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Gate to Southwell Roots and Acoustic Music Festival

Venue: Southwell Racecourse
Town: Southwell, Notts
Date: 09-06-2018

Saturday was the day to take the music to town, the day that the good folk of Southwell took the music to their hearts. Starting the day over fifteen Morris Sides danced in King Street and around the local pubs creatively entertaining those present with their colourful displays, the sheer variety of styles and costumes beguiling and bewildering at the same time. Painted faces saw the smallest of toddlers clutch their parents legs for safety, the breaming smiles behind the face paint being rewarded by bravery and delight in the young ones eyes. It was a pleasure to watch.

A pleasure to listen was proved by a host of acts appearing at the festival who created a "fringe" by performing in the local pubs of Southwell giving a taster to those unsure of what to expect.

Those more wanted more were catered for too as the Gate to Southwell Festival offer "Taster" tickets which allow everybody to get a feel for what's on offer.

Inside the site, the Children's Marquee focused on arts and crafts activities, plenty of space to run around and where else can kids get the opportunity to chalk and colour on a large black van. To learn to play a musical instrument such as a mini melodeon or a bodhán, to join in with a rock n rock band and most of all to have fun in a safe environment. All this and a petting station with goats, rabbits and a donkey that proved extremely popular with children and parents alike.

For those musically inclined a wailing of Workshops helped encourage folk to improve their musical techniques and knowledge. Everything from Vikki Clayton's 'Singing for the terrified", through Dance, fiddle, guitar and even banjo, sessions for beginners and improvers alike. A well thought out and comprehensive package.

As indeed was the line up on the main stages. Topping the bill was International Country Music star Gretchen Peters who offered forthright views on the world in which we currently live though the characters in her songs. Gretchen has that rare ability to bring her subjects, (mainly women) to life, to bring out of you compassion and understanding as she sings about emotional heartbreak, about depression about subjects we bury deep within us. You associate with situations and you see through others eyes, through adversity comes resilience and strength. A wonderful Grammy nominated songwriter who deservedly was inducted into the "Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame" alongside the likes of Bob Dylan.

Elsewhere on the bill "The Young Un's" packed the Big Top" stunning harmonies, acid tongued banter matched with alkaline humour to create a perfect platform for their songs. If the audience's response is anything to go by these boys are destined for greatness well above the folk field in which they are already masters.

Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar entertained with two sets, the more intimate Folk Stage marginally the better of the two in my opinion. Ciaran's fiddle playing is an absolute joy to listen to, perfectly underpinned by Greg's solid guitar, together their tune sets soar and the audience stamp their feet and clap their hands.

Their songs offer heartfelt social commentary "We are leaving" the aftermath of Grenfell, "We were never welcome, because we weren't like you. You see us now we're burning, but these flames are nothing new. We are leaving. It's what you wanted all along". An accurate portrayal of the unfortunate unforgiving unwelcoming times that many see. As indeed is "1908", a lyric from a broadsheet ballad "The Liberal March" which is stunningly as appropriate today as it was one hundred and ten years ago. Both songs feature on their well named new album "Utopia and Wasteland".

Rory Mcleod regaled the Big Top with personal stories and his unique song writing style which presses so many words into such little space that you wonder where the breath comes from. An amazing talent who wears not only his heart but you suspect the rest of his valuable internal organs on his sleeve. Which was beautifully summed up with the story about his dad going to University when he died. And it's true, Rory will do the same, leaving his body to science, to help others. It's a most simple yet compelling way of looking at organ donation. Vikki Clayton's pure and clear voice lit up the afternoon stage traveling all the way from her New Zealand home and she introduced us to her Kalimba, an African finger finger organ which took six months to make. And would you believe it there's an app for that if you want to try.

Trying to get round everything on Saturday was impossible there was just so many options and choices, it was though great fun matched only by the terrific vibe that Southwell creates.

Ian Cripps

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