The sun doesn't so much rise on the Beverley Folk Festival but instead sits high in the sky as if it had been waiting to pelt it's rays down on folk artists from afar all week. If we can be sure of anything it's that anyone not finding cover under the marquees are going to discover the rare British tan burn.
Picturesque and quite established in its newer venue slightly out of the town centre, Beverley Racecourse has a friendly atmosphere that caters for all people, families, people camping or those just popping in for the day. It sounds like a small positive, but it is very good to know that the parking is extensive and stress-free.
The musical lineup is looking good too, with pastures filling your vision all round and the twinkling of the town in the distance; a procession of cows cock their heads to the sounds of Americana warm-ups and food tents go up. It is one of those festivals that is well planned in truth, it's tents are arranged within close proximity to each other (even if 50 metres feels more like 50 miles on such a hot weekend) and the town is in easy reach if the food and beer here is not enough (but there is plenty on all counts).
It is all very chilled, even when headline acts are getting people into the tents at a relatively quick speed. What of the music
Stillhouse are a good early introduction to this festival ethos. Less Folk and more a moody folk-blues groove, they bring a thoughtful start to the festival amongst a surprising amount of early afternoon smoke machine bellowing out. Not too raucous for the early sun, their determined, steely looks and slight jazz influences actually cool things down. A varied set and a particular swing in their step there are some good numbers like the fun "In My Heart", the evocative instrumentals and thump of the double bass in "Five thousand miles", and the quietness of "Love is the weight", all quite different in pace and energy. The crowd are attentive, giving a positive afternoon reception to this technically complex sound with it's clash of musical influences. Festival-goers keen on singer and mandolin "Polly Bolton" from the group get an opportunity to see her here, as a duo with her father "Peter Bolton", and also in the floor shaking, old time group with a strong local fanbase, the "Whiskey Dogs" as well. This is good to know as "The Whiskey Dogs" are on later in the day, and they rock all sorts of shades out of yesteryear's music.
Things are beginning to cool a bit weather-wise for Bella Gaffney but there is a huge warmth to her set. Playing material from her upcoming album as well as a number of tracks such as Gaffney's engaging guitar playing on "Heaven Knows" and the overall sweetness of "In My Bones", you can see a trained eye at work for her guitar picking and an artist that seems like an athlete considering the top prize. Delightfully focused and down-to-earth, she was almost like the calm before the storm to come; the storm that is called Jon Boden. The turbulent musical phenomenon is accompanied with a simultaneous billing of Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys, so there is a choice of a singular distinctive figures in the newer revivals of folk or a hawk on his ascent with a growing fanbase.
It is true, Sam Kelly is an artist whose popularity and reach seems to be snowballing. Building a lot of momentum these last couple of years, he is quite well regarded both in and out the folk work. It might be most to do with the accessibility of his sound, the conviction of his music or the group's fresh-faced affable nature. It is hard to say, but what isn't hard to say is that there is certainly a lot of anticipation in Beverley for them to take the stage. People are cramming into the tent and filling it to the rafters while "Jolly Waggoners" gets underway. The whole set is well received, "Golden Vanity" and "Little Sadie" are really good indeed too as a couple of jaunty anthems. There are children at the front throwing grass up in the air, other artists are swaying in the front row, it all goes well. Their original music is like a refreshing beer, but when the group turns to play a cover of "Sultan of Swing" it must be nostalgic balm to the audience's weary wounds as it feels like the top blows off the main tent and it is one of the biggest explosions in memory of recent folk gigs.
John Boden is the whirlwind you expect. Looking like the devil and playing from his Bellowhead days, some tracks from the Painted Lady album, e.g. "Ophelia" as well as the reflective, grimy "Songs from the Floodplain", his inventiveness continues to flourish and show a redefining mind. It is a gig that keeps giving and rather tough to choose between him and Sam Kelly. After a series of rapid transits between both artists, the evening ends. As we walk down the path and into Beverley centre, the sounds of Bellowhead tunes go into the night, almost like the echos of their recent departure. A remarkably high ending to the first day.
Saturday is a great mix with Daoiri Farrell, LAU, and False Lights sweeping the audience away. In the evening Daoiri Farrell's set is gleaming with Traditional Irish polish as he expertly catches the notes with the rough and tumble sounding subject of the song "Boozing". Throughout the set, the audience hangs on his words with a sharp intake of breath, the stage itself did not seem big enough to contain the songs he shares. The rendition of Irish song"Creggan White Hare" is particularly good too, really having a life of it's own it seems like the tradition is very much alive here. Fresh-faced and softly spoken, Kelly Oliver also appears and brings a medley of songs from her Bedlam album in the early afternoon with her as the sun seems to reach it's apex in the sky.
The biggest surprises of the day come from the Moonbeams Tent. If only one thing can be taken from this excellent festival, it is that there are some incredibly well curated artists and bands here on their ascent on this stage. With a towering dragon, and a number of planted hay-bales, there was something rustic and rather cool about being in this smaller venue.
"Yan Tan Tether", a delightful sounding trio, fulfil the unaccompanied singing itch that listeners might be after with their assortment of lovely enunciated songs about murder and foul deeds. "The Sheep Stealer" is a great doom-laden number, and their version of "In the Shade of the Old 'Arris Mill" has much going for it too.
Later on the flames of fantasy and the 70's era of Folk are truly stoked with the appearance of the Joshua Burnell Band. With a funky electric input and big strings the "Sportsman's Hornpipe" was certainly something else, something good. They also bring this instrumentation to "The Lowlands of Holland", perhaps making it sound more like the character of Steeleye Span's later albums than their original "Hark! The Village Wait." However examined as a Tolkienesque folk curiosity or a loving tribute to electric folk, Frances Sladen sounds really beautiful and the whole spectacle is something marvellous, a band to watch.
Also in the Moonbeams Tent, it feels like the latter part of the day belongs to some newer acoustic artists. Under the changing, sparkling lights Elizabeth Pickering we get some truly great considered lyrics which a more veteran artist would be proud to write with rhymes and pacing that neatly sidesteps cliche. "Undertow" in particular is a good song. Also appearing there is seventeen year old "Fiona Lee", arriving with a richly decorative voice that plunges her acoustic numbers into a kind of Grungey, Blues soundscape. This gives much of her set a numbing yet evocative feel which as a description still does not quite capture the promise it hints at. Both good and entertaining, special mention then needs to be made for Tilly Moses.
Tilly Moses' album "Alight and Adrift" have been featured as a FATEA album of the week. This is probably being too humble an award for a debut that could win many more accolades. As the closing act in Moonbeams on the Saturday, her set set is like a winner's acceptance speech at the Oscars. The songwriting from her tracks shines like a halo above this young collective's set with songs such as "Paper Conflicts", an ecological exploration, "Whisky" a beautiful sweeping love song about meeting her love, and the folky, breathy, lyrically exciting "Fear with Fire". It is a fruitful series of narratives all sung in a charismatic, low register and great supporting instruments. Amazing things are ahead for this artist as we hear songs with as much variety as the shades of amber on Autumn leaves. Hope and joy as the folk wheel brings more new talent into the sun, the evening rounded off nicely as the final day begins.
Sunday brings a sense of stoic philosophy to it with some acts that dwell very much in the politics and ideas. Reg Meuross takes time to inject a hefty chunk of quietly considered, deftly thoughtful songwriting with the undercutting anti-anthem, "English Green and England Grey", one of his "pub" songs "Dick Turpin" and a cover of Tony Benn's tribute to Emmeline Pankhurst's hiding "broom cupboard" in Parliament where she secretly stayed in order to make a statement. Weaved within a tapestry of interesting and reflective stories, Reg also had some great banter throughout, e.g. "if you leave the set in the middle could you wave on the way out so I don't feel so bad". Reg cast quite a presence that only got grander when Daoiri Farrell lent his extensive skills to the set, but the politics did not end there.
Labour MP Alan Johnson is here too in a short break taken from the music talking about his life, his poverty-stricken childhood, and his unconventional route into politics. A positive voice of experience, he talked about his books and like those many good folk artists took up the mantle of social justice throughout his life, changing the world instead of himself in the competition of politics. Today is the opportunity to walk in and understand his shoes a little.
In the Big Top there is also the delights of Jonas and Jane, a heartfelt duo with close harmonies and affecting songs; and long travelled exquisite Americana, Underhill Rose (near the end of their current UK leg of their tour) both artists performing for the second time during the weekend and gaining fans. Immensely professional, really talented, and with a fresh sound they captured a lot of hearts with renditions of "Trouble In Mind", "Love Look Good on You" and a great cover of "Betty Davis Eyes." Calling them a sweet, Nashville steamroller would be an understatement
The North of this Country is also strongly represented this day with Rachel Croft sounding fantastic, and Edwina Hayes as a gentle and experienced warm-up for the evening's entertainment. The crowd are anxious for the Carthys but can't resist the humour and character that is Edwina, her set and presence embody everything I think of from the North. There is also the likes of eclectic duo Roberts & Lakeman with their slightly humorous ("52 Hertz" about a love-lorn whale) or downright frightening songs ("Rusalka") who impress enormously. Ninebarrow also entertain with their Simon and Garfunkelesque music and organ augmented folk with it's sweet, quiet inflections and thoughts. Folk powerhouses Martin & Eliza Carthy, and the fantastic Eddi Reader are beloved popular acts that are the cherry on the cake for a great festival in every sense.
So Beverley Folk Festival goes out with a bang.
In summary, it is well organised, exceptionally well played, and a good variety of acts. Bigger tents accommodate headline acts and the most part the Moonbeams strikes a fine balance between size and atmosphere that encourage newer artists. It is notable that a lot of staff and volunteers are incredibly friendly and supportive all round for young talent (having heard from some Sunday evening's acoustic talent).
Strongly recommended, running to time and pretty damned relaxed, Early Bird tickets are now available for 2018.
Not sure what you missed? Check out some clips below, shared with permissions by the artists:
Stillhouse - Five Thousand Miles
Reg Meuross - England Green, England Grey
Yan Tan Tether - Little Yellow Roses
Kelly Oliver - Bedlam
Elizabeth Pickering - Undertow
Tilly Moses - Paper Conflicts
Joshua Burnell Band - The Lowlands of Holland
Fiona Lee - Hollow Fever
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