning the following month that they were the kind of artist that ‘deserved attention’ from the Mercury Music Prize judges. In October 2010 they were awarded ‘Americana Artist of the Year’ at the British Country Music Awards (voted for by journalists at Maverick Magazine) plus appeared live on Radio 4’s Loose Ends show and a national RTE TV show (The View) in Ireland. All showing how the band's new location was instrumental in them continuing to forge their own identity and make waves in the UK music scene.
Their recently released fourth album ‘Pencaitland’ is a record that continues the band’s trip into the more interesting areas of acoustic sound, word and tone. Another critical smash hit, it has gained a raft of 4 star reviews and media interest with The Guardian saying that ‘The band knock up a fierce, raw and earthy music that is the stuff of Mumford & Sons' dreams’ and Uncut Magazine declaring ‘Pencaitland is their most serious and ambitious album yet’. So, with it’s themes and the progression conceptually from the farmstead of their last album, Southern Tenant Folk Union have managed to harvest their natural folk feel for this timeless music and create their own sound. As the Arts Desk’s Russ Coffey says ‘Their fusion of Celtic, British and American roots music gives them a sound that, while quoting everyone in sight, is still original.’ Their 5th album ‘Hello Cold Goodbye Sun’ will be released in January 2013.
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