The Elizabethan Session

One week - eight artists. New music inspired by the Elizabethan Age

The Elizabethan Session 2 Must Credit Elly Lucas900

Working closely with our friends at the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) we've commissioned eight leading folk musicians to create new work inspired by the Elizabethan age, culminating in 2 performances, a CD release and a special set at Folk by the Oak 2014.


The Elizabethan Session Album

Now available to purchase! Available on Special Edition Gatefold Vinyl or CD.

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NEWS! Celtic Connection gig

The Elizabethan Session performed their full set at Celtic Connections on 18 January - visit the Celtic Connections website for more details. 



View the live performances at the Elizabethan Session YouTube channel.



"If you only buy one folk album this year, make it this one."
Clive Davis, The Times *****
Read the gig review here


"This was an evening of unexpected songs...I look forward to the album" 
Robin Denselow, The Guardian **** 
Read the review here


"A bold triumph of imagination and musicianship”
Martin Chilton, The Telegraph
Read the review here


"An album of highlights...A fine artefact of an inspired project."
Nick Churchill, Fatea Magazine
Read the review here


"A fine exploration of a pivotal time in English history by some of the best musicians around."
Spiral Earth
Read the review here


“… mightily impressive and engaging… one of the folk albums of the year.”

R2 Magazine ****


“An experiment in musical collaboration – with an incredible result”

Maverick *****


About the Project

The Artists

Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr, Folk by the Oak patron Jim Moray, Bella Hardy, John Smith, Hannah James, Rachel Newton and early music specialist Emily Askew came together to create new music that has a resonance and relevance to the era.


The Retreat

This ‘who’s who’ of the British folk scene lived and worked together at a rural retreat in Herefordshire from 14th March 2014. The Elizabethan Session used material and history, stories, myths, characters and legends relating to the 16th century period and the artists drew inspiration from the role that Hatfield House, home of Folk by the Oak, played in the Queen’s life. Legend has it that Elizabeth was told of her ascension to the throne underneath the large oak tree in the grounds where Folk by the Oak is now held each July.

The Elizabethan historian Ian Mortimer, who has appeared extensively on BBC One, Two and Four and BBC Radio, visited the artists to give them additional insight into the era, and his candlelit talk at the beginning of the week was hugely inspirational to the creative process. 


The Gigs

The 8 artists premiered the results at The Old Palace at Hatfield House on March 20th. Rarely used as a music venue, the Palace is known to be the childhood home of Elizabeth and later where she convened her first Council of State. This was a rare opportunity to enjoy music inspired by this age in a setting of such relevance and beauty. This was followed by a further concert at Cecil Sharp House, the London home of EFDSS, on March 22nd

The gigs and the music produced during the project have received glowing reviews across the board.  


The Album

The artists then returned on the Sunday to record a live CD at the Old Palace itself. The CD was launched at Folk by the Oak on 20 July 2014, where the artists came together once more for a final set as part of the festival.

The album is now on general release -

CLICK HERE to order your copy



The Elizabethan Session is funded by Folk by the Oak and EFDSS, with support from Arts Council England and the PRS for Music Foundation.


Project contact: 


Twitter  Follow the project on Twitter @elizabethansess


FBTO Logo With Leaves No Datesmall Visit the festival website


Group photo by Elly Lucas


“Since the first Folk by the Oak in 2008 we have been wanting to pay tribute to our beautiful venue that’s so awash with history. To do this through the music of these great artists will be a real thrill.”

Adam Slough, Director, Folk by the Oak

“The Elizabethan Session will be central to our Artists’ Development Programme in 2014, providing EFDSS with the opportunity to work with an amazing group of artists, develop our partnership with Folk by the Oak, and challenge the pre-conceptions of folk music amongst audiences.”

Katy Spicer, Chief Executive of EFDSS

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The Artists

(click on an artist for more info)

Martin Simpson

Widely acknowledged as one of the finest acoustic and slide guitar players in the world, his interpretations of traditional songs are masterpieces of storytelling. Martin has been nominated an astounding 26 times in the twelve years of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards - more than any other performer - with nine consecutive years as nominee for Musician of The Year, which he has won twice. 2008 saw an incredible five nominations for Prodigal Son and two wins, whilst in 2010 he had an unprecedented six nominations for his CD True Stories and a win for Best Traditional Track. 2012's nominations for Martin included Best Album, Best Traditional Track and Best Musician. Martin Simpson is an individual guitarist of immense subtlety who will bring an extra dimension to the project.

Martin said:

"I am intrigued by the possibilities of collaborating with this wonderful collection of musicians. The history of the Elizabethan period is fascinating, and I look forward to learning more, and finding inspiration from every level of society."


Nancy Kerr

Nancy Kerr has been described as “a songwriter steeped in the tradition, but casting it anew” – by Songlines. Mark Radcliffe, BBC Radio 2, said of her: “That’s the trick: to write something new and different that’s beautiful, but something that could conceivably existed for 100 years.” Singer and violinist Nancy is co-winner (with James Fagan) of the BBC Folk Award for Best Duo 2011, Best Album in the Spiral Earth Awards 2012 (for Twice Reflected Sun) and was nominated for Best New Song in 2011 (Queen of Waters). Her debut solo album is set for release in Spring 2014.

Nancy said:

“I am hugely looking forward to The Elizabethan Session as a chance to explore the mythology surrounding a royal woman’s life, and the insights into the darkly mysterious world of that historical period.”


Jim Moray

Folk by the Oak patron and EFDSS board member Jim Moray burst onto the folk scene in 2003, aged just 21, when his revolutionary debut album recorded in his student bedroom shook up the folk scene. Sweet England went on to dominate the following year's BBC Folk Awards, gained the unique distinction of airplay on BBC Radio 1, 2, 3, 4, 5live and 6music, and soundtracked TV shows and adverts, shaping the sound of folk music in the following decade. Ten years on and five studio albums under his belt, Moray is still regarded as one of the most inventive and talented musicians on the scene, giving folk music his own unique twist.

Jim said:

"As patron of Folk By The Oak, I'm really excited to be asked to collaborate with these amazing musicians and to perform the songs we come up with at the festival."


Bella Hardy

With a Masters degree in Music from Newcastle University, Bella Hardy first came to widespread public recognition when she was nominated in the Best Original Song category at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2007 for Three Black Feathers – the first song she ever wrote. In 2012, she won that same award for her powerful and moving account of life as a 19th century Stornoway Herring Girl. A fixture on the festival and folk club scene, Bella has sung in at the Royal Albert Hall during The Proms, co-written with former Beautiful South guitarist David Rotheray, for his concept album The Life of Birds, and composed the music for Radio 4’s The People’s Post – a documentary on the history of the Post Office.

2013 has seen the release of her latest album Battleplan and a new release with Brit folk trailblazer Eliza Carthy and friends Lucy Farrell and Kate Young.

Bella said:

“To be given the opportunity to hide out in one location with such inspiring musicians, songwriters, and friends, is such a rare privilege.”


John Smith

John Smith is an unsigned and independent artist. He has opened for the likes of Iron and Wine, David Gray, Richard Hawley, John Martyn and Chris Thile. He has self-released three critically acclaimed albums to date - including his latest, Great Lakes and toured the world singing songs and playing the guitar. The Sunday Times referred to him as the “guitarists’ guitarist” and Kelly Joe Phelps said of John: "Were I to discover another man’s music flowing through my body and out my hands, and that music to be his, I would consider myself both lucky and blessed.”

John said:

"It's a thrill and a joy to know I'll be working with these incredible musicians in The Elizabethan Session. I can't wait."


Hannah James

Hannah is one third of the vocal harmony trio Lady Maisery, half of a duo with Bellowhead’s Sam Sweeney and has toured with Maddy Prior (Steeleye Span), to name but a few highlights of her career. An acclaimed accordionist, singer and clog dancer, she is steeped in the folk tradition despite her tender years. With Kerfuffle, she released five albums and was a finalist in the BBC Young Folk Awards. As a champion clog dancer, she has been a mainstay of The Demon Barber Roadshow and heavily involved with the development of their new theatre show Time Gentlemen Please! In between all of this, she still finds time to play in the accordion trio Hell Said the Duchess, with Beckie Price and Karen Tweed, and has also featured on albums by Bella Hardy, Fay Hield and Spiers & Boden.

Hannah said:

“I'm thrilled to be a part of this project. Not only do we have the luxury of a whole week dedicated to creating new music, we also have a house full of amazing musicians to bounce off and learn from - exciting and a bit scary!”


Rachel Newton

Rachel attended the prestigious City of Edinburgh Music School, where she studied a range of disciplines including harp, Gaelic and jazz singing, fiddle, viola and piano. She went on to study voice and harp on the BMus Folk and Traditional Music in Newcastle and this broadened her horizons further including forming a duo ‘Rachel and Lillias’, joining the BBC 2 Folk Award winning Emily Portman Trio and co-founding Scots Trad Music Award nominated six-piece band ‘The Shee. As well as being much in demand as a musician in the folk scene having performed with Karine Polwart, Macmaster/Hay and others, she has also worked in theatre with the Rowantree Theatre Company, winning a CATS Award for Best Use of Music in 2009, performed at the Traverse in Andrew Greig's 'Found at Sea' and her singing is featured in Raindance award winning film The Inheritance. Her first solo album 'The Shadow Side' was nominated for 'Album of the Year' in the Scots Trad Music Awards 2012

Rachel said:

“The best part of being a musician for me is collaborating with other singers and musicians to create new music, so The Elizabethan Session, with a focus on such an interesting time in our history, sounds like a dream project to work on.”


Emily Askew

Emily Askew is a versatile musician playing vielle (medieval fiddle), bagpipes, shawms, recorders and fiddle. Her interests are wide and varied reaching from the deep roots of folk music through to medieval, baroque and contemporary repertoire. At the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Emily specialised in early music and graduated with a first class honours BMus. She performs with folk duo The Askew Sisters and a number of early music ensembles including The Dufay Collective and The Artisans. Emily also works in opera and theatre. She has performed as principal recorder at Glyndebourne and as a multi-instrumentalist in productions for Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, the Apollo West End and the Hampstead Players.

Emily said:

“I'm looking forward to collaborating with the fantastic musicians and singers in The Elizabeth Session and bringing together my love of folk and early music to create something new and exciting!”


The Gigs

The Elizabethan Session gigs were:

Thursday 20 March 2014
The Old Palace, Hatfield House, Hatfield, Herts AL9 5NQ

Saturday 22 March 2014
Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regent's Park Road, London NW1 7AY