There's always an excitement about your first visit to a festival; getting there and then finding your way around the site, checking out the food stalls - discovering the beer tent - so I was delighted to have the chance to attend the Purbeck Valley Folk Festival recently. You certainly can't fault the location set, as it is, in the heart of the Isle of Purbeck amidst rolling green hills that are quintessentially English. It's easy to find, too, as it lies on the main road between Corfe Castle and Swanage.
There's been a folk festival on Purbeck since 2009 but a reorganisation meant a move to Purbeck Valley Farm in 2015. The site is well laid out with camping on gently sloping hills just outside the arena, which is the farm. There are no big marquees; the Main Stage is in The Big Barn and Stage 2 is in The Long Barn. The advantage is that the floors are hardstanding if it should rain and bales of hay or straw are arranged to provide some seating. Considering the two barns are quite close together I was impressed at how sound secure they were. This area also contains the main bar, well stocked with local real ales and ciders, food stalls and the information and merchandise tent.
A short walk away, up and down a bit of a hill, is the second part of the site. Here you will find a real gem of the festival, the Fire Stage, home to some of the rising acts and local musicians. There's just a covered stage, so everyone is out on the grass in a natural arena which guarantees good views no matter where you are. There's also a smaller bar, food and market stalls close by so it's the perfect place sit on a sunny day or warm summer's evening, although the little rain we had didn't seem to deter people. Combined with the quality of the acts it soon became my favourite location.
Purbeck Valley is a small festival, yet it manages to attract a quality range of artists. Headliners this year were The Villagers, The Proclaimers and Eliza Carthy and the Wayward Band. All put in good performances and Eliza Carthy looks to stand ready to carry on the tradition of big bands making a big sound to get the crowd moving.
Other well known acts included Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman with a terrific performance on the Saturday, Gilmore & Roberts were as good as ever on Sunday and Lucy Ward, with band, played a powerhouse set on Friday. Everywhere I looked were familiar names; Kadia, Kelly Oliver, Maz O'Connor, The Carrivick Sisters and Ninebarrow.
A big part of the fun at a festival is finding new acts you might not normally get a chance to see, and there were some real crackers. Particular mention has to go to two who really caught my eye. Sam Duckworth, from Southend, in his latest manifestation as Recreations is a modern traditionalist who is not averse to have his backing (all performed and arranged by him) on a laptop to produce a multi-layered, effortless sound which refuses to stick to a particular genre. Owl In The Sun are a more traditional Americana and gypsy jazz outfit whose original and melody-driven songs bought the audience to their feet. I could go on but every act was deservedly up on the stage.
Inevitably there were the hard choices of who to see, or which sets to cut short, the sign of a festival that can put on a good show. However, one thing I particularly admired in the performance planning was the staggered starts across the three main stages. It meant you could, if you so chose, catch 10-15 minutes of an act to get the flavour before moving on. Alternatively you could stay put and have a relaxed 30 minute change over to refresh yourself ready for the next artists.
The refreshments were good, too, and reasonably priced; paella, Thai, Indian, Afro-Caribbean, pizza and jacket potatoes kept body and soul together and soaked up the well kept beers and ciders. Particular mention on the food front must go to The Lush Creperie, whose breakfast crepe and coffee kickstarted the morning - normally around eleven; it was a festival after all.
It's a delightfully quirky festival, as well. Along with the music was a poetry competition and a beard contest. This was a very inclusive beard contest, including a class for people who didn't have beards. Also on the competition front was "Purbeck Rising", a music competition with a chance to win a slot a next year's festival. Last year's winners, Aiden and the Wildfires, came back and were impressive in their slot on the first evening. Previous entrants have included the aforementioned Kelly Oliver, who has since gone on to appear on national TV, so this was certainly the place to be to watch tomorrow's acts today. This year's winners were Delphis, a male / female duo who were good and worthy winners.
The festival closed, for me, with a jumping set from Threepenny Bit on the Fire Stage Sunday evening. The crowd were up and dancing with each other and all around were smiling, happy people. It's what a festival is all about and the Purbeck Valley Festival, with plenty to keep the youngsters entertained.
Tony Birch, words and pics
A gallery of images from Sunday can be found Here
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