Saturday, September 04, 2010

Moseley Folk Festival – Day One, Friday 3rd September 2010

Sun + cider + fresh air + good music = festival heaven. Basking in unexpected late summer sunshine this year’s Moseley Folk Festival once again promised a suitably eclectic line up with day one seeing sets from 90’s literary pop gem The Divine Comedy, local boy made good Fyfe Dangerfield and some rising stars of the indie-folk scene. Friday’s my favourite day of the festival in many ways. Kicking off at 2pm it’s a bit quieter at first with most people still finishing off their week’s work (someone has to I guess) so us early birds got to enjoy some nicely chilled sounds in a relatively (cue Barry White style voice) intimate fashion. This afternoon saw a variety of different takes on the folk genre and we arrived just in time to catch most of Ben Calvert’s set, a languid master class in 21st century folk (tales of the modern world given a folk twist)and, given the hazy heat of the afternoon, all the better for it. Dreamy stuff. The Festival’s got two stages right next to each other, so as soon as one act finishes all you need to do is shuffle yer bum a little to one side and – voila – the next one’s there, ready and waiting. If only all festivals were so accommodating eh? Matthew P (all the way from Suffolk he was keen to point out) was up next, to his left a rather ingenious (and slightly Heath Robinson) moving sign with his name on (again all the way from Suffolk...).

The letters of his name rose and fell as he sang. It’s hardly up there with Iron Maiden’s ‘Eddie’, but I liked it. Musically I can see by my notes (yes, I make notes these that I have trouble forgetting my name it’s pretty essential) that I had him pinned down as ‘what The Strokes would sound like if they went a little bit folky’.

Sparrow and the Workshop brought a country edge to their take on folk, with their lead singer (Sparrow I’m guessing) noting she could tell it wasn’t a camping festival “cos everyone looks happy”. Pick of their set was a rollicking giddy up track called ‘Devil’s Song’, punctuated by the drummer beating seven flavours of crap out of a thin strip of sheet metal screwed to the front of his drum kit. It’s folk Jim, but not as we know it. Cider. Oh so much cider. I should know better but Hogan’s fine Scrumpy is dangerously addictive in the Summer sun.

Okay, we’ve had 21st century folk, Strokes folk and Country folk, how about some tropical folk eh? You’re in luck. Vadoinmessico (the name means ‘I am in Mexico’ apparently) kick some Med sand in the face of folk conventions with a sunny soundtrack that could come from some 60’s buddy movie. ‘In Spain’ in particular made me want to steal a camper van and set off on a roadtrip across Europe on the run from ‘the man’. But the Hogan’s cider kept me firmly glued to the floor. Oh well, next time time.

Still with me? Good, ‘cos up popped Erland and the Canival and they’re well worth catching. Erland, wearing his Pete Docherty fancy dress costume, has nailed that melodramatic 60’s pop sound quite brilliantly. Shades of The Doors in places, especially on stuff like their (I presume) theme tune ‘My Name is Carnival’.

A quick shuffle to the left and we caught Hannah Peel with Table...not a table...just Table. Possessing a voice as pure as natural spring water she’s got a slightly ethereal quality about her, like she’s not of this world (Kate Bush has a similar feel about her...maybe that’s just me though). Talking of ethereal she covered the Cocteau Twins ‘Sugar Hiccup’ using a musicbox and a long (reeaaaaaaaallllly long) strip of paper upon which she had – BY HAND – hole punched all of the notes. Wow. That’s more than a day’s working I’m guessing. Music box covers aside she had some fine self penned stuff including Almond Tree (out soon on uber cool label Static Caravan) which, in its live guise had a Love Cat’s (The Cure) sort of groove to it. Most a-peel-ing.

Local boy (he grew up in Moseley) Fyfe Dangerfield was arguably the biggest hit of the day. In between songs he chatted cheerfully to the audience, as comfortable as he’d be if he was in his own back garden...which I guess he was. Covering everything from the birdlife in the pool behind the stage (revealing an impressive knowledge of UK birds) to the correct way to say Bowie (Bowie or Bowee – you decide) he delivered most of the Guillemots hits, some of his solo stuff and – of course – “that song off the telly”, Billy Joel’s ‘She’s Always a Woman to Me’. I’ve seen Fyfe a few times before and this was, without doubt, the best I’ve seen him. With a new album due out soon I’m pretty sure he’s yet to hit the heights he’s capable of. Which, given the strength of some of the stuff he’s already put out, is pretty bloody impressive. Moseley’s Billy Joel? Hmmmm...could be.

Turin Brakes were next. I’d kind of stashed this lot in my 'good but slightly dull pile' but as a live act they really worked, kicking out a kind of classic 70’s west coast feel that seemed to have a lot more meat on it than their records. ‘Underdog (Save Me)’ – which is a good enough track in its recorded form – had an urgency that bought the song to life a lot more, for me at least. One enthusiastic – or maybe that should be Pimmed out of her box–fan loved every second of the set and danced around at the front even when they weren’t playing anything, but that's the joy of festivals innit?

The next couple of hours passed in a haze of chats with old friends and catching the odd snatches of sets but the last act I saw in full was the small but perfectly formed Neil Hannon and his Divine Comedy (actually just Neil Hannon...but as he is The Divine Comedy...sort of...his solo status didn’t really matter).

Oh how I grooved along to ‘Something for the Weekend’ back in 1996. The perfect tune for a Friday night. That’s probably why he didn’t play it. Oh well. What he did play, perched on his piano stool sipping from a glass of red, was a fine selection from his 20 year back catalogue, kicking off with an apt track for a festival crowd ‘Horizontal Life’. After a few years of relative obscurity Neil seems to be hitting his stride again so the new songs like ‘The Complete Banker’ (genius) stood up really well to old favourites like ‘National Express’ (which got the biggest sing along of the day). Not even a tickly cough could throw him tonight (poor fellow sounded like he was about to pass away at one point) and, thanks to an emergency throat sweet he was able to finish the set in fine style. All in all a divine ending to a pretty divine day.

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