People go to a Festival to have fun, right? Well, yes, but maybe not full on all of the time, so one key factor for a successful event is the variety of activities available. For a festival of its size Southwell scores highly on this, two marquee stages, a stage attached to the beer tent, an open air stage, 2 workshop venues, a dance stage and a children’s activity area. Add to this various ad hoc session areas and the pubs in town that host both sessions and smaller gigs by festival artists and it’s pretty clear that you’ve signed up to a very full weekend.
First, a confession, I didn’t catch every artist at every venue; I must work more at this time travel lark before next festival. So, I may be digging myself a bit of a hole here, if you performed at Southwell and don’t make this piece yet worked your socks off to give everyone a good time, please don’t take it personally. Please? So, festival goers, if your target was out and out light-hearted fun, where would you have found the high spots this year?
Well, you could rely on previous experience and search out artists you know. Top of my list, based on my last review of them, was The Urban Folk Quartet and they didn’t disappoint, with not one but two high energy performances on Friday and Saturday. Not content with leaping around the stage themselves, Joe Broughton and Tom Chapman stayed around on Sunday to join up with their coach load (literally) of Birmingham Conservatoire students to present a stunning set to close the Festival main stage. If you’ve not yet seen a performance by the 47 members of the Conservatoire Folk Ensemble, do hunt them out. They will leave you invigorated, smiling from ear to ear and, if you put in half as much energy as they do, thoroughly exhausted.
Another firm favourite with Folk Radio is Coco and the Butterfields. They performed Main and Second Stage sets on Saturday with their mix of guitar, fiddle and banjo, brass section of sax and trumpet, Dulcima’s vocals and that extra special ingredient of Jamie’ s beatboxing. The band reveal their busking roots in the way they approach a festival gig, immediate direct contact with the audience, build up the energy at every opportunity and don’t let up until the end of the set. And, yes, even at 2 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, Dulcima showed she could still ‘take it to the top’. A band with a very similar attitude to festivals is The Baghdaddies. Five multi-instrumentalists who have been turning out frenetic, highly danceable music for the past 14 years, and becoming firm festival favourites in the process. Their name hints at a Middle Eastern flavour to the music, though perhaps that’s putting it a little too far to the east, the Balkans is more their musical home. However, there’s a myriad of other influences in there ranging from Caribbean rhythms to more home grown rock and jazz. The combination is music that’s impossible to sit still to, as the crowd at two performances on Friday and a third on Saturday can testify.
True to their aim of showcasing talent new to the UK, the organisers pulled off a coup this year, flying in the Mallorcan band, BOC, for not just their first UK performances but their first outside of Spain. In theory the band’s first language is Catalan but it’s possibly more meaningful to say their first language is music. The brain child of Joan Frontera Luna, he and the seven other members play an, at times, bewildering array of instruments but without a vocalist, neatly dismantling any language barriers. The effect on the Southwell audience of BOC’s melange of world music, Mallorcan, Celtic, Caribbean and much more was instant and sales of CDs, T-shirts and posters was brisk verging on the fevered. BOC are a must see act and, if there’s any justice, they’ll become a regular sight on the UK festival scene.
All these bands had their audience up and dancing in the aisles at times but for those who required a more full-on approach to dance, the Second Stage hosted ceilidhs on Friday and Saturday nights. On Friday, the music came from The Glorystrokes (seeimage below), that schizophrenic collection of musicians, part English ceilidh, part heavy metal. If you’ve seen them you’ll understand, if not, sorry, words just aren’t enough. Saturday saw The Simon Care Trio (There were four of them, sometimes there’s more, but hardly ever three, Simon thinks possibly ‘never’.) providing music in a rather more traditional vein to a marquee full of dancers at all levels from beginners to old hands. There’s no doubt ceilidhs are great workouts, I was exhausted just watching.
Having cleared the seating out of the Second Stage marquee the remainder of Saturday night was a standing concert finishing with a Silent Disco. If you’ve never come across one, I need to explain. It’s silent because the music is delivered through headphones and in case the sight of people dancing to music you can’t hear isn’t strange enough for you, it’s usual to have two DJs playing at the same time. So, there will always be two sets of dancers, dancing to different beats. Don your headset and get into the dancing to enjoy it on one level, sit out for a while, take off the cans and watching is hilarious. A lot depends on the choice of DJs and Southwell’s couldn’t have been better, Flossie Malavialle and Keith Donnelly. Flossie was well in to the dancing herself, Keith kept the banter going and everyone lapped it up. I‘ll say a bit more about Flossie and Keith but let’s get dancing out of the way first.
More was to be seen in the Stage 2 marquee last thing on Sunday night, and it was pretty much of necessity. By midnight the clear skies that had been such a boon during the day had allowed temperatures to plummet, so Mànran, who took the closing spot, found little resistance to getting everyone up for a last few jigs and reels. Hard to resist the pipes, especially if the alternative might be frost bite.
As well as their Silent Disco, Flossie and Keith launched their duo CD, Dark Horses, had main stage solo spots and also MC duties for one or more sessions; Anthony John Clarke took on this dual rôle as well. A festival compere’s job can have its tricky moments, filling in unexpected gaps, making sometimes tedious housekeeping announcements sound interesting and, very often, they’re rewarded with the short straw, being given the opening spot for their solo sets. Flossie, Keith and AJ have the humour and the ready way with words to make this all look effortless and then they go on to deliver their songs and stories. Hats off to them, they turn filling in time into an entertainment in its own right.
As I wrote in the opening paragraph, one key to a successful festival is variety and so in the final part of our Southwell coverage I’ll look at some of the acts whose music lingers long in the memory, maybe because it transported you to a place where you feel utterly relaxed, maybe it leaves you thinking, maybe it blows your socks off with its sheer ingenuity.
Review by: Johnny Whalley
Photo Credits: All images Phil Richards