The Purbeck Valley Folk Festival has got an attraction that few other festivals can meet. It's a chance to spend four days on a working farm in one of the most beautiful parts of Dorset. If you want to leave the site then you're within easy striking distance of the spectacular ruins at Corfe Castle, or the Jurassic coast with its cliffs and walks. There's even a steam train that you can hear puffing past the farm. However, the quality of the music on offer is always going to make it easier to stay put. The festival opened this year on Thursday, which I couldn't get to, so I arrived on Friday just in time to put the tent up before the rain seriously set in.
Rain is normally the big problem for a festival, as the site slowly turns into a swamp but Purbeck has a big advantage there too. Being a farm there are hard stone tracks around the site and the two main stages, along with the beer tent, are in barns with solid floors. It gets damp but never muddy. The smaller Fire stage and Duck tent, along with the trader's village, didn't fare so well and had to be closed down early in the afternoon for safety reason. Fortunately, most of the bands had other slots over the weekend.
Yes, it was a miserable day but that isn't going to stop anyone visiting a festival in a British summer and two things saved it. The first was the sheer joy of the children running and jumping into puddles. I won't forget the sight of a young girl standing under a down-pipe with the water cascading over her and a huge grin on her face. The "grown ups" looked slightly envious.
The second was the quality of the music on the two main stages. Between them they put on 12 bands in an exceptional day of music. The key to any good festival line-up is variety and Purbeck got that spot on. There were local acts such as The Fox and the Owl, folk but with influences of blues and even reggae and lovely harmonies, Old Man Luedecke from Canada, combining storytelling and songs into a performance that highlights some of life's odder angles and the rapid risers like The Trials of Cato. What can you say about them? A band who constantly improve and are building a huge reputation, as a well deserved BBC Folk Award nomination shows.
Roswell were at the festival as winners of the Purbeck Rising competition in 2018 and are also making huge strides, impressing a lot of people in the process. They played several sets over the weekend and, with a building repertoire, there were very few repetitions.
Purbeck Rising is a song competition for newer acts and five of the finalist are decided by public vote, along with normally one wild card. This is a competition that is attracting a lot of attention from the performers and I have to say I felt so sorry for the judges this year because the standard was so high. The six acts we saw would have made a good line up in their own right. The winner of the competition gets a main stage slot at next year's festival but the judges are also associated with other local festivals so there's always the chance to be talent spotted.
Well done indeed to Evie Cosgrove, Iona Lane, March, Rainy Day Woman and Wendy Jane. You did yourselves proud and I think several of you will be back again next year. The eventual winner was Ben Morgan-Brown, who produced a well crafted festival set and was the only one who got the audience joining in. That could have made the difference and he was certainly a worthy winner.
With the weather improving on Saturday and Sunday the outer stages reopened giving you plenty of choices both of music and how to watch it. There is something delightful about laying on the grass with a pint of good local cider in your hand, in the sun, watching bands and you get that opportunity at Purbeck with the Fire stage. It's in a natural slope so everybody gets a good view. There were really quality acts playing but I will mention Chris Fox, Fly Yeti Fly and especially a relatively new duo of well known names in Marry Waterson and Emily Barker. They met at a writing workshop and boy did they gel!
As lovely as the Fire stage setting was the main stages couldn't be ignored, not with Karine Polwart and Flook, another Folk Award Nominee, playing. The days closed with the big bands who are guaranteed to send you to bed exhausted. Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys, the Afrocelt Sound Sytem and many other did their best to raise the roofs.
Any good festival isn't just music and Purbeck scores highly with workshops and competitions. One great tradition is the the beard cotest, with lots of different classes that gives everybody a chance. Not only is there a creative beard, but also a Lady Beard (Non-rude) and a class for children. Excellently hosted and full of double entendres that would make a Carry On film blush it's one of the highlights! There's also a poetry contest, which I didn't make this year, but having seen it before it is recommended.
I can safely say Purbeck put on a great festival this year that had all the ingredients needed to make enjoyable for everyone. There's a lot of variety, good camping and good food available on site at reasonable prices. Access to the festival is probably easiest by car although there is a bus service from Wareham which will stops at the entrance. I'd highly recommend going along next year.
Words & Picture Tony Birch
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