Would Morrissey pop along for a quick guest appearance during Johnny Marr’s set (ahem...)? Would Richard Thompson ride onto the stage on a Vincent Black Lightening 1952? And would The Waterboys show us the whole of their moon...yes...it’s Moseley Folk Festival time again!
As is traditional the afternoon of Day One eased early arrivers into things rather nicely with the string tinged waltz folk of Birmingham Conservatoire’s Steady Hands. As isn’t traditional though it was raining. It never rains at Moseley Folk. Well, almost never. It was pretty pathetic rain mind you, not even enough to dislodge the rug dwelling Guardian readers who between them seemed to consume pretty much the entire output of the nearest Waitrose over the weekend.
Martha Tilston and The Scientists provided one of the festival’s anthems courtesy of the delightful Artificial, a wry look back on her years of working in an office. I’ve been there...who knows I may go back there again one day...but it really can be a soul crushing experience. Okay, so it’s not as bad as working down a pit (or one of those more traditional subjects for a folky lament) for 18 hours a day but it’s great to hear a folk take on something current. Martha-lous!
Sporting a rather fetching poncho Oklahoma’s Samantha Crain’s a pocket sized powerhouse, blasting out everything from a protest song about Scientologists in New York to an imaginary sequel to the Convoy soundtrack courtesy of the laid back country and western flavoured Somewhere All The Time. By the time she played the U2 meets Brian Auger Trinity For The Miner even the sun had peaked out to take a listen.
Up at the Tennis Court ‘stage’ (actually one end of the bar...perhaps not the best location for some of the quieter acts of the weekend) Tom (or Top as he’ll forever be known in my mind) Peel had left all of his weird and wonderful vintage musical kit at home for a change and was laid bare (not literally ladies...) before us, all acoustic like. If anything though it gave the gentler songs more chance to breathe, especially a ruddy lovely I Love It In The Town Hall When You Give Me A Squeeze. And who else brings along home grown plums for his audience eh?
Gentle perhaps isn’t the first word you’d use to describe Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore but this afternoon, hunched over a microphone with an acoustic guitar, he seemed pretty at home at a folk festival. Opening with Blood Never Lies (from 2011’s Demolished Thoughts) and instant classic (think Led Zeppelin meets Lou Reed) The Best Day (the title track from his forthcoming album) he pretty much won coolest dude of the weekend award hands down too. A wonderful strum through Fri/End cemented the deal. He may be more Sonic Middle-age these days but the stripped back folk grunge feel of his set well and truly proved that, well, less is Moore.
It may have taken Jimi Goodwin’s keyboard player almost 12 hours to get here but it was worth it. The ex-Doves (and ex-Sub Sub member for those with long memories) singer is currently enjoying a bit of a moment thanks to recent single Oh!Whiskey, a painfully honest account of his struggles with the demon drink. Vocally and musically he shares something with Elbow’s Guy Garvey (someone he’s collaborated with in the past) but for my money there’s something rawer and more real about Goodwin and Ghost of the Empties (spot a theme here folks) makes for a devastating listen.
As well as revisiting past misdemeanours he revisited past glories too with a suitably downbeat transmission of Doves’ The Last Broadcast. Things ended on a bit of a high though with a rather unexpected Stone Roses-ish Love Spreads style jam during Lonely At The Drop.
Midnight Beard-fires...sorry Bonfires...seem to really be hitting their stride right now. At times coming across like a glorious love in between Wild Beasts, Alt-J and Vampire Weekend and in a better world recent single Exhale would’ve been massive. Come on now people, wake up.
Ask most 40 somethings to name their favourite three indie bands and the chances are The Smiths will be in there somewhere. Whilst Mozza might be reluctant to revisit arguably one of the strongest back catalogues in British pop Day One’s headliner, Johnny Marr clearly has no such reservations and his set was liberally sprinkled with Manc magic. That’s not to say that Marr himself is any slouch when it comes to solo stuff though. In fact both opening number, the new wavey Upstarts and the dance punk of current single Easy Money sounded particularly good tonight. I’m guessing a lot of the audience were here for The Smiths hits though and they weren’t disappointed. Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before (introduced as a “folk song from up the M6”), Bigmouth Strikes Again, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (which gets one of the biggest singalongs of the weekend) and Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want were all duly served up with Marr doing a pretty good job on vocals. It’s not Morrissey of course but there’s more than a hint of that dour delivery in there without coming across as a parody...not an easy trick by any means. Nice to hear Getting Away With It (Marr’s hit with Electronic) again as well. As if one guitar hero wasn’t enough Marr wheeled out The Cult’s Billy Duffy (who looked remarkably well preserved) at the end too for a spunky I Fought The Law and a sublime How Soon Is Now.
Best. Moseley. Folk. Encore. Evah.
Bookending Day Two were a pair of Thompsons, Kami in the morning and dad Richard in the evening. More on Thompson Snr later but first up Kami and her band The Rails who shook out any lingering hangovers with some rather fine Americana, pick of the bunch being the reflective anti-love sing Fair Warning (title track of their new album). If that left you with the blues then there’s no safer pair of hands than Chicken Bone John who not only plays a mean Cigar Box guitar but he makes ‘em as well.
In an all too short set (I could watch/listen to this man for days) he hollered his way through half a dozen classic blues tunes by the likes of Lightnin’ Hopkins and Muddy Waters plus a darn good self penned number (well almost self penned, I think Pink Floyd may have had a hand in there somewhere) called Ready For My Starry Crown.
Former Low Anthem member Jocie Adams returned to Mo Folk with her new band Arc Iris. Vocally at times she’s a bewitching mix of Bush (Kate) and Amos (Tori) whilst musically she embraces everything from prog to folk to classical, sometimes in just one song.
And anyone brave enough to rock a gold lame catsuit onstage has to be worth listening to.
Great to hear and see Boat To Row back at Moseley Folk and alongside old favourites like the divine A Boat To Row, To Row To You and this year’s lush new single Tightrope they played an as yet unrecorded song called Whistle And I’ll Come To You. With its surprisingly groovy bass line it may well be the best thing they’ve done to date.
Winner of the ‘I Didn’t Know He Wrote That’ award for the weekend Boo Hewerdine should by rights be headlining a festival like this. Regularly hailed as one of the best songwriters around he landed an Ivor Novello nomination for Patience Of Angels (written for his old band The Bible but memorably recorded by Eddi Reader) and penned Kris Drever’s Harvest Gypsies...which I had previously thought was some great old classic folk song. Older readers may also recall The Bible’s almost breakthrough hit Honey Be Good (which reached the dizzy heights of number 54 in 1989), as perfect a slice of thoughtful pop as you’re ever likely to hear.
Next up Woods and their remarkably voiced singer Jeremy Earl. Not since Canned Heat’s Alan Wilson has a man hit such heights without trapping his knackers in a door. It really is a thing of beauty though, adding something magical to their more chilled out stuff. It’s their acid psych blowouts that really hit the spot though, impossible to listen to without feeling just that little bit stoned maaaaaaaan.
After a few magical minutes spent staring into Pete Ashton and Jenny Duffin’s equally mind bending portable camera obscura it was time for band of the day (and possibly the entire festival) Stealing Sheep. No question. Tribal drumming, deliciously haunting three part female vocal harmonies, oddball 60s pop, analogue synths...you’d be baa-rmy to resist.
Listen to Shut Eye, Rearrange and Genevieve and do your ears a favour.
Someone wrote on one of Ólöf Arnalds You Tube vids that it’s “like listening to elves sing” and that’s a pretty good description...in fact I scribbled down exactly the same thing during her charmingly bonkers set. Hailing from Iceland she giggled and bubbled her way through songs as fragile as a snowflake, melting hearts along the way.
The Felice Brothers went down a storm with their particular blend of Appalachian tinged folk and country rock.
One of those bands blessed with more than one fine lead vocalist their set was a fan pleasing mix of the old and new with a storming Whiskey In My Whiskey belted out by James Felice and the distinctly Dylan-ish (and I mean Dylan at his very best here) Cherry Licorice off brand new album Favourite Waitress drawled brilliantly by brother Ian. Is this the best thing they’ve ever done? Yes. Yes it is. An instant classic.
I’m loving Dan Whitehouse’s hook up with Harriet Harkcom. Adding a fresh feel to old favourites it’s a perfect combination and with a full band in tow songs like The Fire Of Lust and My Heart Doesn’t Age never sounded so good.
That just left Richard Thompson to round things off. Okay, I know he probably sprang from the womb singing and playing guitar but even so for an hour and a half he made it all look so bloody effortless. The voice is richer than ever, the intricate guitar playing still dazzling and the between song banter wonderfully endearing. Highlights? The whole damn thing but Vincent Black Lightning 1952 deservedly got a huge whoop, Valerie was suitably fast and furious and Who Knows Where The Time Goes? (dedicated to its writer Sandy Denny) was heartbreakingly moving.
Being an old pro he saved the best for the encore though with a version of Beeswing every bit as delicate and beautiful as the song’s subject.
Okay, hands up. Who scheduled Miles Hunt and Erica Nockalls for 12.40? Maybe being a bit of a Stuffies fan I’m biased but they deserved a later slot. Still, an impressive number of Moseley Folkers made it down on time and they were well rewarded with set wonderstuffed full of old and new classics.
By his own admission Hunt was apparently a bit of an arse back in the day but now he’s a rather self deprecating soul with a story for every song and a song for every story. Highlights included a lovely number about an old fella they encountered in their locals, Right Side Of The Turf and a co-write with Erica, Plans In The Sky, a kind of Shropshire based Fairytale of New York. Speaking of which they played Welcome To The Cheap Seats too, one of the Stuffies biggest hits originally featuring the late, great Kirsty MacColl along with Circlesquare, Golden Green and Here Comes Everyone, all of which worked surprisingly well in their more stripped back incarnation.
Cannon Street were a lovely last minute addition to the bill and despite not having their own guitars AND suffering from laryngitis they put on a typically lovely set replete with their haunting cover of Anthony and the Johnsons’ Hope There’s Someone, pretty much always guaranteed to bring a tear to the old eye.
There can’t be many people who’d make a song out of the shipping forecast but Lisa Knapp has and Shipping Song’s a strangely beautiful thing, benefitting hugely from her vocal gymnastics, the kind of voice that could make Bjork sound like a bit of a pub singer.
Harp wielding (can you wield a harp...I guess so) Georgia Ruth kept things folky with a tale “about a dog that dies by the third verse”, Old Blue. Admittedly it doesn’t sound like much fun but with that lilting Welsh accent of hers it was pretty paw-fect.
Old Dance School were already a formidable 7 piece now they’ve added another fiddle player, the musical equivalent of fitting a turbo charger to a jet engine. Possibly. I have no idea about such things. What I do know is that their Celtic flavoured folk makes you want to run naked through the heather necking whiskey. Hell yes. Their version of John Bull was some-string else and their closing set of reels was...well...reely good. That’s it, I’m out of puns now.
Back up at the tennis courts Beorma Border Morris were working the Kings Heath Monkey man (and a number of other innocent bystanders) into a sweaty mess before Katherine Priddy pulled in one of the stage’s biggest crowds. It’s not hard to see and hear why. There’s an all too rare purity to Priddy that’s perhaps too good for this evil old world and this set’s collection of self penned songs, along with a hauntingly fragile cover of Jackson C Franks Blues Run The Game, left the audience visibly enraptured.
Anthem to lost love You was particularly moving whilst The Devil’s Got Me Bent Over His Knee, a song about “satanic spanking” saw Priddy heading off in a bit of a Country and Western direction. Yeehaw! Whatever the genre expect great things from her, trust me on this one...either that or she’ll disappear into the Highlands one day like the great Vashti Bunyan who, conveniently enough, she’s supporting at the Mac on October 7th.
Resisting the temptation of Lau who we could hear limbering up in the background we caught up once more with the truly extraordinary Sam Walter whose vocal shifts dramatically from angel voiced schoolboy to salty sea dog, often in the same word. At times he sounds like he’s just jumped ship from HMS Victory and some of the songs clearly date from or are influence by this period in history. As if this wasn’t enough he now sings some songs in Swahili too. Yes...I know. Okay so he can’t speak the language and I’m guessing no one in the audience could either but it’s a truly unique mash up of cultures and singing styles. It’s the soul searching What An Age To Be A Young Man that stole the show though, a more devastating deconstruction of modern society you’re unlikely to hear.
We did manage to catch the end of Lau who were busy whipping the crowd up into a folking frenzy, a shame to miss the bulk of their set but the odd clash is inevitable at pretty much any festival. Zervas and Pepper’s blend of Americana and folk made up for it though with Cigar Store Indian conjuring up dusty and forgotten small towns (shades of classic era Fleetwood Mac in there) and a spirited cover of CSNY’s Ohio warming up the crowd nicely for festival closers The Waterboys. Back in the 80s I’m guessing The Waterboys got quite a few younger listeners interested in folk thanks to Fisherman’s Blues and the even bigger hit Whole Of The Moon (admittedly folk with a glossy 80s pop music makeover) so it was entirely appropriate that they were headlining. Both tracks got an early outing in the set with the latter unsurprisingly generating a rousing call and response singalong. If that’s all you knew The Waterboys for though some of the other stuff might have been a little more surprising.
The bluesy Still A Freak rocked along furiously with some great guitar and fiddle solos and All The Things She Gave Me peaked with a mind melting Hammond orgy that saw lead singer Mike Scott jigging away to himself in the corner of the stage before a stripped back Raggle Taggle Gypsy bought things back to planet folk. Other stuff was distinctly proggy whilst the extended jam on The Pan Within wouldn’t have been out of place on a hard rock album. A suitably eclectic and energetic climax to yet another fine Moseley Folk Festival.
Huge congratulations once again to all involved. You folking rock...you really do.