Oh lordy, the OAPs are right you know. The older you get the faster the years fly by. It seems like only yesterday that we were singing along lustily to All Around My Hat (the degree of lustiness being in direct proportion to the quantity of cider consumed) and yet here we are again at another MoFo. I’m not complaining, it’s the bit between festivals that gets my goat...real life I think it’s called. Jolly silly idea.
Every year I say the same thing but I’m a creature of habit so what the hell, let’s say it again...I love the Friday afternoons at MoFo. Arriving early, grabbing that first pint of cider...knowing that most poor souls are still at work, chilling out with the opening acts, watching the place gradually fill up as the sun starts to set...glorious. There are always some cracking acts on offer too and this year was no exception. Abie’s Miracle Tonic’s mix of ragtime, swing, spirituals and anything else that takes their fancy was a joy from start to finish. If only all bands had a kazoo fuelled theme tune.
With a six piece brass section Forestears added some neat tropical / jazzy flavours to their Wild Beasts meets Villagers fusion before Seth Lakeman favourites Philip Henry and Hannah Martin cleverly combined a song about a nail makers strike in Bromsgrove in 1862 with some reggae grooves and lyrics from a track by The Israelites. Some folk purists might run screaming to the hills clutching their Aran jumpers but it’s this kind of cross pollination that will keep folk...and any other musical genre for that matter...alive and well. It worked rather brilliantly too. Stirring stuff.
Pogonophobics (that’s people who are scared of beards...bound to be worth a point in a pub quiz one day) might want to avoid The Travelling Band but they’d be missing out. Playing the kind of anthemic grab yer mates in a sweaty headlock kind of tracks that prove they know their arse from their Elbow (just listen to recent single Hands Up for instance) they’ve also got the sweeter southern tinged country angle covered with one of the set highlights, a dreamily sun drenched (yes, yet another sunny Moseley Folk Festival...I always said Mother Nature was a folkie) run through Battlescars.
Up at the small but well appointed (it’s right next to the bar) Tennis Court Stage Tom Peel continued to do what he does best, culminating in arguably one of his best tracks to date When I Die during which – in a typically Peel-ian moment – the reel to reel tape player strapped to his chest did just that, sending a spool of tape drooling across the floor. Music needs this man more than ever before (check out his awesome subscription club...he’s promising one of his kidneys for all members...er...actually I think he may have dropped that offer now...).
How a band can make getting drunk sound so dreamily romantic is a mystery to me but The Leisure Society did just that on We Were Wasted. There’s so much more to them than bruised romanticism though, Fight For Everyone’s the kind of clever pop that Cowell and his evil crew of bland production monkey’s seem determined to kill off. Balls to ‘em. With the last number of the set, A Matter of Time, effortlessly fusing the spirits of Buddy Holly and George Harrison to produce something that could lift the weariest of souls...and the chilled out early evening crowd, there’s hope for us all.
In the beginning was the word ...and the word was Goodnight Lenin...actually that’s two words isn’t it? Oh well, never mind...the point is that Goodnight Lenin’s album seems to have been in the pipeline since before the Book Of Genesis. This matters because more people need to hear this band and, short of sending the boys round the house of every single man, woman and child in the country, an album’s a pretty good way of doing it. As with recent Lenin gigs the mellower tracks, whilst still in evidence, are gradually being joined by ‘beefier’ numbers and the band are allowing themselves to rock out more, as in new song Mirror in the Morning (which makes me think of Nights In White Satin on speed). As with their idol, Neil Young, this combination works surprisingly well.
Lead singer, John Fell, is a lyricist beyond his years too with songs embracing love, loss and loneliness. It’s a mark of the band’s collective ability that they manage to do all this and still get people singing along with set closer Old Cold Hands’ distinctly existential chorus (“It’s hard to realise that there is relentlessly nothing”) getting a particularly impressive response. I’ve loved ‘em since day one and I’ll love ‘em after they’ve split up, reformed, split up and the landed their own sitcom on Sky. Maybe by then that debut album will be out eh?
By the time Ocean Colour Scene came onstage the place was packed. It’s unsurprising really, this is their spiritual home and tonight they’re playing their definitive album, Moseley Shoals, in its entirety. If you’re in your 30s or 40s there’s a fair chance that The Riverboat Song will send you hurtling back to Friday nights in the 90s when the track was used on TFI Friday which, at the time, was pretty much essential viewing (either before going out or after you stumbled home with a kebab and traffic cone). Somehow I managed to avoid seeing the band live back in the day so this, some 16 or so years after they hit the big time (Moseley Shoals shifted an impressive 600,000 copies in 1996) was my first time. THAT riff at the start of The Riverboat Song still sounds massive, proudly retro at the time (a throwback to the 60s mod era) it now oddly comes across a little fresher, set as it is in a world where this kind of guitar music’s perhaps still currently a little out of favour.
Following the album’s track by track progression brings The Day We Caught The Train up next. A little bit Beatles, a little bit Faces it’s enough to get the forty something’s misty eyed. “We’re playing the whole Moseley Shoals album” remarked lead singer Simon Fowler “so the best two songs have already been played!” He was joking of course. The whole Britpop tag may still have a stigma attached to it (that’ll pass, perhaps it already has) but it really was a golden age for British music and Moseley Shoals is right up there as a classic, not just of that era but a classic full stop and the crowd (possibly the biggest audience ever seen at Moseley Folk) lapped up every note. After the album run through there was still time for a few more with the acoustic Robin Hood swiftly followed by the band’s joint biggest hit, Hundred Mile High City. Touchingly the set finished with a tribute to the recently departed Jon Brookes (The Charlatans drummer) and folk legend Ian Campbell, courtesy of a moving version of Fairport’s Meet On The Ledge. I started the set with a healthy level of scepticism (a bit too ‘lad rock’ for me) but left as a fan. Colour me impressed.
Kicking off (for me at least...blame West Midlands Transport for that one...is the number one bus service some kind of surrealist prank?) with Jack Harrison and Adrian Simpson, what Radiohead might sound like if they decided to go folk, Day Two was another delightfully eclectic mix. Ottersgear’s fiddle driven folk impressed with lead singer Mikey Kenney’s fragile soaring vocals possibly one of the strongest on offer all weekend.
All the way from Montreal (good job they didn’t travel by West Midlands Transport then) The Barr Brothers dropped in a couple of rather awesome heavy blues numbers in amongst their quieter American folk stuff, the pick of the bunch being a storming version of the Blind Willie Johnson number Lord I Just Can’t Keep From Cryin’. The drummer gets bonus points for playing an old bicycle wheel too.
Cannon Street continue to grow in confidence, working their way up the bill from the Tennis Court Stage last year to The Lunar Stage this time around. At this rate they’ll be headlining by 2014. With some truly stunning sibling harmonies (they’re sisters) and tracks that straddle the line between childlike innocence and wonder and the more adult world that they’re both entering their set’s a delight. St Mary’s View’s still my own personal favourite – You Tube it and check out that chorus – beautiful. Somehow they even pulled off a cover of Anthony’s Hope There’s Someone, not an easy track to cover at all and whilst it lacked the original’s haunting sense of isolation (could anyone emulate that?) it’s the kind of ambitious and leftfield choice that makes this pairing one to watch.
“This is genuinely the sweetest festival I’ve ever played”. Jack Savoretti may have been swayed by the adoring female fans that gathered at his feet (to be fair you would, you know what I mean...well I would anyway...how about it Jacky boy?) but he makes a good point.
That mix of good looks and gravelly just got out of bed voice (hints of John Martyn on stuff like Crazy Fool perhaps...that’s praise indeed) is a powerful combination and when he swings it a bit on the more upbeat numbers...step forward Knock Knock...there’s so much more to him than just eye candy for the ladies. Crazy Superstition, a track apparently lambasted by one German gentleman recently as being a crap 60s song actually came across as one of his best. But then again the German’s see The Hoff as a musical god so what can we expect eh?
Global Folk’s tabla, violin and kora mash up wins the most intriguing sound of the festival award and it’s fitting that MoFo’s definition of ‘folk’ stretches way beyond this green and pleasant land. When the result sounds this good I’d personally like to see and hear more of it on future bills.
How sweet are The Staves? Another line up of sisters (three this time) they’re straight outta Watford but, on the divine sounding Mexico, you could be forgiven for thinking they came from heaven itself. Just to prove it wasn’t a fluke they played Facing West too, the song equivalent of a being wrapped up in cotton wool...by doves. Like Jack (you still would, wouldn’t you?) they were also impressed with the festival, here’s Camilla’s quote for next year’s ad “Thoroughly nice...some bird from Watford”. Bless.
After (or Efter perhaps?) the lullaby folk of Alessi’s Ark’s Constellations caressed the crowd Efterklang’s lead singer channelled his inner 30s lounge lizard (white suit, slicked back hair, cigarette dangling from his lips, evoking comparisons with everyone from Roxy Music and The Associates through to the mournful world weariness of Tindersticks. On the emotional epic of Frida Found a Friend he ended up battering the stage with drumsticks (I think they’d set up mics specially to pick up the noise) adding an intense audio visual element on top of an already visceral experience. It was just one moment in a set that dripped with them, at times hauntingly moving at others as ass shakingly addictive as the best in artful 80s pop. Truly great Danes.
Top that? British Sea Power pulled out all the stops, decorating the stage with more branches than Greggs (seriously, you half expected David Attenborough to emerge from the undergrowth in the arms of a gorilla) and jamming the set with all their hits to date. Dressed like the escape committee of a POW camp recent single Machineries of Joy got the fans at the front bouncing along and they remained impressively energetic...especially when a giant flag waving polar bear emerged for the chiming guitar led singalong of...well, have a guess...Waving Flags.
The fact that their newer songs came across as the strongest in the set, Loving Animals was particularly good, bodes well for a band already into their second decade. Whatever you make of the music any band that sends a giant polar bear and equally huge black bear into the crowd for a spot of moshing at the end of their set get my vote.
If British Sea Power entertained Wolf People astonished with one of the most dazzling displays of musicianship of the whole weekend...or ever in fact. Playing heavy psych folk with riffs so dirty they’re in danger of being investigated by Operation Yewtree this band sound like the bastard child of Sabbath and Cream at a pagan sacrifice. Opening number All Returns is one of the singles of the year and the rest of the set wasn’t too shabby either. I took no notes during the set...I was too busy trying to scrape my jaw off the floor.
After suffering not one but TWO cerebral haemorrhages in 2005 there seemed to be little chance that Edwyn Collins would survive, let alone walk and talk again. The fact that he’s not only doing just that but also playing gigs and releasing new music again is frankly a miracle. Coming onstage a little unsteadily with a stick he settled down on an amp and, hesitating just a little over his introduction, launched into a greatest hits set with Falling and Laughing from 1980, “Imagine that kids” he observed with a chuckle. He did a lot of chuckling this evening, who can blame him eh?
Listening to some of the earlier songs it’s tempting now to read new meaning into all the lyrics, has his wife Grace not been A Girl Like You (her loving support’s clearly been hugely important)? Make Me Feel Again’s Harrison-esque lyrics and feel (“just need your bedside manner to make me well again) is strangely prophetic and has he not had to Rip It And Start Again...his whole life that is? Whether you buy into that or not there was a huge amount of love in the crowd this evening and Edwyn and the band (kudos to the amazing guitarist by the way...up there with the Wolf People dudes) and he repaid it with a joyfully life affirming set that said more about the healing power of music than anything I’ve ever witnessed.
The third day’s always the folkiest of the three and this year was no exception with The Cadbury Sisters (yep, another great sister act) bringing some more sweet but sorrowful sibling harmonies on Where’s Annie Now? and something a little darker on the haunting Animals (from a Wispa to a scream as it were...).
Tir na nOg deserved a later slot. Formed in Ireland in 1969 they’re a fine folk band with prog rock leanings, a range best demonstrated by the Cat Stevens-ish opening number Daisy Lady and their fine cover of The Stones’ Play With Fire. I was dragged away by the prospect of an unscheduled appearance from Sam Walter, a young chap who works at the festival emptying the bins but who also has one of the most extraordinarily expressive voices I’ve ever heard.
Musically he delves back into obscure folk songs of the (I’m guessing here) 18th and 19th centuries, performing them with the kind of vim and vigour than makes Brian Blessed seem like a church mouse. One second he’s singing as sweetly as an angel the next as lusty as a drunken lord. It’s a truly awesome sight and sound and the fact that just a handful of us were there to see it is a real shame. Hunt him out and you’ll never listen to folk music in the same way again.
David Campbell was on hand to continue the proud folk traditions his dad Ian, bringing one of the song’s made famous by his father, D Day Dodgers (written by Lance Sergeant Harry Pynn according to Wikipedia), to life. He paved the way for a new generation of folk star, Kathryn Priddy, to bewitch the crowd with her ethereal (it’s a bit of a cliché but there really isn’t a better word to sum her up) vocals and lit rich lyrics. She’s not the first female singer to take inspiration from Wuthering Heights (step forward Kate Bush) and opening number My Love crackles with that novel’s doomed romanticism. The covers were good (Nick Drake’s Cello Song...not an easy one to play...and the trad classic She Moves Through The Fair) but I think she’s just written her first big hit in Darling. Trust me, you heard it here first. Put a fiver on it. A new folk star in the making.
After a flying visit to catch Dan Whitehouse’s fine brand of observational (Three Bodies) and uplifting songwriting (Somebody Loves You) it was a quick dash back down for folk’s answer to Ab Fab’s Bubble, Kate Rusby.
That’s a compliment by the way, Kate’s between song banter was a delight and her scatty self effacing humour belies one of the greatest female folk voices around right now. With a set including classics The Good Man, The Elfin Knight, Awkward Annie and Planets, all tracks familiar to Rusby’s fans (who were out in force this afternoon) the whole thing was a treat from start to finish. Loved the bit where the band fused traditional folk tunes with the theme tunes from the A Team and the Muppets by the way. Ha!
The Klatsh Klezmer band soundtracked the by now traditional straw wars (basically several bales are straw are deposited in the crowd who tear them to pieces and chuck it all in the air) leaving The Be Good Tanyas to pick up the pieces. Sadly one of their members (Samantha Parton) has a brain tumour but Caroline Bullhorn did a fine job as her stand in, lending her voice to the band’s laid back brand of country and bluegrass. It wasn’t all chilled out though, new(ish) song September Fields had a vaguely disco beat behind it (well, as disco at The Be Good Tanyas get) whilst Rain and Snow (from debut album Blue Horse) seemed to embrace its inner reggae (it’s there, have a listen) roots more than ever before. An uplifting wander through Here Comes The Sun, dedicated to the recently departed Richie Havens, saw the great orange ball in the sky continue to oblige.
Missed most of Gordie MacKeeman’s set as they were scheduled to appear earlier in the day and I’d wandered off in search of cider which was a shame. The bit I did see was hoedown inspired madness of the finest order with Gordie seemingly mounting everything (steady now) on stage before leaping off in a fiddle playing blur.
The average age of the audience at the front of the crowd suddenly dropped by around 20 years with the appearance of Lucy Rose. In just a couple of years Rose has released some impressive tunes, adding a little funky groove and a touch of math rock (that certainly came across this evening anyway) to the more traditional folk vibe. Shiver was so chilled they could’ve served it in the mojitos in the cocktail bar whilst Lines’ chorus pierces through the verses like a needle through the heart.
Although she admitted to nerves before the show, unsure how a ‘folk’ crowd would take her, it was strong performance capped off with a spiky version of Bikes that saw the teen fans dancing in that gloriously awkward but strangely unselfconscious way that eludes anyone over the age of 20.
The Dirty Old Folkers (the name says it all) continued their mission to corrupt the nation’s youth, and everyone else for that matter, with songs about wanking (Spank the Monkey) and rimming Hobbits (Lord of the ‘Rings’). The mash up of I Will Survive, Daytrip to Bangor and War Pigs (seriously) on the latter track has to be heard to be believed. Add a dancing panda and death (replete with his scythe) and you’ve got a show that out gaga’s Ms Germanotta. Brilliantly bonkers.
The Dubliners were legends in the folk world and whilst all of the original band have either retired or passed away three members of its last incarnation are carrying on as The Dublin Legends.
Of course this music transcends line up changes. Many of these songs echo down the generations and over the course of 90 minutes they blazed through what amounts to an Now That’s What I Call Irish Folk Music greatest hits collection. Black Velvet Band, The Rare Auld Times, Seven Drunken Nights (“Awwww yer’ drunk yer drunk you silly owl fule”...a number of the crowd were only too pleased to oblige...there’ll be some hangovers today), Dirty Ol’ Town, Whiskey In The Jar, The Irish Rover...you couldn’t get more Irish if you pickled yourself in Guinness and stuck a Shamrock in your ear. The crowd (even the less well lubricated ones) sung along as lustily as I’ve ever heard at Moseley Folk Festival and you’d need a heart of blarney stone to fail to be moved by the mass singalong of Molly Mallone. I’m still breaking out into the odd burst of “Alive alive ohhhh...” as I write this in fact.
After 8 years MoFo somehow retains its magic. The setting, the people, the bands, the timing (that cusp between summer and autumn is somehow strangely moving) combine to deliver a truly special weekend and all concerned deserve yet another pat on the back...and some cockles and mussels...alive alive ohhh (see?) for continuing to put it on.
PS: Vin Garbutt and Richard Thompson for 2014 please...