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Great British Folk Festival 2014 - Saturday

The only real difference between a Great British-themed weekend and a regular family holiday here at Butlins in Skegness, apart from the obvious specialist 'entertainment' provided and the noticeable absence of all those jolly-faced 'Redcoats', is the fact that things take a little longer to get going in the morning. Under normal circumstances those fresh-faced Redcoats would soon have you working out playfully by the swimming pool at the crack of dawn, especially during the sunny season! Of course there's also the absence of kids, those human alarm clocks who would usually be tugging at your bed clothes at dawn in order for the day of fun to start. Thankfully those mini-hangovers from Friday night can be suitably slept off and the day can begin on your terms. This child-free zone also means that the festival doesn't necessarily have to concern itself with the usual variety of circus tricks, face painting and musical workshops designed to nurture our next generation of folk singers and musicians. This is really neither a plus nor a problem for those who come to the festival; the audiences are now pretty much used to the subtle differences between this and other similar sized festivals.

After a slow and sleepy start to the day, the camp gradually came alive this morning to a soundtrack provided by the constant piped music filtering across the village from the Sun and Moon's PA system, as the various additional amenities opened their doors for those wanting a swim or the whole 'Spa Experience', a movie at the cinema or a quick blast on Guitar Hero, a challenge that Jim Moray took today; activities that you don't usually get at your standard-issue common or garden folk festival.

Once the Saturday morning sound checks were all done and dusted in the two main concert halls, Matt and Sueleen opened proceedings on the Centre Stage with a polished set of songs including the memorable Justin Hayward classic Forever Autumn, whilst The Hut People took to the Reds Stage in order to deliver some of their own unique blend of highly rhythmic instrumental music designed specifically for accordion and percussion. Starting with a Québécois influenced tune entitled La Bottine, the duo, made up of Sam Pirt and Gary Hammond, eased the day of music into action, Hammond joking that he was probably conceived here at this very holiday resort. Whilst Sam introduced a variety of musical styles on his accordion, Gary demonstrated the broad scope of musical possibilities on a selection of exotic percussion instruments, from his own 600-plus collection.

The Springfields made a welcome return to the Butlins stages after receiving a great reception at last year’s festival, with a crowd-pleasing set of memorable sing-along favourites such as Sixteen Tons and Cottonfields; essentially retro folk/pop from a retro folk/pop trio. Meanwhile on the Reds Stage the Sheffield-based Melrose Quartet gathered closely to perform a set of richly-carved songs from the tradition both accompanied and a cappella, their unique blend of voices being this quartet's secret weapon. With mature musical arrangements, the Melrose Road resident couples Nancy Kerr and James Fagan and Jess and Richard Arrowsmith soon relaxed into their set, which was treated to a warm reception by their appreciative audience. 

During the late afternoon sessions on the Introducing Stage, singer/songwriter Lucy Marshall wowed a large gathering with a selection of self-penned songs as well as more familiar material, such as Richard Thompson's Beeswing and the seasonal Fairy Tale of New York. Also making their festival debuts on this stage in the Skyline Pavilion were Bad Cardigans, Ramble Gamble and Merlins Keep.

One of the highlights of Saturday however, was the festival debut by Scots quartet Salthouse who rounded off their current tour with a delightful set of songs and tunes from their celebrated debut album Lay Your Dark Low, including She’s Like the Swallow, Katie Cruel and Freshwater Salt. The band, made up of Siobhan Miller, Lauren MacColl, Ewan MacPherson and Euan Burton were almost like rabbits caught in the headlights as the giant safety curtain rose at the start of their concert on the Centre Stage, later admitting that they had no idea what to expect here at the festival. They only brought along a handful of CDs, all of which had gone minutes after they finished their set, which was testament to how good their set was.   

As celebratory t-shirts began to appear next to the stage depicting Alan Hull's fifty years on the planet, a life cut cruelly short in the mid 1990s, Lindisfarne band mate Ray Jackson took to the stage with a bunch of friends to deliver some of the Newcastle-based band’s best known songs. It was one of those rare moments that every single song was not only familiar, but we knew every single word and didn’t take too much persuading to sing along to songs such as Road to Kingdom Come, All Fall Down, Wake Up Little Sister, Lady Eleanor, Together Together, Winter Song, Warm Feeling, Train in G Major and the list goes on. The material itself guaranteed a crowd-pleasing set, but was all the more enjoyable when delivered by the ageless voice of long-time front man Ray Jackson and further enhanced by the uncannily similar voice of Alan Hull provided by his son-in-law Dave Hull-Denholm, whose reading of Winter Song was one of the evening's highlights. The fun element continued throughout the set with references to Rod Stewart's Maggie May and George Harrison's My Sweet Lord on Caught in the Act, the gorgeous Run for Home as well as set essentials Meet me on the Corner and Fog on the Tyne.

Meanwhile Eddi Reader and her band took to the Reds stage slightly later than advertised due to some unnecessary faffing about during the stage set-up of the opening band. Eddi was on form, doing what she does best with songs from her latest album release Vagabond as well as some of her more familiar material such as Find My Love and her number one hit Perfect.

The final festival choice on Saturday night was between the highly engaging set of well-crafted songs courtesy of Del Amitri singer/songwriter Justin Currie and Home Service, one of the finest live bands the English folk scene has produced. Like The Hut People’s Gary Hammond's confession earlier in the day, John Tams was also allegedly conceived at a Butlins holiday resort, only in his case it was up the coast at Filey. As the band delivered on cue some of their rich brass arrangements during some of the band’s most memorable songs such as Walk My Way, Alright Jack and Rose of Allendale, John Tams spent much of the set having a good old chat with an audience who were only too pleased to engage themselves in the conversation. Great music to bring the second day of the festival to a fitting climax and with still one more day to go.
Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky

Videos filmed by Simmo, Ed, Jon and Drew

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