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Wath Festival 2012
Once again the community of Wath upon Dearne came out to celebrate their annual May Day festivities, featuring various community and children's events around Montgomery Square in the town centre, along with a full programme of song and dance displays, the curious traditional bread bun throwing spectacular up the hill at the All Saints Parish Church and a veritable feast of top names in the world of folk and acoustic music, performing throughout the weekend, either on the main stage at the Montgomery Hall or in various other locations around town.
On Friday night, whilst some of the festival volunteers were busily erecting a few small bedouin tents on the green behind the Church, each with their fingers and toes crossed in the hope of good weather, the main concert was ready to begin in the Montgomery Hall, the hub for the festival's 40th anniversary year. Starting with local hero Ray Hearne, no stranger to this festival, together with bodhran player Ciaran Boyle, the festival got off to a good start with two of Wath's most cheerful characters, performing a selection of Ray's own songs together with one or two of Ciaran's traditional ballads.
By mid-evening, mum and daughter team Chris and Kellie While brought to the sell-out concert some distinctively tight harmony singing together with a bunch of beautiful songs ranging from Bob Dylan's Mississippi, Nanci Griffith's A Hard Life Wherever You Go, David Francey's Flowers of Saskatchewan and Jimmy Webb's Highwayman, finishing with an unexpected performance of Smokey Robinson's The Tracks of My Tears before returning for a well-deserved encore with the two singers performing a cappella the beautiful Michael Kennedy song Baking Bread.
Headlining on Friday night was the legendary Fairport Convention, the British folk scene's most enduring folk rock band, currently celebrating the band's forty-fifth year. Fairport played a set of favourites, some of which have been re-recorded for a special celebration album entitled By Popular Request, released to accompany the band on their current tour, with songs including Richard Thompson's Farewell Farewell, Sandy Denny's Fotheringay, the traditional Sir Patrick Spens and The Hexhamshire Lass together with an obligatory performance of one of the band's most enduring songs Matty Groves. The high point of the concert, if not the entire festival, was the moment when both Chris and Kellie were invited back up on stage to join the band for a very moving interpretation of Sandy Denny's beautiful Who Knows Where the Time Goes, with the two singers sharing each of the verses. Even after that stunning performance, the band couldn't leave without one last encore of their regular finisher Meet on the Ledge, again with Chris and Kellie joining in.
On Saturday morning the town square was awash with colour as the sun attempted to burst through the clouds in order to melt the icy cold morning. Festival organiser David Roche introduced a variety of musical bands and dance teams including the Barnsley Samba Band, Wath Morris, the Orlyk Ukrainian Dancers, Maynard Flipflap, Flag Crackers and the Frances Cassidy Irish Dancers, whilst local MP John Healey conducted the official festival opening whilst simultaneously being coerced into performing with the Maltby Phoenix Sword Dancers, taking the honour of holding up the interlocked star-shaped swords right at the end.
The two hundred year-old traditional of reading out Thomas Tuke's will took place twice in quick succession; once in Montgomery Square and then again moments later outside the doors of All Saints Parish Church, whilst Mike the Minstrel sang his Will-based song to the hundreds who had gathered in the shadow of the Church's imposing bell tower, moments before the traditional bun throwing ritual began, showering the people of Wath with their daily bread.
Saturday afternoon's concert began with the winners of last year's Wath Festival Young Performers Award Luke Hirst and Sarah Smout who took to the stage for a short set. Tom Mitchell then played a solo spot in advance of his main role of the day as the keyboard player in his dad's band that would perform later in the evening. With a handful of self-penned songs accompanying himself on both keyboards and guitar, the young singer performed versions of Springsteen's Dancing in the Dark and Dylan's She Belongs to Me amongst others.
The Statesboro-born blues singer and guitarist Brooks Williams made his festival debut with a stunning set during the afternoon concert, performing a selection of self-penned songs including Frank Delandry and a few memorable covers including a swing version of the old Kinks hit Waterloo Sunset, whilst delivering some highly accomplished guitar work both standard and bottleneck style.
Scots singer Dick Gaughan delivered precisely what his audiences have come to expect of him, a fine performance of thoughtful songs effectively closing the afternoon concert on the main stage. Starting with Si Kahn's It's Not Just What You're Born With, the singer reminded the audience that if a song's worth singing, it's worth singing well. With a mixture of self-penned songs such as Shipwreck, one or two traditional songs from his back catalogue, including Both Sides the Tweed and the utterly beautiful Now Westlin' Winds, Dick also included one or two timely songs of protest, such as Pete Seeger's allegorical Waist Deep in the Big Muddy. Dick also made himself comfortable in a chair in order to perform a solo guitar piece, demonstrating once again what a tastefully dexterous guitar player he is.
Bridging the gap between the afternoon and evening main stage concerts, was a special event held at the Red Lion pub. The Emerging Talent Concert featured four exceptionally good performances from local singer Catherine Bindon, accompanied on guitar by her dad Andy Hoult, York-based singer-songwriter Holly Taymar, making her fourth consecutive appearance at the festival, together with partner Chris Bilton who performed a selection of songs new and not so new, the young Devon-based singer-songwriter Jenna performing a handful of her own self-penned songs and finally the Shropshire-based trio Flaxenby, featuring singer Sam McLeod, once again returning to Wath for an all too short set which closed the concert.
From Bath to Wath, Jennifer Crook took to the stage at the Montgomery Hall to open the Saturday evening concert. Accompanied by cellist Bethany Porter, the singer/musician alternated between harp, guitar and banjo, performing a selection of her own songs, primarily from her current Merry-Go-Round album.
No stranger to the Wath Festival, Boo Hewerdine returned to Montgomery Hall for a solo performance, which included his 'hit' Patience of Angels, after which the singer-songwriter generously invited up Brooks Williams once again to share much of the remained of his set in order to perform some of the material on the duo's collaborative album State of the Union. During the set, Boo and Brooks demonstrated their superbly empathetic playing with some of the most delightful songs of the day including 23 Skiddoo and Sweet Honey in the Rock. Towards the end of the set the duo were joined once again by Jennifer Crook for the final couple of songs.
Headlining Saturday night's concert was The Billy Mitchell Band who brought a sense of fun to the evening with a set of crowd-pleasing numbers such as the Travelling Wilbury's infectious End of the Line, The Band's timeless The Weight, the old 1960s hit for both The Searchers and Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas, Jackie Deshannon's When You Walk in the Room, before concluding with the old Lindisfarne hit Meet Me On The Corner, featuring that band's founder member and drummer Ray Laidlaw.
Wath was in pretty much a sleepy state on Sunday morning as the sun finally came out, ironically whilst everyone was still in bed. The South Yorkshire Showcase concert on Sunday afternoon featured some of the area's finest musicians including Charlie Barker and Harriet Bartlett, the shanty quartet Monkey's Fist, the traditional music and song trio Skyhook and finally the good time show group Johnny and the Prison Didn't Help Boys, each selected specifically to celebrate the musical talent of this particular area of South Yorkshire.
The concert began with a handful of songs by compere Ray Hearne before he went on to introduce the first band of the afternoon, local quintet Panjamdrum, a band made up of members of Wath Morris. Charlie Barker and Harriet Bartlett alternated between songs and tunes, performing with rich dexterity, so expertly demonstrated in Harriett's assured accordion playing, co-incidentally on World Accordion Day. Tunes included Sharon Shannon's energetic re-working of the old Penguin Cafe Orchestra piece Music for a Found Harmonium, whilst the songs included Radney Foster's poignant God Speed and Mundy Turner's uplifting Separation Street.
The four singers that make up the shanty band Monkey's Fist pulled Wath upon Dearne a little closer to the coast with their enthusiastic vocal performances of maritime songs, much to the delight of the audience, whilst Skyhook's Cath James, Martin Harwood and Eoin Tether once again demonstrated some fine and assured musicianship with a selection of songs and tunes from Scotland, Ireland, Cape Breton and further still, including a fine version of The Roseville Fair.
Rounding off Sunday afternoon was the good-time Sheffield-based band Johnny and the Prison Didn't Work Boys with a selection of infectious foot-tappers, including Wagon Wheel, Jimmy Hill, The Glendy Burg, Hand Me Down My Walking Cane and just for Free fans, a fine bluegrass interpretation of their hit Wishing Well. The band also claims to be the only bluegrass band in the World to include within it's armoury the Erhu, a sort of two-stringed traditional Chinese fiddle, played by Country Dave Chang.
In between the afternoon and evening concerts Charlie Barker presided over the final of the Wath Young Performers Award, featuring a handful of this year's short-listed singers and musicians. Judged by local broadcaster Dave Eyre, singer Lucy Ward and musician Tom Sweeney, the young 18 year-old singer and guitarist Sunjay Brayne walked away with the trophy after his fine performance suitably impressed the judges. Sunjay later repeated this performance whilst opening the main evening concert in the Montgomery Hall, which was part of the prize. After winning a few more fans at the sold-out concert finale, the young singer was awarded the trophy on stage by festival patron John Tams.
Lucy Ward made a welcome return to the festival and once again demonstrated in her own inimitable fashion an assured confidence that never fails to put a smile on the faces of her audience. Not only bringing colour and flamboyance to the evening, Lucy kept the audience entertained with an almost music hall style of stage craft, inviting the audience to sing along with no short measure of gusto, whilst at one point reading from her early 1960s edition of Boyfriend annual. With material such as Maids When You're Young, Alice in the Bacon Box and her stripped down version of Pulp's Common People, Lucy effortlessly became the darling of the festival.
The gentle voice of singer-songwriter Reg Meuross could be heard throughout Montgomery Hall on Sunday evening, accompanied by Bethany Porter, who provided some fine harmony singing and cello accompaniment. Reg's instantly recognisable songs such as Fool's Gold, Worry No More and Lizzy Loved a Highwayman commanded complete silence in the sold-out concert hall, testament to the engaging quality of Meuross's songs.
Recovering from recent surgery and under strict orders to refrain from over-indulging his voice for a while, namely singing, arguably the thing he does best, the charismatic John Tams presided over the Home Service's headlining appearance as a sort of musical director, introducing all the songs and playing guitar on a few, whilst Elbow Jane's Joe Topping deputised as the lead singer, giving a stella performance that did not disappoint. Performing much of the Home Service's best loved songs, such as Rose of Allendale, Babylon, Walk My Way and Alright Jack, the band provided an excellent finale to one of the best-loved local festivals.
Words: Allan Wilkinson
Photos: Phil Carter (Friday/Saturday), Ian Spooner (Sunday) and Allan Wilkinson (Outdoor and Holly Taymar)