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Moonbeams Festival 2015

Wold Top Brewery, Hunmanby
Friday 10 - Saturday 11 July 2015

The sunshine always seems to bring an additional sprinkling of joy whenever I drive, especially when I'm on my way to a festival; is there really any better feeling than having the sun burn down on your upper arm as you drive along the labyrinth of country lanes on the edge of the Yorkshire Wolds, knowing that you will soon be joining friends for a weekend of good music and oodles of fun? I think not. The Wold Top Brewery, as its name suggests, is perched upon the Wolds close by the seaside town of Filey, set amongst miles of sweeping countryside as far as the eye can see right alongside the rugged North Sea coastline; a perfect place to hold an annual music festival. 

The seventh Moonbeams Festival now holds the distinction of being the first in the festival's short history to completely sell out well before the event itself. This is no longer due to the calibre of acts festival organiser Leila Cooper books to appear over the weekend, but rather that the regulars have got used to looking forward to meeting up at this event, one of the UK’s best loved family festivals, so much so that in some cases those who have missed out on tickets this year have made their disappointment known. "The phone hasn't stopped" said Leila.

Just arriving at this festival each year is almost an event in itself. The narrow lanes that weave along the Wolds eventually lead to a cute hand-painted signpost that in turn leads to the final climb towards the farm-like brewery, which sits at the top of the hill overlooking the vast panoramic landscape, where you are greeted by smiling stewards who are only too eager to help you find your spot for the weekend. 

After arriving on site I immediately erected my old tent, which really has seen better days. It was immediately dwarfed by the site's largest tent, the blue and yellow Big Top Circus marquee that dominated the skyline. I soon settled in by enjoying a certain brew of my own making, the type that requires a kettle, a perforated bag and a drop of milk, rather than the amber stuff flowing in the next field, which I decided to leave until much later in the evening. 

The music got underway at just after 6pm with The Nick Rooke Band on the Garden Stage. Before the band's set I spoke to Wee Dog Sound's Gerry McNeice, an attendee at all seven Moonbeams festivals, who likened the event to a 'garden party with a barbecue and a few bands on.' With the family dog Fred at his feet, Gerry looked after the sound during the only concert on the Garden Stage on Friday night, which featured Barnsley-born, now Driffield-based, Nick Rooke and his band, who effectively warmed up the crowd with a selection of folk rock stompers. 

The remainder of Friday night's action took place on the main stage in the Big Top, referred to by festival organiser Leila Cooper as 'dancey night', opening with Orkney duo Douglas Montgomery and Brian Cromarty, otherwise known as Saltfishforty. The two musicians who’ve known each other since school, have been playing together since 2002 and their musical cohesion has developed in such a way that their music could not fail to attract an enthusiastic audience on Friday night.

Quebec's infectious Le Vent du Nord stormed the Moonbeams main stage by mid-evening on Friday, with an energetic set of Québecois roots music that could not fail to get feet tapping around the marquee. A driving force in progressive folk, Le Vent du Nord capture all the energy and excitement of a party, which is precisely what Moonbeams is, best served with lashings of Wold Top ale. 

Festival patrons Skerryvore transformed the party atmosphere from a French Canadian jamboree into an Isle of Tyree knees-up, with a set built for an end of night party, with every song an anthem. A little earlier the festival site was well aware of Skerryvore's presence as Daniel Gillespie's highland pipes could be heard over the site during a last minute tune up. On stage, those pipes brought out the true power of the instrument during the band's hugely popular set. 

After Skerryvore delivered their final encore, a small crowd gathered in the Big Sky marquee, which was utilised during the daytime for various children's events and then again after midnight for a couple of hours of acoustic performances, specifically for those who were not entirely done for yet, as well as the sleepy few all crashed out on straw bales scattered around the marquee. Friday night's session was hosted by an evening-suited and booted Andy Atkinson, who awarded each of the volunteer performers a bag of Revels for their efforts. A rather dignified and very English way of going about things I would say. Even Skerryvore's frontman Alec Dalglish was persuaded to get up and sing a song, going on to perform a tender version of Dougie Maclean's Caledonia, as well as young singer-songwriter Katie Spencer and Andy Stones amongst others.

On Saturday morning, as the bacon sizzled on the grill and coffee was served out in the open festival arena, a small gathering congregated at the Big Sky marquee for the start of a five mile morning walk upon the Wolds, whilst others gathered on the lawn in the garden for a morning Yoga session. Once the group of around 30 had embarked on their walk, singer-songwriter Anna Shannon conducted her song writing workshop in the marquee, talking about the construction of her own songs. "I think it's extremely important to carry on writing folk songs" Anna later told me, "What I'm doing today I suppose is to try to capture stories of real life and hopefully those songs will touch people's emotions".

One song writer who is carrying on the tradition of writing songs and definitely touches people's emotions is Edwina Hayes, who opened proceedings on the main stage on Saturday morning. Edwina provided a beautifully laid-back set to get the day off to a good start, not only performing her own songs but also one or two songs written by her own personal heroes such as Richard Thompson's Galway to Graceland, which Edwina treated with the respect the song deserves. 

The afternoon continued with a whole range of diverse acts from the blues of Scarborough's Tom Townsend with his band, who performed a blistering set of raw blues numbers, followed over on the Garden Stage by another engaging band, this time led by Hull-born singer-songwriter Henry Priestman, who wore his 'local hero' credentials well during his highly entertaining set. 

For some reason I kept thinking that Saturday afternoon was Sunday afternoon, it had that sort of lazy Sunday afternoon feel. It was difficult to imagine towns and cities up and down the country simultaneously fighting the hustle-bustle of traffic congestion, busy department stores and gridlocked motorways. Moonbeams was in a typical Sunday afternoon mode, relaxed, de-stressed and in a state of communal repose as the music drifted over the festival site. As the Wold Top beer flowed both indoors and out, the music continued with Yorkshire-based quartet Barcode Zebra, singer-songwriter Paul Liddell, the only musician at the festival to play the guitar and trumpet simultaneously, the inimitable Martyn Joseph, who once again won over the crowd throughout his mesmerising set, together with husband and wife team Plumhall making a welcome return to the festival on the Garden Stage, appearing with their own extended band.

Possibly the most anticipated set of the afternoon came with the arrival of Hunter and the Bear, making their much anticipated Moonbeams debut. Their appearance was largely due to Leila's Aunty Gill, who suggested a quick look on YouTube at this relatively new band. This would be the first booking for the Moonbeams Festival based solely on seeing the band on the popular video sharing website. The selection process usually involves quite a lot of physical research, with Leila and her team scouring festivals up and down the country for potential and suitable Moonbeams acts. Thanks to Aunty Gill, who also celebrated her 65th birthday on Saturday, the band was brought to Leila's attention and actually went down a storm. All four member of the band, Will Irvine, Jimmy Hunter, Gareth Thompson and Chris Clark, thanked the birthday girl personally by singing Happy Birthday to her at the Moonbeams bar, where she was working, which just added to the party atmosphere. 

As evening approached, Blair Dunlop played a solo set on the Garden Stage, whilst Saturday's headliners Show of Hands prepared for their set on the main stage. One of the most sensible aspects of the Moonbeams Festival is that the two stages work so well together, alternating throughout the day. Whilst one act performs on one stage, the next act is preparing on the other stage and the audience simply moves between stages at strategic points. It really does work well in that we don't have to sit through sound checks and we don't miss anything.

One of the things I particularly watch out for at festivals is impromptu collaborations, when one act asks another to join them on stage. During Show of Hands' set, Martyn Joseph joined the trio midway through for a special outing of Cardiff Bay, which was one of the highlights of Saturday night. Steve Knightly also re-appeared later in the night when he got up during the late night session in the Big Sky tent.   

Before that though, there was two closing acts to see the festival out. With their own blend of Old Time Americana the Whiskey Dogs delighted the Garden Stage audience, with a selection of familiar old songs that lifted the audience with their feel-good approach to music making. Finally, rounding off things on the main stage was the Duncan McFarlane Band, delighting the audience with their raucous Folk Rock boozy singalong numbers, delivered as always by the band's deliriously animated frontman. 

The seventh Moonbeams Festival will no doubt be remembered for its fine programme of performers, not just on the main stage, but on all three stages. The festival will also be remembered for the fine summer weather, which is always welcome at any festival. Even the rainfall through the night served to clear the air and make things more comfortable throughout Saturday.

The final notes, choruses and refrains to be heard on Saturday night, or to be more precise Sunday morning, were performed once again on the late night club stage in the Big Sky marquee, this time hosted by Ben Sutton, effectively bringing another fine Moonbeams Festival to an end. Roll on next year.   

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky


To accompany this review, a Northern Sky Vaults Moonbeams Special featuring interviews with Gerry McNeice, Nick Rooke, Saltfishforty, Anna Shannon, Barcode Zebra, Plumhall, Blair Dunlop, Leila Cooper and Hunter and the Bear can be heard until the end of September 2015 here:

More Northern Sky photographs can be found here: