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Beverley Folk Festival

Beverley Racecourse, Beverley
Friday 19 - Sunday 21 June 2015

The 32nd Beverley Folk Festival got underway on Friday night after a day of recovery from what proved to be a successful opening night featuring The Bootleg Beatles. Some of those memorable songs would no doubt have still been ringing in the ears of those who had already set up camp for the weekend. For those who did stay over on Thursday night, the campsite remained a relatively quiet and peaceful area as the final preparations were made on the main festival site throughout the day. A walk into the nearby market town of Beverley proved to be just the thing to shake off the previous evening's over-indulgence of Wold Top Ale, with a visit to the historic Minster, a cuppa in one of the handful of coffee houses and cafes, as well as a long overdue visit to Minster Records in order to offload some cash in exchange for a bag full of LPs.

Come Friday evening at least four stages were all ready and prepared for a varied evening of entertainment, covering everything from music concerts and sessions, comedy events and the all-important young people's showcases, which could in all likelihood provide us with the headliners of tomorrow. As this is the Beverley Folk Festival, the entertainment would of course stretch well into the early hours with the Late Night Festival Club hosted by Leila Cooper under her now popular Moonbeams banner.

Things got underway with the Area 2 Youth Programme, hosted by Sam Pirt and Jim Molyneux. With a planned programme of six new acts, each taking to the stage of the intimate venue throughout the evening, the spotlight was definitely on some new hopefuls whilst the audience relaxed on the comfy sofas and straw bales provided. The young singer, harmonium and mandolin player Tilly Dalglish was the first musician on stage, getting the evening underway with a short set of enchanting songs. Tilly looked slightly nervous with her hands shaking a little as she played her harmonium, but this is what it's all about. The one thing that's immediately noticeable at the Beverley Folk Festival is the healthy presence of young people    

Both the Main Stage and the Concert Marquee evening concerts began simultaneously with the young Kent-based quartet Gentlemen of Few making their return to the festival on the Main Stage, whilst the riotously shambolic Hillbilly Troupe frantically wielded such Skiffle items as a washboard and a banjo on the Concert Marquee stage. Gentlemen of Few's Newgrass style, featuring keyboards, banjo, guitar and bass, was an instant hit with the festival last year and it was encouraging for both the band and the festival's youth programme to welcome them back once again, this time to open proceedings on the Main Stage. In contrast to those two highly energetic opening acts, comedian Patrick Monahan opened the comedy club in the Paddock View bar with one of his own distinctively energetic routines. 

By mid-evening festival favourite Lucy Ward was back to do what only Lucy Ward can and that's entertain people with no small measure of her own inimitable charm. There's nothing pretentious about Lucy, she's exactly the same offstage as on and her lust for life is practically tangible. If Lucy can't get an audience singing then no one can. Drenched in a vivid red light throughout, making her look like she was about to expose photographs in a dark room rather than sing a bunch of songs, the Derbyshire singer smiled throughout, save for the moments when delivering some of her more sensitive and passionate material. Meanwhile on the Main Stage, the Australian/Irish duo Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson brought a taste of their distinctive backwoods swamp blues to Beverley; a sort of White Stripes for grown-ups.

Headlining the Concert Marquee on Friday night was The Mighty Doonans, the Tyneside family band featuring Mick Doonan on whistles, pipes and sax and Rosie Doonan, one of this country's finest singers. The band were in a particularly playful mood, "let's show them Americans that we can sing louder than them" quipped Mick Doonan midway through the band's set. The band, known for their hilarious stage antics encouraged the audience at one point to help themselves to a 'selfie' whilst the band played behind them.

Meanwhile on the Main Stage, those aforementioned 'Americans' Hayseed Dixie were kicking up a storm with a veritable barrage of popular rock classics played in their own distinctive hillbilly fashion. With the audience completely on their side from the start, the band pleased the crowd with both their musical chops and their masterful showmanship. 

Once the headliners left their relative stages, the night was still young according to Leila Cooper, who managed to entice some of those acts onto the stage at the now legendary Moonbeams Sessions in the Wold Top Marquee. On Friday night the Hillbilly Troupe continued to be riotous, Gentlemen of Few continued to be gentlemen, Lucy Ward continued to be Lucy Ward and The Rachel Hamer Band sweetened the decibel levels with a delightful end of the night set, followed shortly afterwards by Driffield's own cigar box guitar wizard Dogfinger Steve, who finally drew Friday evening to a close.

Come Saturday, I was curious to find out more about the Westwood Sessions, a special area of the festival site specifically for younger performers, where not only do they get the opportunity to perform in front of people, often for the very first time, but also they are given the chance to record their first demos. Throughout the weekend The Touch Above bar provided a space for young performers to work under the supervision of Nikki Airey, the co-founder and event co-ordinator of the Westwood Sessions who is incidentally only 19 herself. One of the Westwood Sessions success stories is that of the young 16 year-old Wiltshire-based singer-songwriter Josh Wolfsohn, who returned this year to play the Area 2 stage.      

Although the forecast threatened rain it didn't stop enthusiastic dance teams congregating in front of the Grandstand throughout the morning, who between them added colour to a somewhat grey sky. By midday, the music commenced in the Wold Top Marquee for the first of the weekend's two Moonbeams Sessions, featuring such performers as Katie Spencer, Dogfinger Steve, Martin Peirson and the fine female a cappella trio Yan Tan Tether.

By mid-afternoon, the Main Stage marquee had once again filled up for an afternoon concert under the banner 'Blues, the Tradition, Humour and Great Music from Across the Globe', featuring the third appearance of the weekend by Lucy Ward, whose engaging personality dominated the festival's largest stage. After the second set of the weekend by Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson, it was time to introduce three award winning musicians from the English Folk scene, who brought the afternoon concert to a close with a delightful set of songs and tunes from the tradition. Martin Simpson, Andy Cutting and Nancy Kerr have the ability to hold an audience on their own as individual performers, but collectively they demonstrate precisely why their respective mantelpieces are cluttered with awards.

Simultaneously, well almost, over in the Concert Marquee, the annual Americana Concert got underway featuring the second appearance of the weekend by the young Deal-based band Gentlemen of Few, whose enthusiasm was almost tangible. The band was obviously glad to be back at the festival. Gentlemen of Few were followed by the Newcastle-based band Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra, an outfit whose collective showmanship evokes another era entirely. Their audiences may be startled to discover that the band seem to always dress this way, arriving earlier on Saturday morning in a van wearing the same outfits.

If a steady build-up of showmanship was the order of the day, then Curtis Eller's American Circus was the perfect headline act for Saturday afternoon. No stranger to the festival, Curtis Eller brought along the four-piece version of his current touring band, who between them delivered some of the most unique and original songs of the weekend, leaving an audience spellbound with such songs as Taking Up Serpents Again and The Heart That Forgave Richard Nixon

By early evening, there appeared to be a record breaking queue developing for Saturday night's double headliner featuring Seth Lakeman and Peatbog Faeries. The queue stretched from the Main Stage door and continued to serpentine all the way back to the Concert Marquee at the other end of the Festival Village. Once everyone had squeezed into the Main Stage marquee, made the decision to either sit on the chairs provided towards the back or join the moshers up front, the evening's concert began with an energy-driven set courtesy of Seth Lakeman and his current band, followed by a pulsating and strobe-laden Celtic-fest from one of the best bands on the scene, Peatbog Faeries.

Despite the huge interest in both Seth Lakeman and Peatbog Faeries, both of whom delivered thoroughly exciting performances, the Concert Marquee also attracted a full house for Beverley Festival virgins and Sci-Fi Folk evangelists Maia, together with a second set by both Curtis Eller's American Circus and Messers Simpson, Cutting and Kerr. Whilst making an attempt to choose one concert and stay with it, I found it impossible to resist occasionally popping into the Area 2 Youth Programme stage in the Wold Top Marquee to see what was happening. I soon became aware of a contrasting feel to the festival each time I visited the marquee, observing relaxed and gentle performances by such artists as singer and multi-instrumentalist Naimh Boadle, a seventeen-piece youth orchestra from Northumberland called Stocksfield Stompers, whose age range was between 11 and 16, together with some contemporary rock music courtesy of the three-piece all-female outfit The Velvet Dolls. 

Once again, the day ended with the second late night Festival Club, hosted once again by Leila Cooper of Moonbeams. As Wold Top Ale flowed well into the early hours, Curtis Eller arrived to entertain the packed marquee, indicating that he intended to go easy and save his voice for his Main Stage set on Sunday. He actually went on to deliver possibly his strongest vocal performance of the entire weekend with a raucous reading of the traditional Mole in the Ground together with the more laid-back and utterly beautiful Buster Keaton.  

Like most events of this nature, the Beverley Folk Festival is a place where you can either put away your cares for a few days, relax and take the weight off, or alternatively, walk from one end of the Festival Village to the other several dozen times a day and completely wear yourself out in the process. The upside of this act of endurance is that you are likely to meet new friends along the way. You may pass them several times during the course of a couple of hours and during that time you're bound to say hello at some point. On Sunday alone, you could actually confess to having met a handful of new friends, a couple of three-foot tall Irish bull hounds, a team of Morris Dancers with blue faces and sticks and even a plastic gnome who answers to the name Clint! 

On Sunday afternoon, you could also cite the sun as a new friend, which finally beamed down on the Festival Village for the remainder of the day. The second Moonbeams Session got off to a good start with Crooked Weather and Neil Barron, before a rather fine acoustic set by guitar player Mike Gledhill, who soon had the audience's emotions stirred. Playing just instrumental tunes, the guitarist dedicated one of his compositions to his late father especially for Father's Day, the introduction alone moving the audience to tears. Later in the afternoon there were also fine performances from singer Lucy Marshall, Driffield-based folk rock sextet Under the Bridge, the six-piece all female Scarborough band Raven, together with a couple of regular bands led by Nick Rooke and Gerry McNeice respectively. 

One of this year's surprise hits was the Newcastle-based seven-piece band Holy Moly and the Crackers, who opened the Main Stage during Sunday afternoon's Summer Solstice Party. With their own mixture of gypsy folk, New Orleans brass-laced jazz, Jewish Klezmer and Jamaican Ska, the band stormed the marquee with a lively set of songs, which included their soon to be released single A Punk Called Peter, a sort New Orleans funeral march mixed with some fine and highly danceable Reggae. Curtis Eller's American Circus followed with another highly entertaining performance, before the headline performance by the blue-suited rhythm and blues outfit King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys, who entertained throughout the afternoon in their own inimitable style.

Around the same time, over in the Concert Marquee, the award-winning Devon-based duo Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin once again showcased their unique blend of traditional and self-penned songs, followed by the collaborative Anglo/Scots quintet The Tweed Project, made up of the duo Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar with the Mischa Macpherson Trio. By way of contrast, the two main stages provided something for everybody during the afternoon; pure entertainment on the Main Stage whilst something slightly more ethereal took place on the Concert Marquee stage, either way you chose it all made for a hugely enjoyable afternoon. 

The choices for the rest of Sunday were just as eclectic, with literary events such as a fine collaboration between crime author Mark Billingham and the country duo My Darling Clementine, who demonstrated their unique way of bringing an engaging saloon story to life, some fine choral singing with the All For One Choir, a couple of music-based films Searching for Sugarman and The Watersons filmed live at the Hull Truck Theatre, and a songwriter's circle featuring Ted Key, Michael Weston King (fresh from his appearance with Mark Billingham) and Driffield's very own songstress Edwina Hayes. The festival regular also opened up the evening concert on the Concert Marquee stage later in the evening, once again showcasing her beautiful and much-loved voice, then making a final appearance closing the late night Moonbeams session in the early hours, effectively closing the festival for another year.

Before that though came the festival finale concert. After covering Beatlemania and the Summer of Love on Thursday night, courtesy of The Bootleg Beatles, followed by the Hillbilly-fied driving Rock and Roll of Friday night with Hayseed Dixie, together with the pulsating Celtic dance-fest provided by Scotland's Peatbog Faeries on Saturday night, we headed towards its final concert of Beverley Folk Festival 2015, with three legends of the British Folk movement; Barbara Dickson, Ralph McTell and Wizz Jones. The original plan was to have Rab Noakes but unfortunately the singer-songwriter was unable to attend. "Rab sends his love" said Barbara Dickson from the Main Stage. Both Barbara and Rab played a short set at last year's festival and fully intended to appear this year. Rab's place on the bill was taken by singer-guitarist Wizz Jones, who stepped in to fill the void, suitably equipped with the 'legend' tag. It's difficult to measure the influence that Wizz Jones has had on guitar players over the years, notably Ralph McTell and Bert Jansch, and on Sunday night the guitarist had no problem holding the audience with his superb playing and engaging anecdotal stories.

Ralph McTell was on fine form when he walked out on stage, going on to perform a selection of his best known songs, such as From Clare to Here, Streets of London and even at one point Michael in the Garden. Barbara Dickson was also in fine voice, despite a tickly throat, performing some of the songs from her own impressive back catalogue, including a fine interpretation of Sandy Denny's Who Knows Where the Time Goes. A good friend of Beverley Folk Festival, the singer appeared with a small band and delighted the audience with an almost nostalgic set of familiar songs. 

With several outdoor marquees and indoor bars, hidden rooms and supplementary spaces, stages positioned at every available location and a packed programme of events occurring simultaneously, it's impossible to see and hear everything at the festival, but it's always a nice challenge to try and get around as much of it as possible. As the sun set down on the Festival Village on Sunday night it was nice to sit on one of the benches outside the Wold Top Marquee with a pint of Wold Top bitter and reflect on four days of fun and music. This year the festival boasted its best ever attendance, which goes a long way to indicate that there's no stopping it now and we can look forward to next year's event with a great deal of anticipation.  

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky