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Gate To Southwell 2017

Venue: Southwell Racecourse
Town: Southwell
Date: 8-12/06/17

There was a distinct Scottish flavour to this year's festival held on the outskirts of this delightful Nottinghamshire town.

Headliners on the Thursday night were Blazin' Fiddles with their full-on flurry of fiddles, elsewhere there were at least two young Scottish groups, making their first trip south of the Border.

This four-day festival, held in the grounds of Southwell Racecourse, offers something for just about everyone.

The line-up this year encompassed not only a wide variety of musical genres, but there was plenty of traditional folk dancing on and off the site, there was an excellent range of workshops and plenty of children's activities.

There was an excellent and popular beer and cider tent featuring local breweries at reasonable prices and one of the best food offerings to be found on a festival site anywhere.

Last year the festival was hampered by poor weather but this year it was a different story as the sun shone for the most part and with four stages and other performance areas you were spoilt for choice when it came to the music on offer.

One of the undoubted delights of coming to festival is to discover new music - and Southwell 2017 was no exception.

The two young Scottish acts - Gnoss and Tannara - were among my festival highlights.


Gnoss are four musicians who met at Scotland's Royal Conservatoire. Forming as a duo in 2015, Gnoss - Graham Rorie (fiddle, mandolin) and Aidan Moodie (guitar) picked up an award at Celtic Connections. Since then, they have reached the semi-finals of the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award (2016), performed at the Royal Albert Hall as part of Music For Youth's 2015 Proms, and brought out their well-received first album 'Gnoss'.

In November 2016 they became a four piece, welcoming Gregor Kincaid on bodhran and Connor Sinclair on flute and whistles.

They played an early evening slot on the Frontier stage - a smallish standing-only tent - close to the box office and I was instantly impressed by their set of tunes played with obvious drive and youthful exuberance. Later during the weekend they played on the bigger Robin Hood Energy Stage and ran small workshops, I even came across them playing in the Gin and Fizz tent!

Tannara, another four-piece Scottish group, this time featuring guitar, harp, accordion, and fiddle to great effect. They played at several occasions across the weekend but I didn't catch up with them until the played the main Big Top stage first thing on Sunday morning.

Tannara (Ta-Na-Ra) are Owen Sinclair (acoustic guitar/electric guitar/vocals), Becca Skeoch (harp), Joseph Peach (accordion) and Robbie Greig (fiddle). The band formed in 2015 and together they create a great sound with some unusual arrangements.

They told the audience they'd hiked across country from their overnight lodgings to make the soundcheck on time because they couldn't get a taxi! Such dedication was well received and the group then played a wonderfully beguiling set of tunes and songs.

At times, this traditional looking group were quite funky as they played songs from their eponymous 2016 album. I particularly enjoyed Three Ravens, the instrumental Bill and Jill, as well as the oddly-named Deid Fish but in truth this was a lovely set by four young musicians who played their music with a smile and were very well received.

Theo Migeon

Other standout performances came from unexpected quarters - French classical guitarist, Théo Migeon wowed a small audience when he played on the Barleycorn stage, adjacent to the beer tent on the opening night. His mesmeric guitar playing brought him a deserved standing ovation and calls for an encore.

Other highlights were not so unexpected but were nonetheless impressive.

Rootsy American singer songwriter Chris Smither has been around for a long time and he delighted Southwell with two masterful performances on the Saturday. He brought the crowd to their feet with a triumphant display of folk/blues that include old and new songs. With his laconic style, he quickly developed a rapport with the audience with insights into his songs and quips littered throughout his set. He described one of his new songs as a "21st Century Gimme Shelter" - Nobody Home went down a storm.

At one point he said he would apologise about the present incumbent of White House but "you've got your own problems!"

He finished with a bluesy song Origin of Species and his classic Leave The Light On. It was with doubt the performance of the weekend.

Mind you Kate Rusby on the main stage on Friday night ran him mighty close. The Barnsley songstress was absolutely peerless as she played traditional songs - including some her most recent album Life In A Paper Boat - with a mighty fine band to a packed Big Top. But even though her singing is still an absolute joy to behold it was her totally relaxed stage craft that won the hearts of all who saw her five-star performance. Simply wonderful.

The ex-Bellowhead frontman Jon Boden headlined on Saturday night to an equally full Big Top. There was different atmosphere as Jon ran though an excellent set of songs on a mixture of guitar , fiddle and concertina. As a one-man show, he employed all sorts of wizardry such a stomp box and other speakers to try and recreate different moods.

Jon also featured in the Summer of Love concert on the Saturday. His rendition of the Bee Gees hit New York Mining Disaster on concertina was spell-bounding.

The concert brought together by Jim Moray, follows on from last year's Dylan at 75 concert which produced one of my all-time festival moments - a packed venue singing "everybody must get stoned" at the top of their voices.

And while this year's concert, to celebrate 50 years since the Summer of Love in 1967 never hit those heights it did have a sense of charm.

Mind you, those who were expecting a folk concert were given a rude awakening as Jim Moray and Sam Carter blasted into Cream's Sunshine Of Your Love for openers - they also covered Hendrix's Hey Joe.

But for the most part it was the gentler hits of 67 that came thick and fast. Winter Wilson gave us Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now and The Monkees' Daydream Believer, protest singer Grace Petrie sang Piece Of My Heart and Megan Henwood sang If You're Going to San Francisco and an excellent Ode to Bill Gentry as the audience, some in Sixties gear and some with flowers in their hair, lapped it all up.

Jim Moray and Grace Petrie gave us The Beatles' She's Leaving Home, before singer songwriter Reg Meuross sang Turn, Turn Turn and Homeward Bound.

Phil Henry and Hannah Martin, who had delivered an excellent set including some stonking harmonica on the Friday night, gave us some Buffalo Springfield - For What It's Worth and Leonard Cohen's No Way To Say Goodbye.

The house band returned as Hannah sang a terrific version of Jefferson Airplane's hit White Rabbit which got a great reception.

There was still time for A Whiter Shade of Pale before Reg Meuross returned on the dulcimer to sing Dylan's Chimes of Freedom and was joined by vocal group Daphne's Child for Bird On A Wire. The girl group sang California Dreaming before the stage was filled for a ensemble version of All You Need is Love and Waterloo Sunset to bring the concert to a end. Hats off to Jim Moray for organising.

There was so much good music to find across the festival weekend. As well as the concerts there pleny of opportunities to play as well with an open mic competition and plenty of sessions.

Reg Meuross played a lovely set which included the title track from his new album, released in July, Faraway People.

His ability to write songs that encapsulate frustrations and political comment in a subtle manner has won him many plaudits and it was great to hear him play England Green and Grey to close his set. A classic modern anthem is ever there was one. Superb.

dance teams

Elsewhere I managed to see The Rubber Wellies, a multi-instrumental trio whose original songs, delivered with an infectious enthusiasm, were well received.

Another fine trio who kicked off the festival on the Thursday night were the Australian group, Cloudstreet, their finely crafted harmonies and arrangements along with excellent stagecraft got the festival off to flyer.

The only fly in the ointment on what was overall a wonderful four days were sound issues in the Frontier tent which came to a head on Thursday when Rob Heron and The Tea Pad Orchestra were playing. After attempting to start their set and battling with the haywire PA monitors, they decided to leave the stage and join the crowd and play acoustic. It could have gone horribly wrong but fair play to the boys they pulled it off and the audience loved their "show must go on" attitude.

Irish girl band Wokalily got the award for above and beyond the call of duty after their keyboard player explained she had broken her hand and was playing one-handed and that she was unable to play the flute so would be playing the whistle instead. Nevertheless their quirky and energetic set was well received, especially their final song, The Devil Is A Woman.

A five-piece band who played a great set of Americana with close harmonies drew a decent crowd were the The Life And Times Of The Brother Hogg, who hail from Cleethorpes.

There was an impressive festival dance programme with colourful displays by local side and local schoolchildren.

One the funniest poets around - Les Barker - gave two sterling performances that had me and lots of others rolling around in stitches. With his deadpan delivery, and vast collection of poems, Les can do no wrong. In fact some of his poems were so well known the audience were finishing them for him. I particularly enjoyed his poem about trying to find a camouflage net...

On Saturday evening he teamed up with another funny man, Keith Donnelly, for a joint show that once again tickled many a funny bone.

And as we hit the road for the journey home, the festival was summed up by the loud noise of approval coming from the Big Top as Canadian band The East Pointers wrapped up their set of Celtic tunes with demands for a encore.

Yes, more please indeed!

John Knighton

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