Festivals come and festivals go but there was something that little bit magical about the very first Moseley Folk waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back in 2006 that made all those who were there then feel that this one was a bit of a keeper. Its location (the lovely Moseley Private Park), its size (a few thousand), its team (some of the ruddy loveliest people around - RIP Russell Gill), its timing (just as summer slips gently into Autumn), its line-ups (a mix of pure folk legends and...well...anything the organisers fancy putting on) all came together to make Mo Folk special. And now, here we are, celebrating its tenth instalment with a typically eclectic mix culminating with none other than The Monkees.
Friday afternoon’s highlights included an ever so slightly surreal set from The Pictish Trail (aka Johnny Lynch) who interspersed his melancholy gems (comparisons have been made to Bon Iver) with standup and sudden 30 second bursts of bangin’ house. Up at the Kitchen Garden Stage Ministry For The Interior fused fiddle, guitar and sitar (I do love a good bit of sitar) to create a wonderfully meditative vibe paving the way for The Lost Brothers who had that two voices one soul feel that only truly great vocal duos possess. Think of them as an Irish Simon and Garfunkel...but hopefully without the decades of slightly bitter backbiting.
Late addition to the bill but firm Mo Folk favourite Scott Matthews was on particularly fine form this afternoon, coming across like the love child of Jeff Buckley and Nick Drake (anything’s possible with science these days).
What are they putting in the water in Liverpool at the moment? Whatever it is it’s clearly working judging by the bands coming out of there right now.
Hot on the heels of Tiro Lark’s impressive set at Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul The Vyrll Society’s mash up of 60s psych and groovy beats, fronted by a dude who does indeed ‘move like Jagger’, was like Hawkwind jamming with The Stone Roses.
World Service suffered a little break in transmission when their keyboard player got stuck in traffic but at least it gave the band’s somewhat mercurial lead singer (in a former life he wrote and sang the original version of Duran Duran’s Girls On Film), Andy Wicket, the chance to improv some songs based on the problem. When the missing member (hmmm, that sounds like some kind of pornographic crime story) finally appeared normal World Service was soon resumed though, with Wicket running through the kind of perfect pop songs that deserve a much bigger audience.
Speaking of perfect pop songs Stockport’s Blossoms already have one under their belt courtesy of Blown Rose blending jingle jangle 80s indie with a more tripped out 60s vibe. Simply one of the best singles of 2015 and the rest of their psych pop flavoured set wasn’t too shabby either. Blooming great.
A quick dash up to the Kitchen Garden Stage gave a chance to catch lively punk folkers Balsall Heathens’ Whisky In The Giro...and no, that’s not a typo for a change. From the ridiculous (in the best possible way) to the sublime courtesy of Anna Calvi.
Who knows where that voice comes from (at times the slight Calvi herself seems almost startled by it) but it’s enough to make Dame Shirley Bassey quake in her stilettos. She has the songs too, epic sounding tracks like Suzanne and I or Desire, both of which were spinetinglingly great this evening, echoing with her spiritual heirs, the likes of Piaf, Bassey and perhaps even Bessie Smith. Calvi plays a mean guitar as well, a twangtastic vintage telecaster. Add that distinctive trademark image (blood red lipstick and hair swept back flamenco style) and you’ve got it all. A true star.
Images don’t come much more distinctive than sporting nothing but a blonde merkin and a pair of trainers but that’s how Beth Jeans Houghton decided to introduce the world to her new incarnation Du Blonde recently. Rawer and punkier than her previous sound it’s an intriguing new direction, the origins of which were perhaps hinted at via a fine cover of The Pixies Where Is My Mind. Elsewhere Black Flag married Patti Smith with Karen O and set closer, Chips To Go brought a little Sparks-ish magic to the party. There’s no doubting the Du Blonde ambition, let’s hope the world’s listening cos this stuff’s ruddy great. Beth, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
After the twin delights of Anna Calvi and Du Blonde (even reading that pairing again is exciting...) Jason Pierce’s Spiritualized had a hell of a lot to live up to but the dreamy spacepop, motorik beats and stoner gospel still found a receptive crowd, even if Pierce himself remained hidden behind sunglasses at the side of the stage.
Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space remains a gloriously twisted lullaby but it was set closer Come Together that really hit the spot. Dirty riffs, swirling organs, gospel voices, Pierce drawling the lyrics like a man who’s taken too many purple pills...now that’s the kind of climax you want from a ‘folk’ festival. Orgasmic.
Lush orchestration courtesy of Wooden Arms greeted early arrivers on Day Two of Mo Folk easing any lingering hangovers with classical music meets gentle trip hop beats before Abi Budgen, who never fails to surprise and impress in equal measure. This time highlights included a bluesy tribute to mums of the world (Momma Workin’ So Hard), the disco-tastic Skinny Jeans and Paper Trumpet Man, a tribute to Art Brut pioneer and...er...composer for paper trumpets...Adolf Wolfli...played on...yes, you’ve guessed it...paper trumpets.
Next up Sivu’s skyscraping vocals briefly cleared the clouds away courtesy of the Wild Beasts-ish Better Man Than He and Bodies, seemingly inspired by a vision of a giant flood “wiping the slate clean” a la Noah’s Ark.
Happily it stayed dry for Eliza Shaddad whose performance drew one or two comparisons with Sinead O’Connor at her potent best. Next up a song in medieval French (surely a first for Mo Folk?) and puns in Swimming in the Longest River (denial...de Nile...the Nile geddit?) from multi-instrumentalist Olivia Chaney, a singer with the kind of deliciously clear, crisp voice that could freshen up a sewage works in summer.
All the way from Portland, Oregon Houndstooth brought a little 60s garage twang to proceedings with low key break up anthem Borderlands’ “burned out love” refrain managing to be both sing-along-catchy and more than a little mournful at the same time.
Back in the 60s it may have led to cries of “JUDAS!” but thankfully we live in more enlightened times so Jim Moray’s new folk rock outfit, False Lights, with Sam Carter received the enthusiastic welcome it deserved.
Opening number Skewball was particularly raucous, fiddle, accordion, guitars, drums...more guitars...as wiser souls have pointed out it’s the sound of Fairport Convention meets Radiohead. Wife Of Ushers Well with its simple but nagging vocal sample reinforced the comparison with Carter going full on Yorke at one point. An intriguing new proposition, hip hip Moray!
Nothing beats a shared womb if you want to sing in perfect harmony and trio The Cadbury Sisters’ sound is every bit as sweet as their name suggests. Recent single, the dreamy Drifting, was impressive but the real highlight was their slowed down version of Make Me Smile. Grieve Harley anyone?
At their best laurel Canyon’s Dawes truly soared with The Eagles this afternoon with an impressive number of people in the crowd belting out the words to pretty much every song.
Kudos to guitarist Duane Betts for some seemingly effortless but truly beautiful solos too, notably on the epic Somewhere Along The Way.
Stick In The Wheel dragged folk kicking and screaming into the 21st century with a song about the London Riots (sample lyric “got a TV but it was too heavy”). Folk has always been a music of protest and...whisper it...revolution...and it’s great to hear that this ethos is still alive and well, replacing tales of blacksmiths and miners with stuff about lorry drivers. And why the hell not eh?
Gaz Coombes is on something of a roll right now having cast off his slightly cheeky chappy Supergrass image and won over a completely new audience with the genuinely classic album Matador (seriously essential in any record collection).
Tonight’s set showcased the album’s best bits with a brooding Buffalo and haunting 20/20 (distinct echoes of Radiohead again) as obvious highlights. The sideburns and knack for penning a decent hook may still be the same but Coombes’ songwriting is a million years away from his earlier stuff and that’s more than more than Alright by me.
Bearing the hallmarks of previous producer Bill Ryder-Jones and current one Richard Hawley The Merrylees married a dizzying variety of influences, country, psych, goth, Merseybeat and pop...and that’s just for starters. No idea what it was called but the last song that mentioned vampires sounded like The Damned jamming with MC5.
Until recently Idlewild seemed, unfairly, to be destined to languish in the history books as a bit of footnote to the 90s indie scene. Comebacks are always difficult things and hopes can’t have been high when copies of the band’s new stuff drifted into radio studios last year. Seemingly Roddy Woomble’s sojourn in the folk world has worked wonders though as the new songs fizz with the same emotional honesty and raw power as the hits. Tonight’s Opening track Frozen In Time was stadium worthy with the kind of sing till your lungs burst chorus that most bands would sell their grans for. What followed was a timely reminder that Idlewild actually produced some of the best tunes of the 90s with each hit great or small greeted with a Pavlovian smile of recognition by the 40-somethings. Did they always sound this BIG?
You Held The World In Your Arms Tonight, Little Discourage, Roseability, Captain...each and every track was dispatched with an energy that made the years peel away. Even the more low key and reflective Come On Ghost (the best song never written by REM) seemed epic. “Wow a moshpit at a folk festival” observed Roddy towards the end of the set “and no security, just faeries and elves...and us”. As the crowd moshed themselves into happy oblivion during the ultimate quiet / loud / quiet anthem The Remote Part I reckon even the faeries were getting stuck in. Idlewild, you well and truly held the world (well the Moseley bit of it at least) in your arms tonight.
Boat To Row’s Michael King made all the effort of dragging my knackered old carcass down to the Festival for the savagely early hour of 11am worthwhile. Sweet ‘n’ soothing vocals plus some impressive nimble fingered guitar picking (shades of the great Michael Chapman...and that’s high praise) even drew out the sun which remained a welcome guest for the rest of the day. There, you want good weather stick on Michael King.
It’s been some time since I was punched in the guts but that’s pretty much what Aaron Fyfe did, albeit metaphorically. Putting the ‘f’ into folk this blend of Billy’s Bragg, Connolly and Hicks blew the socks off anyone there to listen.
Voice frequently cracking with a blend of righteous anger and emotion he capped off one of the sets of the weekend with Rocking Chair, a hymn to seizing the day that we could all do with heeding. “This may not be the best life but it’s the best life you’re ever going to have”. A-fucking-men to that brother.
Peacock Angell jazzed things up a little with songs about murdering sparrows and life as a hobo courtesy of musical maestro Sid Peacock and the Ashley Hutchings’ approved Ruth Angell before David Campbell delivered another blow to the guts in a set that should’ve been heard by thousands. Son of the late, great Ian who made his last ever appearance at Moseley Folk David and his uke (joined later by his own son on mournful trumpet duties) played a selection of songs (including D Day Dodgers made famous by the Ian Campbell Folk Group) with a quiet intensity that was simply stunning. Campbell seems not of this time somehow, an echo of the past but one that’s every bit as relevant, perhaps even more so than ever.
Brother Can You Spare A Dime may have been written in the depression but with food banks seemingly becoming an accepted part of modern life for many Campbell’s rendition today seemed particularly timely. An important voice in every sense of the word.
Stephen Steinbrink and Twelfth Day both helped lull the swelling crowd into a gentle late summer reverie with the latter’s harpist Esther Swift producing some particularly magical moments leading to another one, the appearance of genuine 100% folk legends Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick who this afternoon were determined to party like it was the ‘60s all over again...the 1660s that is. Swarbrick may have had his obituary published in 1999 but he seemed in fine form this afternoon, riotously asking for Carthy’s guitar to be turned up “a thousand fuckin’ times” and regaling us with tales of his missing teeth.
Between them they’ve clocked up around 120 years service to folk which is enough to draw the crowds wanting to watch a little history but Carthy’s still living in the now as proved by this afternoon’s reworking (first heard in The Imagined Village project) of My Son John, updating the lyrics from the Napoleonic war to the more recent Afghan conflicts.
The Unthanks have clearly also been doing a little reworking of their own, boosting their traditional folk sound with a much richer, more orchestral feel. They’ve not lost sight of their roots though, cleverly using the sound of their Northumbrian clog dancing to add a little extra percussion to several tracks. Pick of the set Mount The Air was an epic (ten minute plus) slow build piece of cinematic chamber folk whilst Life’s A Flutter came across as the kind of icy trip hoppy beauty that Portishead would be proud to call one of their own. The King Of Rome hit Beatles-ish highs before Magpie stripped things back to basics again. Magical stuff.
After the now traditional Cut A Shine soundtracked hayfight The Polyphonic Spree continued their mission to lift the souls of every man, woman and child on earth with a set that could almost be described as a religious experience. Playing the whole of their debut album The Beginning Stages of...the whole set was a joy from start to finish. Imagine if The Beatles and ELO had got it on in California, started a cult and prescribed free weed for everyone. It was like that. Only better. If life’s every getting you down a bit stick on a Polyphonic Spree track and you’ll feel at least 78% better. Guaranteed.
Joined by 13 or so disciples (imagine the cost of keeping this show on the road) lead Spreester Tim De Laughter was a man seemingly possessed with the pure joy of life, raising his arms heavenwards and frequently leaping onto the monitors at the front of the stage like he was about to take off. Given just how uplifting it all was you frankly wouldn’t be surprised if one day he did just that.
As warm up slots go opening for The Monkees ain’t a bad one to have on your CV. Goodnight Lenin (now with added Free School) made the most of it, unveiling their rockier more blue collar Americana sound to its biggest audience to date. The self penned numbers were as great as ever but lining up Michael King to join them for a joyous romp through Springsteen’s Dancing In the Dark was a stroke of genius.
Okay, so Davy Jones may have joined the eternal daydreamers and Michael Nesmith may be sitting this one out but 50% of The Monkees ain’t too shabby, especially as it still includes the irrepressible Mickey Dolenz, now 70 years young. Kicking off with a faithful Last Train To Clarksville Tork and Nesmith were in remarkably fine voice.
There’s still that madcap sense of humour too (even if it did momentarily seem in danger of imploding when Tork’s keyboard stopped behaving itself) with Tork mock stumbling around, pulling faces and gently taking the piss out of Dolenz when he stifles a yawn at one point “Not keepin’ ya up are we?”. The crowd were there for the hits and the pair duly performed each and every one of them from The Beatles / Til Death Do Us Part Inspired Randy Scouse Git through to the countrified Listen To The Band and on to an impressively punchy (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.
You’d think it would be difficult to top several thousand people singing Daydream Believer together but somehow they managed it thanks to a Polyphonic Spree boosted version of The Purpoise Song (from The Monkees movie Head) that left host Janice Long struggling to hold back the tears as she closed proceedings. As “goodbyes, goodbyes, goodbyes...” go it really doesn’t get much better than that.