Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Summer in February

The Cheltenham Folk Festival was just wonderful! We managed to arrive just after 7:00 on Friday evening, despite the traffic holdup to the west of Oxford, which meant I could do the introductions at the opening concert in the Everyman Theatre. Roy Bailey, John Kirkpatrick and Martin Simpson were performing material from their Sit Down and Sing CD to a very appreciative audience. Having enjoyed that one, we went back to the town hall for a masterful set from Pete Coe (what a versatile and tireless performer!!).

Our B&B was as welcoming as ever (top), and, after a huge breakfast, Gill went to a Cornish Dance workshop, and I headed for the town to play for Redbornstoke (left) and Rockhopper (above). The weather was just about perfect - blue sky, sunshine and just cold enough to let us know it was February. Both teams danced well, Redbornstoke creating a lot of interest in the Marston dances and winter kit, while Rockhopper, who were out in force, danced better than I've seen them for some time.

Back to the Town Hall again for Martin Carthy and Martin Simpson - a magical hour of stunning guitar and vocals from two of the great exponents. Shivers down the spine! After that, I was introducing a show called Tales of Otherness featuring Craig, Morgan Robson. This show explored the "twilight zone of deception and masquerade, trickery and betrayal, transformation and enchantment". The songs were well-chosen and nicely sung, though the stories suffered from being ad-libbed somewhat, as the group had left the script at home!

A fabulous Committee Band ceilidh in the evening rounded off a super day. The new material is being bedded-in well, and the sound was probably the best I've heard in the Concert Hall - well done Spadger Sound and Sam Skey! Nick Walden (calling) did a good job, with the usual eclectic mix of dances, though there were one or two moments when he wasn't communicating as well with the dancers as we have come to expect. Never mind - great dance, and tired legs tottered back to the B&B for a well-earned rest.

Sunday began with the Martin Graeb interview, this year with Martin Carthy, Norma Waterson and Eliza Carthy. Much of interest was unearthed, and some interesting strands were explored, including the proposition that one of the reasons for the demise of folk songs in the early 20th Century was the desire of many of the owners of the songs to rise up socially in the world, leading to them suppressing their knowledge of the songs, which would have been considered too "working class". As theories go, it holds water as well as any of the others, like the growing urbanisation of the population; the importing of American culture superceding the English, or British; and the spread of electronic forms of entertainment (radio, films, television) removing the need to provide one's own. Martin Graeb is such a ponderous interviewer, we could have heard so much more if he'd really paced the session and asked more incicive questions. Still, it was time well spent (and we had three songs thrown in as well!).

My last compering gig was the following concert, a four-hour marathon with Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer, Brian Peters and Gordon Tyrall, The Devil's Interval, Trio Threlfall and Tom Napper & Tom Bliss. Everyone performed very well - I hadn't met Vicki and Jonny, or the two Toms before, and really enjoyed what they did. The Devil's Interval just get better and better - I'm so glad they did their "Two Magicians" with verses made up by children at a workshop at Sidmouth last year, because it's really funny! Brian and Gordon produce such good music between them, and Trio Threlfall, despite doing mostly well-known material, never fail to please. Tom Bliss described the festival as being like Summer - meeting all the people you would expect to see at a festival in May, June, July, August in the middle of Winter. Hence the headline to this posting. A good finish for me, as we started late and finished on time - every MC's dream!

Finally, a packed Concert Hall enjoyed the last concert of the festival, with a very on-form Pete Coe, a new discovery for me in The Wailin' Jennys, from Canada (living up to their reputation for interesting self-penned songs and multi-instrumentalism), and, topping the bill, BELLOWhead, who are just so much better than they were a year ago at Cheltenham, having thrown away the music stands, got on with the jazz, and produced some very avant-garde arrangements, especially for Rigs of the Time. Dancers danced in the space at the front of the hall, the band gave every ounce of energy they possessed, and were rewarded with two encores. A totally fab finish to a stonking weekend.

By the way, the Spiers and Boden website contains a brilliant animation by 12-year-old Oliver Hayes for the song, Prickle-Eye Bush - take a look here.


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