The last time FATEA attended the Big Whistle Festival in Bury was 2016. Memorable for the fact that the Treacherous Orchestra ended up playing on the steps of the Elizabethan Suite of the town hall after a fire alarm went off. Nothing, but no-thing, was going to stop their show. And Flook were amazing. We found ourselves back at The Met for what was incredibly the twelfth of these annual events with a similarly diverse and classy bill together with a whole host of workshops and events. And so were Flook, more of which later.
To the sound of instruments round the venue, either recorded and piped through the sound system or live from sessions, musicians tuning up or testing their sounds, early arrivals over the weekend had the chance to catch lunchtime gigs by Fara and Nidd, otherwise, you'd have to forsake a very sunny afternoon in Bury for sitting in a dark room to encounter Ranagri on their last show of their tour. A fair trade as they dazzled with bonhomie and harmonies and a musical patchwork that weaved its way through songs and tunes lively and calming.
Touting their 'The Strangler' as the next possible Bond theme - you can imagine the unforgettable sight of the "paperclip of doom" played by Eliza Marshall in the credits and if not you can rely on them for a bit of politics, all in the best possible taste of course. It was 'The Hare' ("a chance for us to have a workout") tha set the standard as one of the highlights of the weekend. The lasting impression was of one legged bodhran paying and if you've never seen a harp strummed you must get out more, as well and of Jethro Tull (almost inevitable given the flutiness) via Graceland.
Enthusiastically introduced by the irrepressible host Phil Brown of BBC Radio Lancashire, Jenn Butterworth and Laura Beth Salter. Jenn (who always looks like she's having a ball) has recently playing a part with some staggeringly good shows with Ross (Ainslie) & Ali (Hutton), yet aside from their gentle set of acoustic bluesy/country songs and tunes, they enlightened us with an introduction to the concept of Shetlag (the aftermath of playing the Shetland Folk Festival) as well as the treat of an unrecored LB song 'Home' that talked of heading South to ease my mind - you'd think it was a journey across the North American plains rather than Glasgow to Lincolnshire.
Workshops and sessions saw a flock of Flook events on the Sunday afternoon with the masters passing on their tips and advice along with purveyor of fine whistles, Rob Gandara from Oregon on a European tour of his own, present all weekend exuding bonhomie and hopefully doing some business.
A regular visitor to The Met - indeed he'd been around since Wednesday working on his latest project - Luke Daniels, who's getting quite a reputation as an innovator, gave a tantalising teaser of his latest project. It's one that blends his own work with world music artists from Syria, South Africa and China in a fascinating cross cultural pollination. Even more so with the Music Memes app for which the intent is to the public to use soundclips from the Kaleidoscope musicians to create, share and actually use submitted pieces to work on for the shows. Or something like that.
However, there was plenty of opportunity to observe his skills as an underrated guitarist and it's when he switches to the strings from his usual button accordions and melodeons, that he does some sterling song based work with some very impressive picking. Accompanied by Rihab Azar, an oud player from Syria, they delivered their own individual pieces, Rihab's an education in itself, as well as combining to offer a glimpse of what to expect from a series of shows four shows in each of four North West towns and cities (Liverpool, Southport, St Helens and Bury) where he'll play three with each member and then a full kaleidoscope quartet show. Well worth a shout.
Drop The Floor - the Lancashire combo whose members hail from up (or down) the Grain Road - ticked the box that made sure the Bog Whistle had a local thrust. Like Harp & A Monkey, they make sure that Lancashire folk (and the dialect) stays alive and definitely kicking. They're season ticket holders / serial offenders having been seven times on the Big Whistle bill. A high octane set from a quartet furiously focussed on their songs and tune sets. Talking of which…
Talisk may have been without a whistle in their line up, but that's forgivable. Having seen them a couple of times rip festivals apart, they set about The Met for an exhibition of contemporary folk tunes at the hands of three musicians whose passion and drive is unstoppable. Taking time out to play something slower for a moment of relief and catch some breath, it was an incendiary blitz on Bury led by the tsunami sized zeal of Mohsen Amini, who if he ever decides to jack in the musical lifestyle, could slip comfortably into the role of chair tester for Ikea. You could understand the wide eyed look of on Hayley Keenan's face as she set and kept up with an incredible pace. Totally mesmeric. It was the sort of onslaught that may have left anyone who'd attended the full day somewhat drained. How do you follow that? A shame as Peatbog Faeries is the archetypal end of the night/end of the festival band and to be fair for that reason many may never really had the chance to appreciate them fully. Especially given they had to follow such a blinding set from Talisk. There was no chance of that in the anticipation to encounter Flook on the last show of what for them was a mammoth seventeen date tour. Not only that but with the 'thought there'd never be another one' shock of a new album, 'Ancora' that featured heavily in the set. Total class and with the double bonus of a Flook tour and album what more reason to celebrate. From the slower airs to the moments when Ed Boyd picked up the pace on the guitar to set a driving rhythm for Sarah Allen and Brian Finnegan to work their whistle and flute magic, you can forgive Brian for struggling to say 'turquoise'. The sort of treasure to be cherished.
2019 was unquestionably another successful Big Whistle weekend. Familiar and friendly and with some live highlights being recorded for BBC Radio Lancashire (check out the listings for their show called The Drift) there's a chance to relive some of the top moments, cough…Talisk….
Mike Ainscoe words and pictures
More of Mike's images can be found in The Festival Gallery
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