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Moonbeams and Sunbeams: Moonbeams Festival 2014

With the GPS set at 'somewhere on the North Yorkshire Wolds' and the windows on both sides of the car wound down as far as they could possibly go, I made my way north to my first Moonbeams Festival. Leila Cooper, music promoter, people person and general all round good egg, has been putting this festival on for about six years now and having been told by a number of people just how wonderful the event is, I marked the dates in the Northern Sky diary in thick black indelible ink, dog-eared the corner of the page and just to be on the safe side, popped a book mark in there too. This year I was definitely going to my first Moonbeams Festival to see what it's all about.

The weather was particularly kind on Friday afternoon as I negotiated the narrow lanes leading up towards the small village of Hunmanby, home of the nearby Wold Top Brewery (yes, this festival takes place in a brewery!), possibly too kind judging by the red arms hanging out some of the passing car windows. Scuttling along the narrow lanes suitable for one vehicle only, I soon caught sight of the tip of the yellow and blue circus marquee in the distance, which would house the main stage over the weekend. There was an immediate sense of community as I approached the camping area, with both stewards and fellow campers alike offering help with directions and tent erecting skills respectively. With a light breeze up on the Wolds, it was handy to have my newfound weekend neighbours Ronnie and Andy around to help keep my tent this side of Filey. Even on a hot sunny day, the Wolds can soon drum up the occasional strong breeze.

Once I was suitably settled in my new environment, I was eager to look around the festival site and familiarise myself with the geography, which was made all the more easier for me with Leila by my side to give me a guided tour. Five minutes later I was completely up to speed and fully aware that those who visit the festival don't have to do an awful lot of walking, everything being in such close proximity. My basic senses were immediately aroused by the blend of sights, sounds and smells combined; the colourful garden and courtyard in full bloom, bands sound checking on both stages (the main stage and the garden stage) together with the enticing aroma of the legendary Moonbeams curry being served. The anticipation was tangible as friends of the festival new and old began to arrive. Once all the tents, tourers and camper vans were in place, the Nick Rooke Band delivered a fine opening performance on the garden stage, finding an immediate rapport with everyone in the packed marquee as Gerry and Ani McNeice made sure the band sounded as good as they possibly could. The Moonbeams Festival 2014 was underway. 

After the two opening sets, the second set provided by the all-female five-piece Raven, both bands effectively easing the festival into action, the main stage was all sound-checked and ready to go as Andy Atkinson took to the stage to introduce a humdinger of a concert featuring Peatbog Faeries, Breabach and the newly revitalised 4 Square. The new line-up of the four-piece band features the dextrous mandolin playing of Michael Giverin, together with Nicola Lyons, Jim Molyneux and Dan Day on fiddle, piano and percussion respectively. Nicola also threw in some clog dancing for good measure. After the young band's opening set, the audience was treated to a veritable feast of Scottish music supplied by two of the finest Celtic bands on the music scene today. The contrasting sounds of the two highly distinctive bands, kept the momentum going throughout the evening, with Breabach providing a handful of songs to augment what was essentially an instrumental concert. It was the highly charged energy of Peatbog Faeries though that caught the imagination of the audience, the band giving a powerhouse performance that truly saw the festival in.

The Wolds were covered in a blanket of mist on Saturday morning, which offered some stunning views over the meadows as far as the mist would allow the eye to see. As the campsite stirred following a late night session in the Big Sky marquee, which alternates between kids events through the day and open floor sessions through the early hours of the morning, there was a choice of activities on offer. Dogfinger Steve went through the rudiments of building a three-string cigar box guitar with five students, who then went on the play the instruments, which was fascinating to hear. Whilst the cigar box band played Sloop John B, the tranquil gardens nearby offered a quiet place for yoga, where a group had gathered with instructor Bec Thompson. Throughout Saturday, it became pretty obvious that Ade the Face Painting Fairy had been busy with children (of all ages) popping up all over the festival site in cunning disguise, even some of the bar staff and our festival organiser.

Maisey and the Thompsons, a band that was formed at last year's Moonbeams Festival, opened the morning concert on the garden stage with a set of well-constructed songs, whilst local heroine Edwina Hayes, drew a large crowd to the main stage, where the singer/songwriter alternated between some of her own songs and some of the songs that have shaped her musical integrity over the years. "It feels like home" said the Driffield-based singer as she dominated the big stage with her equally big personality. Providing a refreshing break from acoustic (and electric) guitars, amplified drums and bass, not to mention fiddles, squeezeboxes and let's not forget the bagpipes, no less than three sets on Friday night alone, the courtyard became temporarily taken over by the soothing sound of the Yorkshire Wolds Versatile Brass, who performed the especially composed Wold Top March, written by Scarborough's Dave Clegg. It was all perfectly timed to catch those passing by from one stage to the other, with some stopping to listen.

Which brings me around to one of the things that seems to work particularly well at the Moonbeams Festival, the concert programme. Designed to ensure that there's very little waiting around between sets, whilst one concert finishes on one stage, the next concert begins on the other stage with just enough time for everyone to make the short walk across the site. On Saturday afternoon, this went like clockwork as London-based Van Susans followed folk club favourite Les Barker, who in turn followed North East band Tarras who followed Plumhall before them. The structure works particularly well not only for the audience, but also for the bands and in particular for the sound technicians who are much less pressured by shuffling feet and anxious comperes. The four acts mentioned above also indicates a varied programme, offering something for just about everyone, with Van Susans being one of the big discoveries of the weekend, with their hard-edged approach to contemporary folk/pop. The band also provided a touching moment when the four band members left the stage to perform acoustically in the middle of the audience. 

As the sun got hotter on Saturday afternoon, the ice-cream got tastier and the Wold Top festival beer got even more refreshing as the concert programme maintained its user-friendly flow, with performances from the Newcastle-based NE3Folk, returning to Moonbeams after their spring showcase in Driffield earlier this year. With some well-structured instrumental music, the trio featuring Catherine Geldard on fiddle, Chris Meredith on guitar and Victoria Laurenson on accordion, had fun on stage whilst delivering some highly engaging traditional and contemporary tunes. Whilst all Merry Hell broke loose on the main stage, with an energetic performance from the band of that name, the Tom Townsend Blues Band prepared to take to the other stage for a smooth set of jazz-inflected blues numbers, including such delights as T Bone Walker's Stormy Monday Blues, Sleepy John Estes' Floating Bridge and a gospel-tinged People Get Ready, a fine cover of a Curtis Mayfield classic. Somewhere in the middle of the band's set, the sun finally went down and evening arrived, followed by a refreshing and much appreciated evening cool. Nick Hall returned to the garden stage this time with sibling Duncan as the Hall Brothers appeared with their five-piece extended band, for a full-on folk rock knees-up. 

One of the more risky bookings at this year's festival was the newly reformed duo Nizlopi, featuring singer Luke Concannon and bassist John Parker, whose human beatboxing may have proved too much for the less adventurous folkie amongst us. Yes, one or two got up after the duo's first song but for me it was one of the highlights of the festival, although I dare say a good percentage of the audience was chomping at the bit with the anticipation of the duo's airing their one big hit JCB, which they eventually performed right at the end of the set. If Leila had arrived on site at that precise moment, driving a big yellow tractor, pretending to be BA Baracus and wearing Bruce Lee's numchuckers, I dare say it would've definitely made my festival. With two final concerts courtesy of the Jon Palmer Band and the Duncan McFarlane Band, whose reputation as a fine live band goes before them, the festival highpoint came midway through Saturday night when singer/songwriter Martyn Joseph hit the main stage for what could only be described as a top class performance.  

Once again, as the two main stages wrapped it up for another year, some of the late nighters settled down over straw bales in the Big Sky marquee for some gentle after hours lullabies. With Rob Fearnley at the helm, the Nick Rooke Band were around to start things off, with contributions from the Jon Palmer Band and singer/songwriter Andy Stones plus an unexpected appearance by Leila's daughter Mia, who fought her nerves to deliver a lovely performance of Robyn's Call Your Girlfriend, accompanied by Gerry McNeice on guitar.

Well it took a good while for me to eventually get to the Moonbeams Festival, despite all the urging from the people who know a thing or two about these things. The initial feeling of 'community' I first sensed when I arrived on site on Friday afternoon was soon replaced with a stronger feeling of 'family'. Moonbeams is a family festival, which doesn't only mean you can bring your own family along, it means you can become a member of theirs. The next one can't come soon enough.  

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky