You are here

Doncaster Folk Festival 2013

Doncaster's relationship with folk music has been rather capricious over the years, with several folk clubs popping up every now and again, run by enthusiasts ready to give it another go and each time hoping it might be a little more successful than the previous one. The heyday was certainly in the 1970s when nights at The Bay Horse Folk Club in Bentley were pretty much sold out every time. Since then clubs have popped up around the town, whether at locations such as the old Coal Lodge on Bennetthorpe, The Corporation Brewery Taps on Cleveland Street, The Three Horse Shoes just over the old North Bridge or at The Salutation, The Regent Hotel, The Mason's Arms or The Railway Tavern; the list actually goes on and on. The  folk enthusiasts responsible for some of those clubs over the years have also been responsible for a number of folk festivals in the town, each enjoying varying degree of success. Oddly enough, folk nights and festival weekends in Doncaster have only ever been successful if certain popular 'names' are on the bill; the likes of Martin Carthy, Vin Garbutt, Harvey Andrews etc. each a definite 'crowd puller'. Tempting people to taste something new has always been something of an uphill struggle around these parts and explaining to those folks that Martin Carthy was also unknown once is like trying to train a cat to speak Mandarin sometimes.

Over the last two or three years, Doncaster's latest group of enthusiasts have come up with a festival that takes one or two risks and it seems to be paying off as previous 'unknowns' are becoming current 'favourites'. This is down to a more focused determination to promote the festival all over town, both in terms of radio and press coverage, but also with high profile fund raising events throughout the year. The hub of this activity is the Ukrainian Centre on Beckett Road, where the festival's concerts take place. This year the festival also included several dance displays in the town centre on Saturday, making the people of Doncaster more aware of the festival in the process and it was really quite encouraging to see shoppers forming small crowds at several of the town's popular landmarks, seemingly enjoying the displays by such sides as the Maltby Phoenix Sword Dancers.

Some of those Doncaster landmarks were given a name check on Friday night during Frank Carline's opening set at the Ukrainian Centre. Winter's Song talks of such places as Silver Street, Bowers Fold and the Corn Exchange, celebrating Frank's home town in much the same manner as Waterloo Sunset celebrates the home town of Ray Davies. The local singer/guitarist, most noted for his knowledge of the Blues with such songs as It Hurts Me Too, also demonstrated his craft as a songwriter in his own right, with such songs as The Blue River and Poppy Day

No stranger to the Doncaster Folk Festival, having organised several of them in the past, singer Graeme Knights jokingly took several attempts to get up the stairs in front of the stage with a crutch for his bad leg in one hand and a pint in the other, whilst singing the opening song. Performing an entertaining a cappella set, the singer struck up a healthy rapport with the audience, particularly the youngest member on the front row, giving as much as he got in the heckling stakes. Start 'em young. 

The BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award 2009 finalist Maz O'Connor made her Doncaster Folk Festival debut with her new trio, which included brother Joe O'Connor on guitar and Matthew Jones on melodeon. With one or two initial sound problems, the trio soon settled into a fine set of songs from the singer's new record UPON A STRANGER SHORE, including Red Red Rose, Caw the Yows and South Australia, together with a brand new song, the working title of which is The Sparrow. Once again, Doncaster Folk Festival was pleased to introduce a new rising star on the folk scene, much the same as they did with Lucy Ward last year.

Taking their name from an iconic and much repeated line in the Classic novel Cold Comfort Farm, Lincolnshire-based Something Nasty in the Wood Shed delivered a rip-roaring finale to Friday night's concert with a set of energetic and full-on Celtic Folk Rock numbers. Having already appeared at one of the festival's fund-raisers, the packed audience knew exactly what to expect and were not disappointed. 

On Saturday morning the town came alive with music and dance as various dance sides rotated around several locations in the town centre, including Clock Corner, the Frenchgate Centre, the Market Place and finally a massed display at the new Civic Quarter. The sight of dancers passing each other on St Sepulchre Gate and Baxtergate enroute to their next gig was something quite different for Doncaster and quite possibly unheard of outside Waterstones in the Frenchgate Centre. 

The ceilidh band What's the Point? opened the festival on Friday night at the Doncaster Communication Specialist College (formerly the College for the Deaf) and then on Saturday opened the afternoon concert at the Ukrainian Centre. This performance was pretty much their song-based set, recalling such songs as Cyril Tawney's Sally Free and Easy and Joni Mitchell's Urge For Going.  

The husband and wife team Haddo took to the stage next to perform a gentle and soothing set made up of intricately arranged instrumental tunes, most of which can be found on their delightful debut album HOMECOMING. Saturday afternoon's appearance at the festival was a little like a homecoming, the album having been recorded here in the town a few months ago. With Will Pound demonstrating his chops on his 'second' instrument, the melodeon, together with Nicky Pound on fiddle, the duo not only demonstrated that they excel in traditional English material such as The Princess Royal, but can also turn their attention to something of a jazz flavour, with some infectious Glenn Miller-style Swing.

During the set, Will returned to his 'first' instrument for a breath-taking harmonica solo, which had the audience held spellbound. A virtuoso player of the instrument, Will later held a harmonica workshop for 'worried' harmonica players after the concert. 

Returning to Doncaster after appearing at one of the festival fundraisers back in October, London-based singer/songwriter Jack Harris took to the stage next for the first of two performances of the day. Once again the highly entertaining performer peppered his eloquently delivered set of songs with anecdotal tales, which were both highly amusing and thought provoking at the same time. If the sun had kept some of the audience away, those who did attend the concert were treated to a great set of self-penned songs with the occasional non-original, such as Bob Dylan's Tomorrow is a Long Time and Robert Johnson's Love in Vain.    

The 'Anglo/Irish' traditional singer Maggie Boyle teamed up once again with guitar/banjo player and ex-Arizona Smoke Revue frontman Paul Downes, for a set of both traditional and contemporary songs, such as Linden Lea and Farewell, Lovely Nancy, rounding off a relaxed afternoon concert at the Ukrainian Centre.  

Between the afternoon and evening concerts, a couple of workshops took place courtesy of Will Pound (harmonica) and Michael Giverin (mandolin) as the Maltby Phoenix Sword Dancers cleared a space in front of the stage for a performance of their celebrated rapper dance, which kicked off the final evening concert. The dance side of the festival was put together by Paul Davenport, who joined his wife Liz on stage to sing a selection of songs including The House That Jack Built and Green Brooms, either a cappella or accompanied by Paul's concertina.  

After Paul and Liz, Jack Harris returned for his second set of the day, featuring more of his own self-penned songs such as The Oldest Man, Tea Meeting and a new song entitled Rivets, along with a captivating version of The Band's The Weight, which had everyone joining in on thje iconic chorus.   

Making their Doncaster debut was Helsby-based bluegrass trio Jaywalkers, whose very presence exemplified the fact that some of those who still adhere to the 'ain't coming out if I ain't heard of 'em' attitude, missed an excellent set, never before seen or heard in Doncaster. The trio, Jay Bradberry on fiddle and guitar, Michael Givenin on mandolin and guitar and Lucy Williams on upright bass, played a blistering set, which featured songs from their most recent album EARLY FOR A THURSDAY. With a steadily growing repertoire that includes self-penned songs such as Drag You Down and Lonesome Graveyard, together with old time standards such as Shady Grove, Sitting on Top of the World and Reuben's Train, the trio also ventured into gypsy jazz territory with a stunning version of Não Me Toques complete with Michael's virtuoso mandolin playing and formation swaying.

The headliner for the final concert was folk scene stalwart Leon Rosselson, whose topical and observational songs are possibly better known by some of the artists who have covered them over the years, some of which have become folk club standards such as World Turned Upside Down and Palaces of Gold. Tonight Leon brought some of those songs together with his inimitable wit and insightful banter, which suitably brought the festival to an end for another year, aside from the traditional 'survivor's session' in the Mason's Arms on Sunday.  

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky