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Musicport

Venue: Whitby Pavillion
Town: Whitby
Date: 21-23/10/16
Website: http://www.musicportfestival.com

Musicport is now in its 17th year, starting off along the coast in Bridlington in 2000, before moving to its new home at the Whitby Pavilion.

And in that time it has carved out a reputation for putting on a festival that encompasses all that is great about world music.

A friend of mine who attends many festivals says Musicport is his favourite because there are so many interesting and different acts compared to other events.

And so this year's festival was no different with acts from three continents coming to brave the North Sea coast in the middle of October.

But the elements were kept at bay as Musicport is largely an indoor event with the Pavilion offering three distinct performance areas - a main stage, a theatre and a North Sea Stage in the basement. There was also a wonderful cross section of DJs at The Hub churning out great sounds around the clock. There was also a street parade, street music, workshops and fringe events across the weekend. Yes, you are never far away from music at Musicport.

We arrived just in time to catch the opening act Black Umfolosi going through their paces and they provided a wonderful start to the weekend with their call and response acapella singing and energetic dances. This five-piece group from Zimbabwe, who have been going for more than 30 years, sounded as fresh as when they first started.

Down in the North Sea stage, we caught Geoff Berner, a Canadian by birth, who accompanied himself on accordion with his idiosyncratic look at life. Weird, perhaps, but engaging.

Back on the main stage, in a change to the programme, the Baghdadies from Newcastle took to the stage with their lively show featuring Balkanistic tunes and songs such as the traditional North East horror tale, The Lambton Worm, done to a Ska beat. They dressed for the part given Whitby's penchant for all things gothic with one of the group dressed like a vampire and introduced as "Vlad The Inhaler". With their brass section of trumpet and sax firing on all cylinders it was a cue for lots of dancing.

Our first venture into the theatre was to see someone who has been described as "one of the greatest guitarists in the world" by none other than Chet Atkins. Martin Taylor is reckoned to be one of the finest solo jazz guitarists around but his set was low to catch fire as he kicked off with two dazzling tunes without so much as a word.

He opened up to tell us he was celebrating 45 years on the road and regaled us with tales of playing alongside Stephane Grappelli and Tommy Emmanuel.

It truly was a guitar masterclass, with tunes from a diverse bunch - Gershwin, Fred Astaire, Quince Jones and The Carpenters all featuring.

And just when you thought it couldn't get any better there was a scintillating encore of I've Got Rhythm that covered the length of the fingerboard and was simply astonishing. Wonderful.

Back on the main stage, The Blockheads were firing up and delivered the goods in a set packed with hits such as Clever Trevor, Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll, Hit Me with your Rhythm Stick, What a Waste and Sweet Jean Vincent. And while the main man Ian Dury, is no longer with us, his band and his songs are still going strong and on this performance, are sounding better than ever.

The trouble with a festival is usually there is so much going on it is impossible to see everything. So it proved on Saturday when I missed the Commoner's Choir, which by all accounts was a great success.

If there was one band at Musicport that summed up its ethos it was Michael Messer's Mitra. This collaboration between the rural blues of the Mississippi delta and Hindustani music. Michael Messer, slide guitar, joined forces with Manish Pringle, Indian slide guitar and Gurdain Rayatt, table to produce an astonishing CD, Call Of The Blues, earlier this year. At Musicport they played a selection of tracks from their album - some titles were recognisable - Rolling and Tumbling, Ain't Satisfied, and Rolling In My Sweet Baby's Arms - but the arrangements were certainly not.

The haunting Indian slide guitar and percussive table took these songs to another level and the audience lapped it up.

Over in the theatre there was more bluesy offerings from Sean Taylor who kicked off his set with a moody Heartbreak Hotel. His smoky vocals perfectly at home with this genre. After a couple of more songs he was joined on stage by a violinist and a percussionist, but given the choice I would have preferred to listen to more solo blues from a talented performer.

Back on the main stage, there was a large audience for poet Lemn Sissay, followed by one of the Festival highlights for me, the appearance of Northumbrian piper Kathyrn Tickell and her new band The Side.

This was superb high-quality set from four talented musicians. Tickell was joined by Amy Thatcher (accordion), Ruth Wall (harp) and Louisa Tuck (cello).

Lively tunes from Northumberland and even some clog dancing enthralled the packed venue as Tickell ably demonstrated that traditional music need not be tiresome. Absolutely wonderful.

Musicport not only features music, but also offered poetry and even cookery - with sessions from Hardeep Singh Kohli - and early evening on the main stage we had comedy with a quality captivating show from Jeremy Hardy, star of Radio 4's I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue.

There were several politically-tinged acts at Musicport and Mr Hardy had a ripe audience for his attacks on the Government and his defence of Mr Corbin.

There were also a couple of films shown over the weekend - Westway to The World - the story of The Clash and Days Like These - the Red Wedge tour in the early 80's featuring a young Paul Weller.

As young solo protest singers go Joe Solo has to be up there with the best. As far as an angst-driven performance, there was no better at Musicport. A young man with a guitar splattered with messages delivered a vitriolic, at times comical, performance. His efforts to raise cash for those hardest hit by the Government's austerity programme saw more than £100,000 raised in one weekend as part of the We Shall Overcome movement.

On the main stage we had Sarah Jane Morris and the Bloody Rain Band. Sarah is best known for her accompaniment to Jimmy Somerville's Don't Leave Me This Way and her set duly included a cracking version as the band - one of funkiest of the festival - ramped up the volume.

Her bravura performance, which included a striking version of John Lennon's Imagine, had the crowd up and swaying to the fantastic rhythms. Most certainly a Festival triumph.

The only downside as the main stage filled up was a distinct lack of seats - it's a tricky balance when people want to dance and sit - but another 50 seats would not have gone amiss.

As Saturday night moved into the closing stages, we caught a few songs from Manjula, a jazz band that encompasses Indian, Portuguese, African and Latin influences. Featuring guitar, double bass, percussion and singer Vanessa Rani they tried hard to impress.

The atmosphere on the main stage could not have been more different as The Mahotella Queens lit up Musicport with their colourful costumes and upbeat music. The volume had obviously been turned up too and this distracted from an otherwise brilliant performance from an amazing South African act who have been going for 52 years. Indeed, two of the female singers were in their seventies - but they were full of vigour as they went through their routines and their multi-layered harmonies filled the room.

Sunday got off to a lively start as Los Camradas, a lively community salsa band from Leeds took to the stage and their rhythms soon had people up dancing.

In the theatre Radio 2 Folk Award nominee Maz O'Connor was joined by John Parker on double bass and Tom Moore on drums and strings.

It proved to be one of the most intimate performances of the Festival as Maz appeared totally relaxed as she performed on guitar and piano.

Her set included songs from her recent album The Longing Kind, including the title track, Emma (on piano), A Winter's Blues, and medley of A Rose and When the Whisky Runs Dry.

And while the double bass was at its most expressive, and the drums and fiddle most sympathetic, it was Maz's extraordinary voice that took centre stage. Clear and sonorous, it was a delight.

Maz included her new single Skin and even got the audience to sing along, which was no mean feat.

A triumphant performance.

Bluegrass was represented by Ragged Union from Colorado who whipped the crowd up very nicely, while in the theatre there was a fond farewell to Coope, Boyes & Simpson, a group who have recorded ten albums and been singing together for 23 years as they launched their final CD Coda and their last run of concerts before retirement.

There was also just enough time to catch three teenagers being given a platform to perform on the North Sea stage - Katie Spencer, Natasha Graham and Loz Campbell are all talented singer-songwriters and it was great to see they'd been given this opportunity.

Back on the main stage there was a concert in homage to Robert Wyatt that was well attended but time was against us and we had to miss Arstidir from Iceland, Moussu T e Lei Jouvents from France and the brilliant Varldens Band was a pity but as we headed over the North York Moors under darkening skies it really did feel like the end of summer and the festival season - but what a fine way to end. Thank you Musicport.

John Knighton

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