You are hereLive Review: Rotherham Open Arts Festival 2008
Live Review: Rotherham Open Arts Festival 2008
Toein' In The Dark with Friends
Last week the Spiegeltent returned to All Saint's Square in the centre of Rotherham for another week of cultural events, courtesy of the Rotherham Open Arts Festival, and once again we got the opportunity to see and hear some live folk music in this unique setting. As we seem to have skipped Autumn and gone straight to Winter this year, before the leaves have even dropped, there was an unexpected chill inside the mirror-lined boudoir, but those of us who huddled inside were well wrapped up for the music provided, and the artists performing endeavoured to keep us warm with some healthy bouts of applause after each song.
This year the festival went for a more localised programme, the emphasis clearly being on home-grown talent. On Sunday, the main guests played host to what turned out to be a showcase evening of not only local folk quartet Toein' In The Dark, whose eclectic mix of folk standards and contemporary songs soon warmed the cockles of our hearts, whilst our toes were busy been nipped by frost, but also a couple of local singers, on the cusp of something special. Toein' In The Dark comprises four local musicians, Jenny Fox, Andy Hoult, Carmel O'Toole and Bob Meakin who have all been part of the folk scene locally for more years than they care to mention. Andy Hoult seems to have something of a bottomless pit of a song repertoire upon which he draws with relish, everything from Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly to Beth Nielson Chapman and Nanci Griffith are all in there somewhere.
In all fairness, Nanci Griffith was probably over subscribed tonight, with no less than three and almost four songs represented during the evening. Though I tend to usually feel that more than a couple of songs by a particular absent artist borders on 'tribute', in Nanci's case it's forgivable, as her songs are generally beautifully written, and suitable for most occasions. "Gulf Coast Highway" for example, was a fine duet shared between Carmel and Andy during the band's first set and the impressive "Love at the Five and Dime", was beautifully retold by the first of the showcase performances, sixteen-year-old Catherine Binden.
Catherine was not only the youngest person onstage last Sunday, but probably the youngest person in the room. Her voice captures all the youthful vibrancy of a sixteen-year-old who has been amongst people who know what good music is all about. The daughter of Toein' In The Darks' Andy Hoult, Catherine has picked up some of her dads' taste in good songs, which include here, Dixie Chicks' "Wide Open Space" and Karine Polwart's "Sun Coming Over The Hill" as well as a delightful reading of the standard "Blue Moon" which she cleverly attached to KTB's "Bluebird" with interesting results.
Toein' In The Dark's eclecticism was explored in full for this occasion with a programme that included Woody Guthrie's "Do Re Mi", Beth Nielsen Chapman's "Deeper Still", The Beatles' "You Can't Do That" which had Ray Hearne and myself providing a rowdy chorus from the bar, and even at one point, Abba, with their take on the Swedish bands' instrumental "Arrival", which when you think about it, could easily have been especially written for an accordion/whistle/fiddle combination. Jenny's arrangement of Billy Taylor's jazz standard "I Wish I Knew What It Feels Like To Be Free" had us all swaying gospel-like as if we were right there in the church next door. And why not? as Barry Norman would say!
The second showcase performance came from young Barnsley singer Steph Shaw who manages to take songs from diverse sources and make them her own. Whether it's a standard like "You Belong To Me", a classic pop song such as "First Cut Is The Deepest" or something contemporary like Nizlopi's "JCB Song", Steph applies the same attention to detail and puts a new slant on it.
Towards the end of Toein' In The Dark's second set, everyone returned to the stage for a lively take on "Midnight Special" before a final encore of Andy Hoult's own "I Used To Be A Blues Singer" bringing the evening to a close, and really, on a high.
The second part of the folk section of the festival came almost a week later with Ray Hearne taking to the stage on Saturday. Ray handles topical songs with a casual flair and delivers them in his own inimitable style and with that all too familiar accent; familiar around these parts at any rate. Whether writing about social injustice, the local steel industry, the recent floods or the story of a man with an ice cream van and the lolly pop lady, Ray manages to tug at the heartstrings, bring out our communal frustrations and anger or just make us giggle. He likes to sing about 'Us' with a capital 'U', making him, dare I say, a real bone fide folk singer.
One of the most difficult things a folk singer of Rays' stature has to face at an event like this is the Saturday afternoon shoppers of Rotherham, whose curiosity brought them in, popping their heads in and out of the Spiegeltent during his performance just to check up on where the songs were coming from. With some interesting heckling from the adults and some minor disturbances from a bunch of giddy kids, Ray displayed true professionalism and took command of his stage, a stage that really did belong to him. A song like "I've Got Things To Say" lays Rays' cards on the table in no uncertain terms.
Ray had already appeared at the festival earlier in the week leading poetry and song writing workshops and it is in his song writing that Ray excels. He can be playful with words as demonstrated in his opening song about playing on a Saturday afternoon to the people of Rotherham, which you imagine had only just been written moments before the show, or as a considered lyricist as exemplified in "It's Time To Point the Finger at the Emperor" and "Manvers Island".