THE idea of putting eight leading figures from the folk world into a house for a week and telling them to come up with enough new songs for a live festival performance at the end of it might sound like something you would pitch to a TV company as the next big reality show.

But that’s exactly what the Cecil Sharp Project did — and the live show is heading to Burnley Mechanics later this month.

The project was born in the run up to last year’s Shrewsbury Folk Festival as a tribute to Cecil Sharp, seen as the father of English folk music.

Sharp spent his life collecting and recording traditional English folk songs in both this country and in America until his death in 1924.

Festival organisers got together a diverse collection of musicians and songwriters, including Steve Knightley from Show of Hands, Jim Moray, Jackie Oates and instrumentalist Andy Cutting, and set them the challenge of writing songs inspired by Sharp’s work.

The subsequent work was a huge success spawning a CD and a number of live appearances.

“With the wrong people it could have been a diasaster,” admits Steve Knightley.

“But it all went amazingly well.

“Thankfully there were no vegetarians and a lot of foodies among us so we all found some common ground around the dinner table, which created a very convivial atmosphere.”

The album does not carry credits for any of the indidividual songs and Steve believes this demonstrates why the ambitious project worked.

“I think they put just the right number of songwriters in the group,” he said. “A couple more and the egos could have kicked in and it would not have been as good.

“Although we knew of each other from being in music, none of us knew each other really well so sharing a house for eight days was quite enlightening. Over that period of time and being in such close proximity you cannot hide your true nature.”

After a series of sold-out shows in 2011, the eight musicians are back on the road for six dates this month including Burnley, Celtic Connections in Glasgow and a date at Cecil Sharp House in London.

“Because we only get together infrequently the show will be as per the album,” said Steve.

“We will meet up for a quick rehearsal in the afternoon before the first show and then we’re off.

"If we were a full-time touring band then perhaps we would work in more arrangements and even some new songs but the shows are a reflection of what we did for the Shrewsbury Festival.”

Having had chance to assess the work away from the confines of the house, Steve is hugely proud of what has been achieved.

“I honestly think that over time it will become a classic,” he said.

“For such a diverse band of musicians and performers to produce something which tries to reflect the English song tradition is remarkable and so far I’d have to say I don’t think that achievement has had the acknowledgement it deserves.

I equate it a little like food. If you go out for an Indian or Italian meel you know roughly what to expect without seeing the menu but if you said you are going for to an English restaurant it’s so much harder to sum it up.

“It’s much the same with music. If you say blues or Cajun you have an idea of the sound but English traditional music is so much harder to define.

"There are also a lot of misconceptions about it.

“I’d therefore say to anyone who enjoys music to come to the show with an open mind. I think they will be more than pleasantly surprised.”

*The Cecil Sharp Project plays Burnley Mechanics on Thursday, January 26. For details, contact the box office on 01282 664400.