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Moonbeams March Folk Weekend

Upon arriving at the car park to the rear of the hotel, I soon found myself assisting Steve Tilston with a few hand signals as he squeezed into one of the limited parking spaces left available. The car park effectively provides an outdoor social space between the two main stages, the first being The Maple Room, which is on the first floor of the main hotel, a dark and intimate room complete with a twinkle stars backdrop on stage. The second is situated within the Town Hall, a larger space that I assume could be made even larger for bigger occasions with some clever partition juggling. You get the distinct feeling that the Bell Hotel has been completely given over to the festival as people gather in every nook and cranny around the building, not only in the two main stage rooms but also in the front bar where all the sessions take place and which also boasts one of the most impressive whiskey collections outside of Scotland. Then there's the restaurant area, which serves up some specially priced festival grub (and I might add, good grub it is too!) together with the main welcoming area in the foyer, which serves as the festival hub and is where I was welcomed with open arms, literally. Despite so many areas to cover, I was aware of the fact that I wasn't going to have to do a great deal of walking over the weekend, everything being so close at hand.

The festival commenced proper relatively early on Friday afternoon with a singers and musicians session in the bar area, which attracted one or two relatively local performers, providing a relaxed welcome to those ready to kick off their shoes and make themselves comfortable for the duration. The collection of Wold Top beers just happened to be far too irresistible for me to adhere to a 'on the wagon' policy and therefore before I knew it, my senses soon became familiar with a delightful little brew going by the name of Wold Gold, courtesy of Drew Black's recommendation. Drew and Peter also recommended several malt whiskeys on offer, but I felt compelled to put that particular avenue of pleasure off for at least another couple of hours or so.

Hosted by Leila Cooper, the Friday night Town Hall concert opened with South Yorkshire's best kept secret Kirsty Bromley who bravely took to the stage armed only with her own confidence and a handful of unaccompanied songs, some traditional, some contemporary and even one of her own songs. Kirsty couldn't possibly be short of stories having just recently returned from New Zealand and Australia, where the singer took the opportunity to swap a few Sheffield Carols for some traditional Maori songs. A good start to the festival by a singer who is just beginning to make her own mark on the folk scene.

Singer/songwriter Steve Tilston was up next for the first of two sets, alternating between guitar and bouzouki/guitar, featuring songs new and old from his prolific back catalogue, including one or two favourites such as Rocky Road, Weeping Willow Replanted and The Fisher Lad of Whitby together with much older material from the early days; Reaching Out for instance, a song written way back in 1972. Finishing with Sometimes in This Life are Beautiful, Steve quickley changed stages, hot-footing it over to the Maple Room for his second appearance of the weekend. 

Linda Kelly and Hazel Richings, otherwise collectively known as Hissyfit, treated the audience to some fine a cappella singing, centred around Linda's own songs, written in a highly convincing traditional style. The Beverley-based duo soon had the audience singing along to their songs, some of which are influenced by their own local area. Linda and Hazel could also be heard singing in the informal sessions throughout the weekend.  

Over in the Maple Room, MC Martin Peirson hosted the other concert, which not only featured Steve Tilston, but also singer/songwriter Andy Stones, who played just the one set of the weekend on Friday night. A popular local musician, Andy was greeted by his own young fanbase, who between them held up a personalised banner demonstrating the fact that One Direction are not alone out there and that other more discerning singers can be treated to the star treatment. Performing songs from his latest EP, along with a couple of well-chosen covers, such as Andy's own interpretation of Lindsay Buckingham's Never Going Back Again and Tom Waits' O'l 55, the singer went down a storm with his fans and the rest of the audience alike.

Playing their second set of the night, Miranda Sykes and Rex Preston, who a little earlier opened proceedings on the Maple Room stage, continued to work their magic on the audience in the Town Hall with a set of songs and tunes utilising a variety of stringed instruments of various sizes from the double bass right up to the ukulele. With Miranda taking care of the four-strings, whilst Rex doubled up the string count on mandolin and bouzouki, the two shared singing duties on songs such as the traditional Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight, Bill Jones' Turn To Me and Boo Hewerdine's epic Me and My Sister the Moon

Concluding Friday night's concert in the Maple Room, The Nick Rooke Band took to the stage treating the audience, most of whom had congregated from other areas of the festival for an entertaining knees-up, to some well-chosen and high-energy foot-tappers, before everyone found either the whiskey bar or their beds. 

The concerts continued on Saturday afternoon with an appearance by singer/songwriter Wendy Arrowsmith, whose delicate songs provided just the right tonic for all hangovers, even songs about chocolate. Wendy brought husband Paul up on stage during her set and between them, soon had the audience joining in with the hand movements as well as the songs. 

One of the rising stars of the acoustic music scene is Blackpool-born Dan Wilde, who delivered a fine and assured performance during Saturday afternoon with a handful of self-penned songs, together with one or two non-originals, including John Martyn's May You Never and Justin Townes Earle's Momma's Eyes. Not only is Dan a very capable performer of songs, he's also managed to find a highly engaging rapport with his audience with hilarious stories, such as the preamble to his song Take Me Home, which showcases precisely his budding credentials as a folk raconteur, all told in such a dead pan manner.

There are some songs that have always struck a chord with me and York-based singer Carol Henderson began her afternoon set in the Town Hall with two of them, Bob Dylan's Don't Think Twice It's Alright and Tom Waits' equally enchanting Shiver Me Timbers. Finally on Saturday afternoon, the popular Teesside trio The Young'uns, made up of David Eagle, Michael Hughes and Sean Cooney, brought to the festival some of their great vocal arrangements and inimitable banter, ensuring a good time was had by all before everyone toddled off for tea. 

Between the afternoon and evening concerts, musicians gathered in the bar for an informal singers and musicians session, which was occasionally visited by one or two of the main guest musicians appearing elsewhere over the weekend. This not only provided a relaxing environment to recharge the batteries before the next concert, but also served as an ideal opportunity to catch up with old friends.

There's a great sense of family about the Moonbeams Festival, both in terms of actual family and also in terms of the Moonbeams family, which everyone attending seems to belong to. Saturday evening saw the arrival of even more people who came along specifically for the festival finale, which included the second performance of the day by festival favourite and Moonbeams family member Edwina Hayes. In her introduction, Leila pointed out that it's not really Moonbeams without her long-time pal, who fortunately found a day free in her busy schedule, which has recently been pretty much exclusively supporting Fairport Convention on their current tour, to come and play a few of her songs.

Saturday evening also saw the arrival of Ewan McLennan, making a welcome return to the festival. Having already played a handful of great songs in The Maple Room earlier in the evening, including Bob Dylan's Blues, Tramps and Hawkers and his own song The Yorkshire Regiment, the singer continued with more of the same putting in a top-notch mid-evening performance in the Town Hall.

It's always nice to see a new act (to me at any rate) at a festival and this weekend was the turn of North East-based trio NE3Folk comprising Cathy Geldard on fiddle, Chris Meredith on guitar and Victoria Laurenson on accordion, joining a list of combos carrying the musical gauntlet thrown down by folk super group Lau, including Moore Moss Rutter and Tyde. It's a formula that works and NE3Folk carry it off well, utilising all their instrumental dexterity to pull it off, even if some of the Hendrix-like accordion pyrotechnics do come close to what Martin Green has been doing for some time. The arrangements also occasionally take on that familiar Lau-like tension building, which eventually explodes into something quite breathtaking. Certainly the darlings of the festival and therefore a perfect band for Moonbeams.

Towards the end of Saturday night as the Nick Rooke Band prepared to return to the stage once again for their final set, effectively closing the concert part of the festival with just the one survivor's session remaining on Sunday morning, I headed for the A614 southbound, completely relaxed, suitably fulfilled and with another bunch of friends added to my Christmas card list. Well done Leila and Moonbeams, see you at the next one.

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky