Turn of the screw

Review: Southwell Folk Festival

7 June 12 words: Mark Salter
Crown Jools glitter over Jubilee weekend


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Photograph Ed Herington.

If you wanted to enjoy a beer or cider this jubilee weekend, the field adjacent to Southwell Workhouse was the place to go. This hosted the Southwell Folk Festival and its associated beer festival 1 – 4 June. The Barleycorn Bar Marquee was open right across the weekend, dispensing over fifty-five real ales, mostly from local micro-breweries, and fifteen different ciders and perries. From the look of some festival goers by Monday night, they had managed to sample most!
As with all bank holiday and music festival weekends, the weather managed to have its say. Folks were lulled into a false sense of security Friday and Saturday, with the sun showing its face for much of the time. Shorts, vests flip-flops and flower garlands, the latter courtesy of the chosen charity, Southwell Care Project for Adults with Learning Disabilities, were very much to the fore. Wellies and waterproof ponchos became de rigueur when the heavens opened on Sunday and rain persisted down throughout the day.  One teenage girl very much learned the error of her ways when attempting to traverse the swamp–like footpath from tent to toilet in sandals almost aquaplaning the whole way.
Looking like he was straight from the outback with massive beard and bush hat, Australian Hat Fitz kicked things off in the main marquee with partner, vocalist and multi instrumentalist, Cara Robinson. Given that the 2,000 marquee was near to capacity, the pair did well to hold the audience with their quirky blues and folky mix, particularly as many had only come to see headliner Jools Holland.
Holland didn’t disappoint. He took to the stage half an hour early to ensure his set could be extended to a full two hours. His Rhythm and Blues Orchestra boasted five saxophones, four trombones, three trumpets, two keyboards, a guitar, a bass, a drum kit and three guest singers it was certainly an extravaganza. At one point the orchestra was joined by Jools’s former Squeeze colleague Chris Difford to sing two classic hits Take Me I’m Yours and Cool for Cats. Big band sounds, old style rhythm and blues, soul, gospel, and with Rico Rodriguez, one of its originators, a big slice of ska, were all received with rapturous applause. The two encores were definitely well earned.
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Dabbling away on the old Joanna. Photograph Ed Herington.


This was an explosive introduction for sure - but could it be matched? Well across the weekend you could experience the full range of folk music from across the British Isles and even abroad. Add Americana, bluegrass, Celtic punk-folk, ceildh bands, tap dancing blues singers, gypsy jazz and Quebequois, there was something for everyone. The older brigade read like a who’s who of traditional music: Dougie McClean, Martin Carthy and John Kirkpatrick (Brass Monkey), Martin Joseph and Ashley Hutchins (Morris On). They may be starting to get grey and wrinkly but all showed that they still cut the mustard. For many she may just be a star of The Generation Game but Isla St Clair's first love is Scottish music and she enthralled with songs of life and ways of her ancestors.
Proving that the tradition is not to be lost, the new generation of folkies stepped up to the plate. Leading the way was John Boden bringing his Remnant Kings, Kathryn Roberts and Seth’s brother Sean Lakeman also served up a fantastic set of contemporary folk, whilst Blair Dunlop showed he has the potential to emulate dad Ashley Hutchins. Breabach, Beoga, Bonny Men and Le Vend du North brought Caledonian, Irish and Canadian twists to Celtic music and got feet stamping and hands clapping.
Amongst all of this music royalty were some lesser know hidden gems. Nottingham’s Maniere des Bohemiens with their gypsy jazz are fast becoming a festival favourite in Marquee Two whilst little known antipodean Celtic punk-folk combo, The Go Set, had a mosh pit made up of teenagers through to grandparents all mindlessly pogoing – good fun but a bit messy, particularly when one of the younger contingent went down in a heap. 
Another extraordinary sight was North American blues trio Groanbox’s percussionist who generated beats with hammers, old bones, bells, a stomp pad and a massive gourd. Finally, there was Daisy Bell who won the open mic competition with the reward of a turn on the main stage. The talent of this sixteen-year-old singer-songwriter is truly scary – watch out Adele.
Apart from the main stages, music, largely from local artists, could be enjoyed in the beer tent and in various pubs across Southwell. Given that many lower key performers are largely amateur, it really does reflect the quality of live music out there.
Often much maligned, but by far the most colourful and energetic attractions were the 18 dance teams who tripped their way around various sites in the town, as well as displays on the dance stage. Colourful costumes, headdresses, bells and ribbons were to the fore, although the pagan black costumes of the Witchmen and the gothic black and white faces of the Pig Dyke Molly crew added an air of the sinister. You wouldn’t want to encounter them after dark. Talking of which, flaming brands and torches light up the night sky when Derbyshire’s Mr Fox fire-danced Friday night’s finale.
A trek into the local woods guided by fairy lights, led festival goers to this year’s unique attraction, three yurts. These were used for workshops and children’s sessions, as well as proving an excellent venue for interviews. Other children’s activities, shows, and a Mad Hatter’s tea party were run in the children’s marquee. There is little doubt that the performers here worked hardest and had the most demanding audience.
No-one needed to go hungry with catering stalls ranging from Caribbean Roti stalls through Greek to traditional English Fare. Garlands were not the only headwear on offer, there were a whole range of trilby, straw and zany festival hats on show with assorted jewellery to match. 
Hats off to the Mums and Dads who survived the event after dragging mud sodden pushchairs through the quagmire, dancing endless polka’s to keep little ones distracted, and showing unending patience after your son or daughter’s latest slip into the biggest puddle imaginable..
Sensing the worse, many folks packed their tents between Monday’s sharp showers and, those with common sense, moved their cars on to local roads during daylight to prevent slithering and sliding off the campsite in the dark. They could then return at their leisure to enjoy the final bash of the weekend, a ceilidh led by Ireland’s Beoga keen to have one last ‘craic’ before leaving.
For more information on the Southwell Care Project
Information on the festival can be found at the Southwell Folk Festival website 

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