You are hereBeverley Acoustic Roots Festival 2010
Beverley Acoustic Roots Festival 2010
'Do you want the quiet camp?' asked one of the friendly box office stewards as I checked into the Beverley Acoustic Roots Festival on Friday afternoon, to which I responded, without hesitation, 'oh noo, put me down for the noisy camp!' Of course there's nothing that could really be described as 'noisy' at this charming little East Riding festival, not even if you happened to find yourself right next to the speaker stacks during Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams' extraordinarily vibrant set on Saturday night, or if you chose to postpone sleep temporarily in order to squeeze into the Wold Top Marquee for one of their popular late night sessions. The normally sleepy town of Beverley does however come alive at this time of the year for a weekend full of quality music, poetry, comedy, storytelling and dance events, all of which run simultaneously on various stages throughout the weekend, including one main indoor stage, three marquees of varying sizes, an indoor club room and the nearby Friary, not to mention the village green, the towns many welcoming pubs and the beacon that is Beverley Minster itself.
Time lapse photography would probably best capture the steady transformation from the normally tranquil deserted sports field to the packed festival site as guitar and fiddle cases, double basses and harmoniums, clogs and swords together with a whole bunch of arts and crafts paraphernalia, pour onto the festival village site as night time falls. The normally clearly audible Minster chimes that ring every fifteen minutes are soon obscured by other sounds throughout the evening and well on into the early hours. On Friday evening, as the likes of Lydia Noble, Jack Rutter and the Blackbeards Tree Party Trio got things going in the Wold Top Marquee and the Dreams of Apollo quartet drew attention to themselves in the open air, the two main stages played host to two contrasting opening acts on the Concert Marquee stage and the main Leisure Complex hall respectively, with Bowie, Bliss and Cockerham kicking things off on the former and a bunch of brave school kids on the latter. The young representatives from the Longcroft School made their big stage debut, after introductions by the Mayor of Beverley, the playwright John Godber and finally by local hero Henry Priestman, who spent much of the week leading up to the festival conducting songwriting workshops at the school.
The former Yachts/Christians songwriter made a welcomed return to the festival accompanied by guitarist Pete Riley. Famously referred to as 'songs for grumpy old men', Priestman's current repertoire largely made up of songs from his solo album Chronicles of Modern Life manage to speak to a good majority of the audience, who possibly empathise with some of the sentiments, this reviewer included. As the songwriter warmed up the audience for the evening's headliner Eddi Reader, a young Brighton-based exponent of World Music of the Turkish/Cypriot variety Dogan Mehmet together with his band The Deerhunters, charmed the audience over at the Concert Marquee for an energetic set including much of the music from his current album Gypsyhead.
Whilst County Sligo's Dervish filled the Concert Marquee with their own brand of Irish Celtic music and songs, Glasgow's first lady of folk pop Eddi Reader weaved her spell over a packed main hall audience with songs from her current album Love is the Way as well as a handful of songs that have made her voice instantly recognisable throughout the world, some written by her band mate Boo Hewerdine (Patience of Angels) as well as the uplifting anthem Perfect, from her Fairground Attraction days.
Late into the night, after the main guests have left their respective stages and the halls are cleared for another day, one of the festival's most popular sessions takes place in the carpeted Wold Top Marquee, presided over by Miles Cain and Leila Slater, who welcome festival artists onstage for impromptu and intimate performances that go on well into the early hours. So popular are these session now that an orderly queue forms outside running a one out, one in system. On Friday evening musicians and songwriters such as Leddra Chapman, Boo Hewerdine and Dogan Mehmet rubbed shoulders with poets Mitch Benn, Rory Motion and Oz Hardwick with further performances from both Eddi Reader and Henry Priestman. It's difficult to describe the appeal of these shows other than that you feel the performers are equally as relaxed as the audience by this time, where the dividing barrier between performer and audience is lifted and honesty replaces showmanship.
Saturday got off to a good start with a difficult choice of activities to consider, such as Barbara Dickson's autobiography presentation, where the singer was interviewed on the Acoustic Stage, talking candidly about her life in music, whilst Jeni and Billy conducted a songwriting workshop in the Friary. The Beverley Festival and Brown's of Beverley support the Teenage Cancer Trust charity and the TCT Sessions in the Wold Top Marquee got off to a great start with up and coming singer-songwriter Leddra Chapman who performed an excellent set of songs from her Telling Tales album, which is attracting the attention of the MOR djs on Radio 2. With the delightfully seasonal Summer Song, Leddra and bandmates John Hall on guitar and Tom Beech on keyboards, brought to the festival an extra ray of sunshine. Saturday afternoon also saw Dave Burland tie up his faithful pooch temporarily whilst he took to the Festival Marquee stage in order to treat his audience to a set of familiar songs both traditional and contemporary together with his trademark nod to the music that really flicks his switch, exemplified in his version of I Knew the Bride When She Used to Rock and Roll. Dave Burland will always be a rocker at heart, despite his penchant for turning out gorgeous renditions of much older songs with an unmistakable voice and a warm personality to match.
Whilst Plum Hall delivered the goods on the Concert Marquee stage and Edwina Hayes resurrected Don McLean's Vincent for her growing army of admirers in the Acoustic Marquee, it was the guitar that drew crowds to the main hall. There was no shortage of guitarists over the weekend with Saturday playing host to both Martin Simpson and Sean Taylor on the very same bill. With now familiar pork-pie hat and guitar in hand, Sean Taylor delivered a superb set of songs, some from his forthcoming fourth album Walk With Me as well as from his more familiar Calcutta Grove. Having done his homework, the young Kilburn-born blues singer turned in a stunning version of Skip James' Killing Floor Blues with its thoroughly haunting intro.
Martin Simpson is no stranger to Beverley and together with Andy Cutting on melodeon and Andy Seward on upright bass, the Scunthorpe-born guitarist once again dazzled his audience with another masterful performance of songs culled from a seemingly bottomless pit of a repertoire. With several BBC Folk Award gongs on his mantlepiece, Simpson's place on the British festival circuit is undisputed, as one of the most gifted guitar players this country has produced and Beverley had the pleasure of his company twice over the weekend.
Contrasting with the one off concert performance by the Brighouse and Rastrick Band over in the Minster, which was for all intents and purposes a 'sit-down' event, as the conductor brought things to order with almost regimental precision, the main hall played host to an evening of a more challenging spectacle of music and dance. The grandly named Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams played a cameo performance at the 2009 festival during an afternoon billed as The American Party, which was so well received at the time, it not only secured them a gig in the town a few months later but also secured them an invitation to return this year to play on the main stage. Described variously as mystical, quirky, versatile, fresh and accomplished, the Hillbilly Pink Floyd returned this year to provide yet another memorable performance with outstanding versions of Flapjacks from the Sky and Picture, dividing the audience equally into the confused and the converted.
The Demon Barber Roadshow was probably the only band that could follow that. Named the Best Live Act at the 2009 BBC Folk Awards, those who packed into the main hall on Saturday night were treated to a show worthy of that title. The core band consisting of Damien Barber, Bryony Griffith, Will Hampson, Lee Sykes and Ben Griffith were joined by some of the most versatile performers in contemporary and traditional dance including Tiny Taylor, Fiona Bradshaw, Laura Connolly, Hannah James, with their various colourful and energetic clogging routines, whilst Dogrose Morris' David Hall and James Boyle proved once again that Morris dancing isn't necessarily uncool anymore. The race however for the undisputed highlight of the show was divided between two joint winners; JB's extraordinary beatbox display, in which he takes out the rest of the band with a ray gun before speeding away on his Vincent and the celebrated rapper dance courtesy of the boys in the band. Then there's Bryony Griffith's rendition of Bonny Boy isn't there? Back to the polling booths methinks! Sandwiched between these two high energy driven outfits was Forro Porro, a quartet formed from two established duos The Hut People and Mambo Jambo, providing the night with a touch of South America to add the word 'fiesta' to the programme of music, dance, song and fun.
The chimes of the Minster bells merged effortlessly with the various choirs that congregated in the Concert Marquee on Sunday Morning. Whilst over at the Friary, Karen Tweed provided a packed room of accordion, fiddle and whistle players with some expert advice, the Black Umfolosi 5 together with the Swinemoor Choir and the Beverley Community Choir, came together in harmony with both children and adults alike. The sun came out during the afternoon in order to illuminate the Festival Village, already alive with various dance displays, including maypole, clogging and Morris as a unicyclist rode by and a bloke juggled with a sweeping brush.
The Wold Top Marquee played host to another fine programme of singers and musicians including local siblings the Hall Brothers (with Jon Carey), Norwich-based singer-songwriter Jess Morgan and guitarist Gren Bartley, to name but a few. Jess Morgan's debut at the festival included a handful of songs from her debut album All Swell, including Pamela, Eels and At Sea together with one or two new songs.
One of the most eagerly anticipated sets at this year's festival came from an unlikely source. Charlie Dore and the Hula Valley Orchestra, whose authentic take on 1930s American pop songs brought a completely different sound to the festival village. Taking standards by the likes of Jimmie Rogers, Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin and Al Bowlley and giving them a Hawaiian feel, helped along by Julian Littman's lap steel guitar and Steve Simpson's western swing fiddle, Charlie demonstrated just how appealing the old songs can be when played with such dedicated professionalism. Joining Charlie on stage was old friend Barbara Dickson, who joined the band for a fine rendition of Roll Along Kentucky Moon.
Keeping with the oldies, songs that is, not the artists, the newly formed Whiskey Dogs appeared throughout the weekend, covering the spots reserved for the much loved Alley Cats, who have been reduced to the mum and dad duo now that the kids have toddled off to university. With newcomer Brian Swinton on mandolin, Pete and Janey Bolton continue the family tradition of keeping alive their fine repertoire of country blues, bluegrass and folk classics.
Jeni and Billy described themselves as America's smiliest couple when they made their debut at the 2009 festival, being their first ever appearance in the UK. They return this year with a new record Longing For Heaven, the follow up to last year's Jewell Ridge Coal, with their smiles and their engaging stage presence intact. Jeni and Billy played more shows at this festival than they bargained for after fellow American performer Jerry Harmon was forced to pull out following a domestic accident.
As evening set over the towering spires of Beverley Minster, the final concerts got underway featuring the Lau-like Tyde, The Black Umfolosi 5 and The Proclaimers on the main stage, whilst the Concert Marquee played host to some festival favourites including Jeni and Billy, The Whiskey Dogs, Koshka and once again Charlie Dore and the Hula Valley Orchestra, topped off with some Blazin' Fiddles, bringing an all round Scottish finale to the festival. Having Blazin' Fiddles and the Reid twins share a stage at the end of the night instead of the two seperate stages they actually played, might just have been the perfect end to what is steadily becoming a firm favourite on the British festival circuit. However, Charlie and Craig's hugely popular 500 Miles sufficed and became the tune that rung in my ears as I left Beverley for another successful year.
Also see david Barrett's photo gallery: http://www.david-barrett.co.uk/LR-galleries/beverley_festival_2010/