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Shepley Spring Festival 2012

The Cricket Club, Shepley
Friday 1 - Sunday 3 June 2012

Shepley Spring Festival's sixth year was once again blessed with the sort of weather you normally jump on a plane for; sunshine throughout the three days with the slightest breeze to turn most of those who turned out for the event various shades of pink. With Elkie Brooks pulling out at the last minute due to voice problems and with no time to arrange an alternative, Thursday night was treated as a gathering of friends, where everyone took advantage of the weather, the beer and the anticipation of another successful year at one of the best loved family run festivals in the country. 

Once again the festival spread throughout the village from the main festival site at the Shepley Cricket Club to The Black Bull pub, where several dance displays took place in the car park, by way of the Coach House within the grounds of Cliffe House, where singers sessions and workshops took place respectively, to St Paul's Church and neighbouring Village Hall which hosted concerts and ceilidhs and finally The Farmer's Boy, another of the festival pubs where more dance teams gathered to add colour and fun to the festival.

On Friday afternoon the Village Hall hosted the first of the concerts featuring performances by Marianne Neary and her band, returning to the festival after impressing Shepley so much last year. York-based singer-songwriter Andy Stones followed with a set of self-penned songs as well as a fine interpretation of Clive Gregson's Chase the Dragon. Completing the afternoon concert Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin delivered a lovely laid back set, the duo continuing to make a name for themselves on the acoustic music scene up and down the country with their unique sound, featuring two voices, some fine fiddle playing and some staggeringly good harmonica pyrotechnics in the spirit of Sonny Terry. On the main stage, Belinda O'Hooley and Heidi Tidow returned to Shepley to showcase songs from their new record THE FRAGILE, in their familiar cabaret style before Steve Tilston made his first appearance on the main stage this weekend.

Traditional Quebec trio Genticorum returned to Shepley in style with another exciting performance featuring Pascal Gemme's fiddle and stomping, Alexandre de Grosbois-Garand's flute playing and Yann Falquet's rhythmic guitar work. With a set featuring a hybrid of international world and Celtic music, together with some of their own traditional Quebec folk songs and tunes, the trio offered something special once again for the Shepley audience.

The Demon Barber Roadshow is no stranger to the festival and once again the cloggers competed with Dogrose Morris whilst the band led by Damien Barber performed songs and tunes from their most recent album CAPTAIN WARD. Always a thrilling spectacle but never more so than when on their own turf here in Shepley. 

The Shepley Spring Festival programme leaves no available spaces. There's always something going on somewhere, whether it's a concert, a session, a workshop, a dance display or a man setting fire to his tongue, there's a surprise around every corner. The main festival site was alive with sound on Saturday morning as the Frumptarn Guggenband banged their drums and blew their horns, whilst Genticorum staged an informal set in St Paul's Church down the road and several school children provided their delightful concert on the main stage. 

After Genticorum were bombarded with questions from one eager spectator, the Church then played host to no fewer than four folk singing families, with some fine unison and harmony singing, keeping it pretty much in the family. Ruth and Sadie Price began with a few songs followed by the Davenport family featuring Paul and Liz Davenport, their son Gavin and his fiancee Amy Ferguson. The concert also featured the local dry stone walling family of Nobles, siblings Cuthbert and Lydia and father Will and from Teesside, the mighty Wilson Family, who raised the roof with their fine and forceful harmony singing.  

Steve Tilston returned to the main stage for an appearance with the Leeds-based outfit The Durbervilles featuring some fine arrangements of Steve's familiar songs including Pretty Penny, Is This the Same Boy and This Rocky Road as well as a superb performance of the Eastern-flavoured Sovereign of Tides, finishing with the cajun stomper Jacaranda.

Shepley wouldn't really be Shepley without at least one appearance by its patron Roy Bailey, who closed the afternoon concert with a gentle set of fine songs that matter, interspersed with his trademark wit and banter. With a set that included Si Kahn's Go To Work on Monday and a lovely finale with the entire audience singing along to the chorus of John Tams' uplifting When We Go Rolling Home, Roy also invited his daughter Kit and granddaughter Molly for a lovely performance of Kit's children's song Molly's Garden, a song this reviewer nicked a couple of years ago to sing to children in Doncaster's libraries.

Down the road, the Village Hall played host to another relaxed concert featuring the young Cornwall-based bluegrass outfit Flats and Sharps, the Albion Band frontman Blair Dunlop and the Melrose Quartet, providing not only great music but a refuge from the scorching afternoon sun.

Whilst the Beer Tent, possibly the busiest marquee of the weekend, played host to female shanty group She Shanties and folk rockers Blackstone Edge, DJ McKinlay presided over the Roller Disco in the Village Hall before the Simon Care Trio provided music for the Saturday night ceilidh featuring caller Barry Goodman. Meanwhile on the main stage the all-female Scotland-based The Shee opened with a great set of songs and tunes from their excellent DECADENCE record, kick-starting a well-planned and thoroughly engaging evening concert.  

Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin played their second set of the weekend on the main stage once again to rapturous applause. Their delicate arrangements of traditional and original songs, peppered with contemporary beatbox rhythms and assured harmonica and fiddle playing demonstrated once again the duo's credentials as one act to watch out for in the future.

If one band could afford to swagger on stage this weekend it would be the newly formed Albion Band, whose reputation preceded them as they stormed the main stage by mid-Saturday evening. Young, vibrant and with a well-rehearsed repertoire, the band brought folk rock back to life with familiar songs such as Richard Thompson's Roll Over Vaughan Williams and Time To Ring Some Changes, to originals such as Kat Gilmore's Coaltown and Gav Davenport's reworking of the traditional One More Day. 

Keeping to festival organiser Mac McKinlay's proviso that the festival should always feature Highland bagpipes at some point, the twelve-piece tour-de-force from Scotland, The Treacherous Orchestra, kept their rendezvous with this condition, with a blistering performance on the main stage featuring Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton's twin pipes, whilst banjo pickin' Eamonn Coyne took centre stage in order to round off Saturday night in style.    

The peace and quiet of Sunday morning was gently interrupted with the peel of St Paul's church bells moments before the start of Sunday Service. Next door, Katherine Hurdley and Alex Percy played a delightful set opening the morning concert, featuring Katherine's delicate fiddle and Alex's empathetic guitar. One of the highlights of the set was the duo's twin fiddle finale. 

The 2012 Seth Lakeman Rising Stars Award winners Sarah Horn and James Cudworth opened the afternoon concert on the main stage before bluegrass band Flats and Sharps' eagerly anticipated performance. Slightly suffering from the night before, the young band shrugged off their collective hangovers to provide an outstanding afternoon set on the main stage, their sound never better than when utilising their four-part harmonies interspersed with solos from each of the musicians on their respective instruments, just how good bluegrass should sound. Definitely a band to watch out for in future.  

Returning to the main stage after their outstanding contribution to the Treacherous Orchestra's set on Saturday night, the Ross Ainslie Trio featuring Ross once again on pipes and whistle, together with fellow band mate Ali Hutton and Shooglenifty's James Macintosh on drums, showed that you don't actually need a dozen people on stage to create excitement, a set of bagpipes will do the trick almost on their own. 

One of the most unexpected surprises on Sunday afternoon was the Sciorr:Staged extravaganza in the Village Hall, which fused jazz and folk rhythms with Irish dancing, a sort of Michael Flatley meets Dave Brubeck venture. After a brief meeting with dancer Sally Willan and broadcaster Dave Eyre late on Friday night, this reviewer was encouraged to catch this act and is grateful to both for the head's up. If it's not the energetic Irish dancing or the enthusiasm of the band that grabs your attention, then surely the uplifting and ever-present smile of sax/clarinet player Becky Eden-Green is surely worth the entry fee.  

Talking about infectious smiles, the young Maltby-based singing nanny Kirsty Bromley returned to the main stage at Shepley once again to help put a smile on everyone's face. Appearing with her own band featuring Oli Matthews, Simon Dumpleton and Phillipe Barnes, Kirsty performed songs from her debut EP SWEET NIGHTINGALE including The Crow on the Cradle, The Trees They Do Grow High, Eat Drink and Be Jolly and Singing Through the Hard Times as well as the title song. I was delighted to introduce a very nervous Kirsty Bromley exactly one year ago in the concert that effectively kick started last year's Shepley Spring Festival and it's rewarding to see how confident this young singer has become in just twelve months. 

Whilst Kirsty returned to the children, Nancy Kerr and James Fagan joined forces once again with Jess and Richard Arrowsmith for another outstanding Melrose Quartet performance, incorporating some of the tightest harmony singing of the weekend.

With the sad passing of Brendan Power's father, Tim Edey asked his friend Michael McGoldrick to join him on stage at Shepley rather than let the audience down. The two musicians dazzled that audience with their amazing musicianship and charismatic banter that effectively made up for Brendan's absence and was rightfully rewarded with a standing ovation. One of the highlights of this year's festival for sure. 

During the afternoon local broadcaster Dave Eyre interviewed Phil Beer in the Church, whilst cakes were handed out amongst the audience (or is that congregation?) during a special event under the clever heading of Beer and Cakes. Rounding off the festival on the main stage, Phil returned to perform a good selection of songs from his vast repertoire, including a rousing version of The Band's The Weight in honour of the late Levon Helm.

Festival organiser Nikki Hampson delivered some heartfelt and ultimately emotional thank yous before introducing Will Noble up on stage for the regular finale, a reading of the traditional Holmfirth Anthem. With one final performance left, featuring Bradford-based Wilful Missing in the bar tent, the remaining gathering congregated in and around the bar, soaking up the last warm breeze of what turned out to be a most rewarding weekend in terms of great music, great community spirit and thankfully, great weather. 

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky