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Beverley Folk Festival 2013

For its 30th anniversary year, Beverley Folk Festival relocated to the other side of town from its well established venue, the Beverley Leisure Complex in Flemingate, to the 'unpretentious but agreeable' 300 year-old Beverley Racecourse, creating a self-contained festival village across from the main grandstand. With one large main stage marquee at one end of the field and a smaller marquee housing the Concert and Dance stage at the other, the centre of the weekend's activity lay somewhere in between with the cosy Wold Top Marquee in the middle, surrounded by the children's area and fairground and all the usual concessions stalls and food outlets, with further workshops, concerts and sessions taking place in some of the many conducive function rooms over in the main building.

The weather forecast had threatened rain for the entire weekend but fortunately the sun came out at unexpected but enormously welcomed intervals, effectively putting a smile on the face of the festival. The weather always plays an important part in the success of any music festival and Beverley is no exception. On the one hand it's nice to have the sun beating down, bringing with it all the vibrant colours associated with the summer festival season, but then there is also the tendency to sit out in it all day long, missing all the performers in the marquees. On the other hand, there's nothing quite like hearing the heavens open from the comfortable haven of a concert marquee, whilst a good band plays; a scenario pretty much welcomed by the artists as it almost assures a full house. Not that any of this year's guests required the assistance of the elements to put bums on seats, they did that by reputation alone. Then of course if it didn't rain, when would we get to show off our multi-coloured flowery wellies?
The music started on the relatively dry Friday evening, when the young singer/songwriter simply known as Skye opening proceedings on the Wold Top Marquee stage, effectively opening the festival at the same time. The straw bales and scattered comfy settees provided all the necessary 'chill-out' requirements the Wold Top marquee is now famous for. Thirty minutes later, the East Yorkshire-based outfit Circus Envy got the Friday evening concert started on the Concert and Dance stage, whilst former Seahorses frontman Chris Helme made his Beverley festival debut on the main stage with his small band. Sadly, the only gripe of the entire weekend, and I'm loathed to speak of it, was the unparalleled din that took place during the relatively quiet set directly before The Proclaimers came on, with impatient fans eagerly awaiting their annual dose of 500 Miles presumably. It may be prudent to install a couple of clearly marked signs in future: ' music lovers this way - the bar that way! ' 

Such trifling gripes were not required in the Concert and Dance Marquee on Friday night as Lucy Ward took to the stage to perform some of her established songs as well as one or two new songs from her yet to be released second album Single Flame. Lucy's infectious personality and distinctive singing style set the standard for the rest of the evening before husband and wife team Stu and Debbie Hannah, otherwise known as Megson, continued with an excellent set of songs new and old. Whilst the Leith anthems faintly filtered in through the fabric of the marquee from across the field, Lincolnshire-based Celtic rockers Something Nasty in the Woodshed provided some equally energetic foot-tappers, rounding off a rather nice and successful opening night's concert.

Anyone visiting the festival for the first time may not have been aware that once the headline act returns for that final encore, the night is still far from over. As the witching hour approaches, Leila Cooper sets about hosting her regular late night (or should that be early morning?) Moonbeams sessions in the Wold Top marquee. This is where weekend ticket holders can relax with several nightcaps as Leila introduces a series of impromptu performances by invited guests, that often includes the headliners who played earlier. On Friday night (Saturday morning), Lucy Ward, Chris Helme, Hase Waits and Sarah Horn and James Cudworth were joined by comedian Patrick Monahan, who at one point incited some brilliantly hilarious and completely unrehearsed crowd surfing.

The town centre is just a steady fifteen minute walk away, with the route occupied by several herds of cattle, either enjoying their own festival of cud chewing, or nonchalantly stopping cars in their path in order to cross the road. A shuttle bus was provided so that festival goers could visit the market town, where on Saturday morning a dance procession endeavoured to forge that all important link between the festival and the local community, with the Frumptarn Guggenband's familiar drum and brass leading the way.

Back at the Racecourse, as the smell of bacon butties wafted over the tracks, the music commenced with the Wold Top marquee hosting performances by the likes of The Heathen Kings, Chris Helme, Lucy Marshall, Steve Kendra, Wendy Arrowsmith, Nick Rooke, Simon Snaize and Merry Hell, whilst The Teacups joined Tangletree and Folkestra in an aptly entitled concert 'Our Future Stars' on the main stage. Meanwhile, over in the Rapid Lad Bar, one of the Function Rooms in the main Racecourse building, Will Kauffman hosted the first of two highly informative and entertaining sessions celebrating the life and times of Woody Guthrie. On Sunday, the session went under the heading of The Long Road to Peekskill, a celebration of songs of freedom; whilst on Saturday the theme was Hard Times and Hard Travelin, during which Will performed some of Woody's songs, such as a pretty faithful Ry Cooder adaptation of Woody's dust bowl protest song Vigilante Man.

There was a pretty strong American theme developing during Saturday afternoon as local family band The Whiskey Dogs brought to the festival a flavour of old time American mountain music, aided by their infantry of hokum instrumentation such as kazoos, whistles and horns. The 'Americana Concert' continued with a long-awaited appearance by Grammy-nominated Eric Brace and Peter Cooper before singer/songwriter Steve Forbert took to the stage to perform his solo set, which included many of the songs he is noted for, as well as batting some finely timed heckling from an enthusiastic fan in the audience.

Saturday afternoon continued with another engaging concert in the Concert and Dance Marquee with some fine a cappella singing by Teesside's The Young 'Uns, followed by an energetic performance by the critically acclaimed live act CoCo and The Butterfields, whose unique 'Fip Fok' style soon resonated around the marquee bringing the place alive, before the award winning singer/songwriter Sam Carter concluded the afternoon concert with some of his fine songs and extraordinarily good guitar playing. 

The clash of the titan trios was the only real choice consideration during the weekend as Show of Hands and Lau played simultaneously on both main stages on Saturday night. It was a toss-up based on which of the two bands had been seen most recently, but with some clever planning, it was possible to catch a bit of both. Whilst Show of Hands played their usual crowd-pleasing set over on the main concert stage, Lau's largely instrumental set on the Concert and Dance stage once again demonstrated that we were indeed in the presence of genius music makers, who make it look so simple. 

At midday on Sunday, following several workshops and talks in the main building, 'The Magic Gate of Beverley' was performed by the Eduardo Niebla Trio, Sam Pirt, Beverley Brass Band and Beverley Grammar School on the main concert stage. Introduced by festival organiser Chris Wade, this special community event embodied the spirit of the festival as the Spanish guitarist formed an almost tangible musical bridge between the Wolds and the Iberian Peninsula, with some tastefully performed flamenco and brass arrangements, together with some clever sound poems, such as the memorable sea of hands motif.
Whilst Blackbeard's Tea Party and Folkestra encouraged a handful of sleepy risers to their feet for some communal morning dancing, more acoustic acts took to the stage in the Wold Top marquee, including Plumhall, Ben Parcell, Anna Shannon, the Hall Brothers and Boss Caine. By mid-afternoon the main stage held its second Americana Concert with a fine performance by Irish singer/songwriter Ben Glover and finally the headliner Gretchen Peters, who along with husband Barry Walsh and lap steel/guitarist Christine Bougle, performed some of her best known songs such as On a Bus to St Cloud, Woman on the Wheel together with a fine duet with Ben Glover covering Gram Parsons' timeless Return of the Grievous Angel.

Beverley Festival not only prides itself on the music it puts on, but also strives to include literary, film and comedy events throughout the weekend. With appearances over the weekend by John Shuttleworth, local writers and poets Miles Salter and Oz Hardwick, a special theatrical event Bouncers and the Film Club's showing of Taking Woodstock, there seemed to be a diverse range of activities up for grabs. On Sunday afternoon the acclaimed author Ian Rankin also held a special session in remembrance of the late Jackie Leven, who was himself no stranger to the festival. Appearing with Ian was Jackie's musical collaborator Michael Weston King and Jackie's partner Deborah Greenwood, who provided some of the musical interludes, one of which was a song written for Deborah, Universal Blue

Always eager to discover new and exciting performers previously unseen by this reviewer, it was purely coincidental that three of the most outstanding appeared almost back to back during the Wold Top acoustic session on Sunday evening. Whilst the young Flamenco guitarist Louis Brooks could probably give Eduardo Niebla a run for his money with his brilliantly performed guitar pieces, singer/songwriter Jo Bywater performed a stylish set of self-penned songs, demonstrating both raw talent and confidence with songs such as Disclaimer, Ropeladder and Woolen Hearts. Finally though, it was the quite unexpected performance by singer/guitarist Ethan Thomas that sealed the lid for me on the Beverley Folk Festival 2013, with a performance so engaging, both in terms of his casual stage banter and his note-perfect singing and playing, that it can only be a matter of time before we see him hit the bigger stages.
With a fine headlining performance on Sunday night by Oysterband, who have apparently been given 'some time off from June Tabor' as frontman John Jones joked, the festival drew to a fine climax but not before the Area 2 finale in the Wold Top marquee, presided over by Sam Pirt, followed by the final late night Moonbeams session, once again hosted by Leila Cooper, raising a glass to yet another fine and memorable Beverley Folk Festival. 

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky