You are hereBarnsley Acoustic Roots Festival 2012
Barnsley Acoustic Roots Festival 2012
The Kingstone School of Creativity in Barnsley provided the backdrop for this the third annual Barnsley Acoustic Roots Festival, which took place over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend. With the school's background in the performing arts, the stage in the main hall provided an ideal setting for the main concerts featuring a diverse range of artists; from solo acts such as Fran Smith who opened proceedings on Friday night through to the full-blown might of the newly invigorated Edward II who finished off the festival on Sunday night, with various duos, trios, full bands and a curious skiffle combo somewhere in between.
With both festival patrons Dave Burland and Kathryn Roberts present throughout the weekend, the festival got underway with an eclectic mix of folk and roots acts, both home grown and from further afield, from places as widespread as the USA, Canada and Scotland. This third festival, which is steadily gaining a growing reputation on the festival calendar was slightly different from the previous two in 2010 and 2011, with all the action happening in one place, save for some dancing in the town centre over the weekend.
Taking to the main stage in order to start proceedings on Friday night, Wakefield singer-songwriter Fran Smith opened with a short set of self-penned songs including We Will Have No More Marriages and Orion to a fine interpretation of Tim Buckley's Song to the Siren. Seated at the piano throughout, Fran demonstrated confidence during her opening set, despite being plagued with the beginnings of throat problems, which she successfully camouflaged throughout the performance with no small measure of professionalism and determination whilst gaining a few new friends along the way.
Next up was Tennessee husband and wife team Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart who for the first of three performances throughout the weekend and the only main act to play all three days, showcased a handful of songs from their brand new album DEDICATION with some deliciously empathetic acoustic guitar playing and perfectly pitched harmony singing. Introduced as being 'the real deal', which they are, the duo performed a short but thrilling set, providing an indication of what was to follow with their longer set on Saturday night. With songs that included Little Rock and If You Change Your Mind both from the new record, together with older songs such as Wedding Night, which appeared on Stacey's breakthrough album almost fourteen years ago, the duo delighted their small but enthusiastic audience. During this gentle and uplifting set, Mark declared, borrowing from one of Townes Van Zandt's famous one liners, that 'there's only two kinds of music - the Blues and Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah music', going on to play one of the duo's most enduring songs Are You Ready? The Barnsley audience demonstrated that indeed they were.
The headliners for Friday night was The Acoustic Gathering featuring the combined forces of Lindisfarne's Ray Jackson, Fairport/Fotheringay guitarist Jerry Donahue and The Albion Band/Magna Carta stalwart Doug Morter, whose trimmed-down version of the band performed a selection of songs from each of the musician's back catalogue. The Acoustic Gathering began as a six-piece a few years ago with the rhythm section of original Jethro Tull drummer Clive Bunker and ex-Steeleye Span bassist Rick Kemp, together with Donahue's daughter Kristina on vocals. Due to geographical constraints The Gathering have settled into the much more workable stripped-down acoustic version, featuring three legendary performers, whose songs such as Road to Kingdom Come and Lady Eleanor are not only familiar to most of us but iconic to the world of folk rock. One of the highlights of the set was Jerry Donahue's beautiful instrumental First Encounter, which once again featured the guitarist's penchant for bending Telecaster strings like no other.
Completing Friday night was the newly re-formed six-piece borders band Tarras, performing songs from their new album WARN THE WATERS. With their command over tight arrangements and dextrous playing, the band led by North-East singer-songwriter Ben Murray, gave a blistering performance, which indicated without any doubt that this much missed band is back and on great form.
On Saturday the choices opened with the first of the afternoon open mic sessions in another part of the school complex. With Gerry McNeice at the helm, many of this area's most noted singers and musicians came along to play, interspersed with cameo appearances from some of the festival headliners. With music from two directions filtering through the school corridors, the Kingstone School soon had the feel of a festival once again as the afternoon continued with more diverse acts performing on either stage.
Saturday afternoon opened with a short set courtesy of the recipients of this year's Seth Lakeman Rising Stars Trophy, which is awarded annually to an act that is considered to be the most promising on the local acoustic roots scene. This year the award was presented to Sarah Horn and James Cudworth by the Shadow Minister for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, Dan Jarvis, who praised the young duo's musicianship immediately after their performance.
Opening the Saturday afternoon concert, Sarah and James demonstrated this worthy praise with a short set of songs and tunes, featuring Sarah's assured fiddle playing and James's ambidextrous combined guitar and percussion work, with a set comprising both traditional and self-penned compositions such as The Whale.
Canada's Miss Quincy and her newly formed trio The Showdown provided a bluesy Saturday afternoon concert, which would equally have suited a smoky midnight downtown gin-joint setting. Their raunchy set, which was laced with blues-drenched originals, for the most part from Miss Quincy's new record LIKE THE DEVIL DOES, brought a sense of the night to the afternoon concert. Joined by Shari Rae on upright bass and Holly Magnus on drums, the all-female trio performed such songs as Silent Movie and Going Down as well as older songs such as the uncompromising You Don't Take Nobody With You When You Die and Nina Simone's classic double entendre-soaked I Want Some Sugar in My Tea.
If Miss Quincy and the Showdown's set was fuelled by bluesy femininity, Dan Walsh and Will Pound's first of two sets of the day was infused with dazzling dexterity. Armed with just two banjos and a pocketful of harmonicas Walsh and Pound captivated their audience whilst sparring musically with one another during their blistering set. Paying tribute to the late Barney McKenna 'the reason I picked up the banjo', Dan performed some tasty claw hammer banjo whilst Will demonstrated some of the most outstanding musicianship of the entire weekend on songs and tunes including The Jolly Beggar Man, Ron Block's I Don't Have To Live This Way, My Lagen Love and the Eastern music influenced Turkish Delight.
The six-piece all-female band The Shee provided an exciting set of songs and tunes with the festival's only moment of on-stage dancing, courtesy of Amy Thatcher's clogging section. Rounding off the afternoon concert, The Shee opened with Troubles, Shotgun and Vandy Vandy from the band's current album DECADENCE, with older songs such as Tom Paine's Bones from the earlier record A DIFFERENT SEASON. The band also showcased some of the new material destined for their third album due to be recorded immediately after the weekend.
Saturday evening's concert opened with York-based singer-songwriter Jessica Lawson, who performed songs from her debut EP MOLLY OF THE TYNE. With delicate precision, Jessica cuddled her autoharp for the opening two songs County Sligo and Lorelai before picking up her guitar to play Megan Lovell's We Intertwine, a song she heard and fell in love with at the previous years' festival courtesy of the Georgia-based Larkin Poe, the darlings of last year's festival.
Saturday night also saw two returning acts, Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart and Walsh and Pound, both of whom had already played earlier sets at the festival, before the concert closed with an inspiring performance by Brass Monkey. With the stage divided into the folk duo of Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick to the right and a brass section on the left featuring Martin Brinsford, Shane Brennan, Roger Williams and Paul Archibald, the band created their distinctive sound once again featuring such songs and tunes as Brisk Young Widow, Willy the Waterboy and The Duke of Wellington March. The bold sound created by the band was as uplifting and awe-inspiring as anything else heard over the weekend.
The final day got off to a good start on Sunday afternoon, with performances by a couple of outstanding acts; firstly Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin who appeared fresh from their previous night's guest appearance with Show of Hands at the Royal Albert Hall in London. With exceptional musical flair, the duo played a set of complex arrangements on a variety of instruments including the dobro, harmonica, fiddle and banjo. Starting with the old Irish traditional tune Shebeg and Shemore, the duo incorporated a very contemporary edge to traditional songs and tunes such as their interpretation of Death and the Lady, which featured Hannah's assured fiddle playing whilst Phillip beatboxed around a couple of harmonicas with some highly entertaining musical wizardry.
Secondly, The Toy Hearts returned to Barnsley to perform an outstanding mid-afternoon set. Dividing their performance into two distinct halves, the first acoustic and the second electric, the latter featuring songs from their forthcoming album, the band mixed a variety of styles such as western swing, bluegrass, rockabilly and blues in order to create their distinct sound. With Hannah and Sophia Johnson sporting the highest heels of the weekend, the Toy Hearts once again demonstrated the chops that have helped them gain a favourable reputation on both sides of the Atlantic. Not bad for a couple of Midlands lasses.
There were several hints that something strange was going to happen during the afternoon with the stage littered with a variety of random objects such as a giant bass banjo, a lobster tied to a stack of suitcases and a toilet hanging about backstage. The London Philharmonic Skiffle Orchestra are neither a skiffle band nor are they a Philharmonic orchestra. They are undoubtedly one of the most bizarre acts to have graced the BARF stage over the last three years; a fun band that doesn't take things too seriously. This well-timed piece of clowning which at first startled the audience but then went on to entertain with rewarding results, provided a zany and fun-filled piece of eccentric fun, effectively closing the afternoon concert in style.
On Sunday night, former Waking the Witch band mates Patsy Matheson and Becky Mills opened the final concert with a delightful set featuring some utterly gorgeous and soothing music. Choosing songs from the Waking the Witch back catalogue as well as songs from each of their individual repertoires, the duo's delicate acoustic music filled the room with dreamy sound, whilst at the same time making it all look quite effortless. With songs such as Princess and the Pea, Under Your Wing and No Angel, Patsy and Becky set the bar high for the rest of the night.
One of the most eagerly anticipated sets of the weekend came courtesy of Canada's Po'Girl, featuring the soulful voice of Allison Russell and equally compelling musicianship of Awna Teixeira. Delivering right on cue some of their best known songs such as Follow Your Bliss, Kathy and Kiss Me in the Night, this thoroughly engaging band left the audience with doubt as to their charismatic appeal.
The Barnsley Acoustic Roots Festival chose wisely when selecting this year's closing act with the rejuvenated, re-charged and re-invigorated Edward II, who soon had the dance floor heaving with bodies. Mixing traditional English folk songs and tunes with reggae and calypso rhythms, the band performed some of their older material, airing once again such classics as People Get Ready, Let a Thousand Blossoms Bloom and the infectious dance floor favourite Dashing Away.
With varying degrees of success in attendance over the weekend, it was with this final Sunday night concert that proved once again that there is a need for a festival in Barnsley and long may it continue.
Allan Wilkinson (Words)
Phil Carter (Pictures)