Monday, September 06, 2010
Moseley Folk Festival – Day Three, Sunday 5th September 2010
Day the third. The scrumpy cider’s now burnt a small hole in my intestines but I’m still standing. We arrived at the unholy hour of 11am for one reason and one reason only. Sam Walter. I and others have been knocked sideways by this chap on his previous appearances. I saw him on the first day of the festival sitting in a bush singing to himself as the crowds wandered passed. I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was rooted to the spot. As a gig fanatic you’re always on the lookout for something different. This gets harder and harder the more bands or artists that you encounter. But Sam’s special. His basic USP is that he sings (mainly traditional) songs, unaccompanied. So what I hear you say, there are thousands of singers who do that. True. But Sam’s voice, the passion he injects into every single syllable and his choice of material is nothing short of spine tingling. Take ‘Brave Benbow’ for instance, a striking tale of a sailor who loses his legs. The thing is, it’s not like he’s singing about someone who’s been dead since 1789, it’s like the guy’s still with us...and Sam knows him personally. Shut your eyes and listen and you’re whisked back a couple of hundred years in an instant. I’ve seen thousands of singers over the past twenty years or so and Sam’s ability to take you somewhere else is truly exceptional. Within the same line he can sound like a virginal choirboy and an old sea salt (like a singing Brian Blessed Lady B called him). It was a simply stunning performance and, despite the rain trickling down my back (yep, it was piddling it down), arguably the highlight of the weekend. Intriguingly Sam’s now writing new material that he sings in the same style. Take a listen to ‘What An Age to Be a Young Man’ and you’ll hear what I mean. A true original. The fact that his was the only CD I bought all weekend (and you know how tight I am) speaks volumes.
Sheltering from the downpour for a while (unlike these brave/mad souls) the next few acts passed by pleasantly enough, but it took Martin Simpson to really pull me back in with a fine set of covers old and new, as well as some beautifully crafted self penned tunes. His tribute to his dad, ‘Never Any Good’ wins the award for song most likely to get me blubbing this weekend.
Next up I caught local ladies Little Sister who, in a set that embraced everything from bluegrass to Celtic folk, sang a delightful little ditty about Ashby De La Zouch which sounded like Stereolab go folk. It makes me want to move there just so I could have this track as my theme tune. Altogether now...”Ashby De la Zooooouch...Ashby De La Zooooouch”. Cool.
Barely pausing for breath it was over to the main stage again for yet another legendary performance (seriously, these shows are phenomenal) by The Destroyers. Trying to describe them is a pretty impossible task (‘Russian gypsy folk jazz theatre’ is the closest I ever get). So I’ll take the cowards option. Here’s a video:
Of course that doesn’t really come close to the excitement of one of their live shows. This is one band that MUST be experienced live. CD’s, videos, photos...they’re all just a pale reflection of the real thing. But that’s part of the magic. You can’t capture some things. Like Professor Zurinak (the subject of one of their best songs) this is a band that simply screams “I AM ALIVE!”.
John Renbourn provided the perfect Sunday afternoon soundtrack with some nicely understated finger picking. He’s one of those special folk dudes who just makes it all look soooo easy. Then things went all instrumental, kicking off with Urban Folk Quartet, a new name on me but a virtuoso fusion performance taking inspirations from Spain and the Middle East as well as UK folk traditions. An unexpectedly groovy treat culminating in the ceilidh rave ‘The Super Offbeat Return’. Yep, ceilidh rave...you heard it here first. Continuing the instrumental theme, albeit of the more traditional variety, were Lunasa, fine purveyors of all manner of lively jigs and reels. The band’s leader had that delightful Irish charm, wit and way with words that you just can’t beat, at one point describing a Frenchman who’d had a pint in practically every pub in Ireland in his quest to discover traditional tunes as being ‘as sick as a small hospital’. It tickled me, as did their set which got my right leg twitching like mad. Damn that Riverdance.
Still with me? Good. Up next Rainbow Chasers, fronted by none other than Ashley Hutchings who, amongst his other achievements helped to found Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and The Albion Band. Not bad eh? Now here he is at the grand young age of 65 with a band of up and coming musicians still driving forward the English folk scene. Pick of the set (and well worth digging out) was ‘Stanley’s Wake’, a simple but emotive tale of the sale of one man’s farm as cheap imports and supermarket cartels destroy what was one of this country’s greatest treasures. Oh...the acapella track they did, ‘The River’was pretty stunning too. Four voices in perfect harmony, Ashley’s rich time worn vocal acting as a moving counterpoint to the other band members’ fresher tones.
I’m sure the last time I saw The Unthanks they did a lot more clog dancing. That’s what I loved about them. You don’t often see much clog dancing these days. Tonight there was only a little bit. More clog dancing, that’s what I say. They did give us a few stompalong classics though, notably ‘When The Tide Comes In’, which gave me my clog fix for another year. Ahhhhh...that’s better.
Right. After securing one of the festival’s legendary £1 pints (they sell off any remaining real ale just before the end for a mere £1 a pint...dangerous) and squeezing near the front it was time for headliners The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. In a ‘doing exactly what it says on the tin’ fashion they’re a band of Uke players who cover all manner of classic pop tracks...tongues firmly in cheeks. Like Ade Edmondson’s Bad Shepherds last year it sounds like a dreadful idea that would get on your tits after a couple of numbers but, and maybe the cider / real ale helped, it was just bloody great fun. Take a look at some of the covers they Uked up, ‘Psycho Killer’, ‘Life On Mars’, ‘Pinball Wizard’, ‘The Theme from Shaft’, ‘Anarchy in the UK’...Teenage Dirtbag (which enjoyed the biggest singalong of the festival for some reason), all delivered with a kind of deadpan reverence. Amazingly they’re celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. Fittingly, on a day that started off with a real original, it ended with a group that’s equally Uke-nique. Oh come on... I had to get a Uke pun in there somewhere.
So there we go. That’s Mo Fo (as a lot of people insist on calling it these days) done for another year and it remains as much as much fun as you can have in park with your clothes on. A hearty pat on the back and well deserved pint of real ale for all concerned.