Sunday. The sun shone. All day. The final day of the twelfth Gate to Southwell Festival.
Sunday, a leisurely start, a wander round Southwell, the Market Place, "Pateley Longsword" dance, intertwining their blades to form a star, lifted aloft it raises cheers from the crowd watching. Drivers momentarily block the road as the "Slubbing Billy's" purple attire catches the eye, that and the drummer who appears to have forsaken one of her clogs. The "Powder Kegs", a root of explosive colours and painted faces add even more noise through instruments and sticks. It's very English. Diversity accepted.
Diversity intensified as we approach Southwell Minster, inside the Queen's Birthday Celebration Service was just ending. Dressed in their "Sunday Best" those present evoke memories of days gone by. It questions whether the next generation will keep the values. Like fashion, like Morris Sides you imagine the ebb and flow of popularity.
Popularity of the festival, a testament by the landlady of the "Hearty Goodfellow". Recovering from serving over 700 people on Saturday "all from that folk festival", a comment made at the bar where artiste Vivian Leva says "it sounds like fun" whilst her musical partner Riley Calcagno opines "it sounds like hard work" they share a wink. In truth it is possibly both. And fun. After enjoying a traditional Sunday lunch and offering best wishes to the landlady who jets out for a week in the sun the same evening, the main site beckons.
Over on the Folk Stage, the Luke Jackson Trio are holding court. Three young men, drums, electric bass and acoustic guitar. They look like nothing. They sound like everything. Everything you've ever wanted from a performance. Luke Jackson has a voice that belies his years. It's rich, deep and soulful, it hits the high notes and impossibly holds. It handles Blues, Gospel, Soul, Folk, indeed you can't imagine a genre it wouldn't fit. On bass Andy Sharps is fluid, funky and supportive as indeed is Elliot Norris on drums. All three harmonise brilliantly. Musically they tackle "I heard it through the grapevine" they mix "Cry to me" originally a soul ballad for Solomon Burke in the early Sixties and covered by luminaries such as the the Pretty Things, the Rolling Stones and Precious Wilson with self penned songs such as "Amy" written on a musically sponsored train journey across Canada.
A buzz goes round the site, the tent fills, standing at the back, off duty stewards all eager to listen. Luke's stage presence holds sway. Accapella, they tackle current Americana star Jonathan Byrd's "Poor Johnny at the bottom of the lake", making it sound as authentic as a Southern Gospel Blues over a hundred years old.
An encore (a welcome change in policy made on Saturdays concerts sponsored by Gusto Homes), Luke Jackson's closing track from his new album (Solo, Duo, Trio), self written, the soulful bluesy "Home" has the audience sweetly singing the refrain with Luke stepping in front of the microphone and leading with no amplification.
Luke Jackson is proof that good music and great artists transcend all genres. He certainly won many friends at Southwell
Speaking of great artists. The festival closed in the Big Top with the incredible multi award winning Cara Dillon. A sublime voice she and her friends held in such respect that you could hear a pin drop as they worked their way through an eclectic set.
Joined by husband Sam Lakeman (guitar, keyboards), Radio 2 Folk Award winner Niall Murphy (fiddle) and Luke Daniels on melodeon they formed the core of the band. In addition they were joined at various stages by special guest's John Smith, whose earlier set earned a standing ovation which also included Ben Nicholls on upright bass. John McCusker joined in on fiddle and 2017 BBC Folk Artist of the year Kris Drever on guitar, the latter who had completed a charming warm engaging and well received set on the big stage in the afternoon.
A truly inspiring lineup then and the music was understandably exceptional. The hour and a half flew by as we were regaled with the stories behind the songs and choices. Cara revealed she had avoided singing certain traditional songs such as "Blackwaterside" because of the many famous folk stars who have recorded it, only to be reminded that she, herself, was an international star. Just before the close of the night, the band let rip with a tune set, the twin fiddles of Murphy and McCusker absolutely stunning.
The crowd demanded an encore. Cara and Sam, "The Parting Glass" as appropriate as ever, we left as good natured guests do, sated and with smiles on our faces.
Yet as much as we all enjoy seeing these international award winning artists, the spirit of the festival is elsewhere, it's found in a crowded, sweltering hot Barleycorn stage watching the "Rye Sisters", (Ishani and Sue) sing their beautiful close harmonies, writing songs in a hopeless romantic vein and then Sue confessing she had spent far more money than they earned buying an impossibly expensive violin (presumably a Tim Phillips).
It's seen in groups like "Dinamo" over from Mallorca, high energy Ska, Reggae fused with Spanish rhythms that had the Frontier Stage on their feet and jumping.
The Spirit of Southwell, however you pronounce it, is to my mind, the coming together of people for a common purpose, to appreciate a diversity of directions and musical styles. In short if you love good music you'll love Suth'll.
There are only so many hours in a day and only so many gigs we can get to. We'd really like to expand our national coverage of the live scene as it remains the life blood of music.
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