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The Big Session

Venue: The Opera House
Town: Buxton
Date: 29-30/04/17
Website: http://www.buxtonoperahouse.org.uk/

Once again the cream of British folk music gathered in the handsome spa town of Buxton in the glorious Peak District. Great PR from the Buxton Opera House and reading further on the interweb might have yielded more about how long this little series of events has been going, nonetheless FATEA finally made it past Stockport to see what all the fuss was about.

A series of gigs over three nights and two days, workshops, rail trips and walks - the latter inevitable with Oysterband's John Jones in town - plus a mini beer festival and what is there to not to like? Not much at all to be frank as a low key with big names opener that leads nicely into festival season and one along the lines of The Atkinson's similar out of season 'Love Folk' event in Southport. All based round the splendid Opera House and the excellent venue next door in the Pavilion theatre in the Pavilion Gardens where there was plenty of room to rest the weary feet or do some fancy footwork with The Hut People.

The Pavilion floor might have had a thorough workout on Friday night from Blackbeard's Tea Party but Saturday saw The Hut People in town. Keen to promote their roots in the city of culture, The Hut people of course are always good value and it's a treat to see what new devices of percussive mass destruction Gary Hammond has picked up. In the meantime Sam Pirt remains an oasis of outward calm, his fingers fair flying across the piano accordion. He has his moments with a few timely explosive excursions and not without an element of self-depreciating humour, the duo were nothing less than an entertaining package.

They were more than ably supported by former Oysterman 'Chopper' Ray Cooper on a flying visit from his home in Sweden to undertake the 'Essex Library Tour' as well as open up the afternoon. He's done a turn or two with Oysterband and flies solo and armed with guitar, mandolin and cello. A new album in the works meant an outing for some new material and a chance to indulge in something English and nostalgic. Close your eyes and it could be Steve Knightly crossed with Martyn Joseph; open them and it's definitely Steve Knightly with the fashionably mature guys hairdo.

A swift relocation round the corner saw Saul Rose and Eliza Carthy ahead of Oysterband in the Opera House - a stately setting that must be a delight to play. The view from the stage as good as from all parts of the seating areas. A rare chance to catch the Saul/Eliza package contrasted from some flying tune sets to moments of exquisiteness that must have brought a tear to more than Saul Rose's eye. None more so than when the duo play 'I Wish That The Wars Were All Over'. Damian Dempsey may have added his presence to the Wayward Band version on record, but done as a duo it's impossible to top. Eliza did her best to sit down and remain steadily on her chair looking resplendent with a flowing blond mane to add to her long list of guises.

Oysterband - with Dil Davies back on drums rather than latest Oyster Pete Flood finding gainful post-Bellowhead employment - have plenty to shout about. 40 years no less on their path that saw them reminding fans that playing 'Here's To You' from the 'Holy Bandits' album is more than just a nod to their Oyster Ceilidh Band roots. The album is poised to feature heavily in an upcoming year of celebration - a tour in November set to mark the special anniversary. It sat in a comfortably feet up position amidst their newest moment 'I Built This House' and more recent gems from 'Diamonds On The Water'. John Jones continues to leading with his passionate missives with the odd, dry as the Sahara aside, from Ian Telfer, the pick being the response to John's intro to 'A Clown's Heart' featuring the refrain - 'a clowns heart and a mandolin' alluding to John - "melodeon wouldn't scan." Ouch.

By the nature of the Big Session, the coming together of Saturday performers in the Sunday ceilidh before a late afternoon with Nancy Kerr and her Sweet Visitor Band in the Pavilion. With musicians of the calibre of James Fagan, Greg Russell, Rowan Rheingans and John Smith dipping in and out of the band. Her current work with 'Instar' has seen her develop from the folky direction to a more alt folk songwriter guise. Whatever the label she is a class act.

Oysterband's folk rock with a political conscience bedfellows from the early nineties, The Levellers, have been visitors to the Opera House in acoustic guise in the past. Another long established touring act and a sell out (as in no tickets, not a bowing down commercial pressures heaven forbid) for the final night, they confirmed that Big Session is a well curated and appealing proposition and well worth taking in more than just a day visit.

A full gallery of the event is located at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fateapics/albums/72157680275942054

Mike Ainscoe:Words and Pics

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