It's a long drive from Dorset to Skegness, home of the Great British Folk Festival(GBFF) and sometimes on the journey I find myself wishing that Butlins would pit on one of their folk festivals at one of their camps nearer to me. They might even adopt the Virgin model of running it at two locations and switching the bills over the weekend, but that is a dream of a utopian future and the reality is the long drive.
I build a decent bit of contingency into the run, primarily to allow for traffic, the Lincolnshire roads being notorious for delays and accidents, some even have a casualty count on the signs in an, apparently vain attempt, to keep the figures down, but also in the hope that I don't need it so I can call in on the England's only privately own Lancaster capable of moving under its own power, Just Jane, based a few scant miles from Skegness at the former RAF Airfield of East Kirkby. (This year I got there in time for lunch and with plenty of time to look around the museum before heading onto Butlins, Skegness itself a onetime navy base, HMS Royal Arthur, though I'm sure those old sailors never had the luxuries afforded to the guests now.
Having checked in and handed over a collection of this year's Fatea Showcase Sessions cds that Butlins had agreed to be used for the interval music between acts, allowing for a number of rising names in the folk and acoustic spectrum worlds to be heard by the knowledgeable audience that attend GBFF, it was time to catch up with old friends, have a meal and a glass of wine and make a decision over who was going to be my first act of the festival.
To be honest it was a bit of a no brainer, given a choice between Pie in Centre Stage and Jim Moray in Reds, there was really only going to be one winner and that was taking into account that Jim would also be playing on the Saturday with the full band. I saw Pie play last year and for me , at least, they are not in the same league. With Barbara Dickson and Ahab to follow in Reds, it looked like I was going to be there for the night.
Jim Moray, performing solo proved, as anticipated, to be a great opening act, one that really set mood. Frighteningly it's been ten years since he released his groundbreaking debut "Sweet England", an event commemorated by a release of an anniversary edition and a number of songs from the album as part of the set.
Predominantly the set was Jim and guitar, but he also took the opportunity to sit down behind his keyboard for a couple of songs, including a Nic Jones cover, though he really focused on his own material and traditional songs. I still find it amazing at how underestimated Jim is as a tour-de-force in the folk world, he was, however, a great start to the night.
I can stay at the table with friends for the next act, Barbara Dickson, and have a good chat, whilst the stage is being set for her. Compared to many festivals the time between acts at GBFF may be considered generous. At most festivals, once the stage is up and running there's just about time to get instruments on and off and run a quick line check, here the artists get a full blown sound check, which helps relieve the crush at the bar.
Barbara is up against traditional five piece, the Wee Bag Band, whose membership seems to cover as many of the local nations as the GBFF aspires to and I must say I'm tempted, but Scottish songstress, Barbara Dickson wins out, particularly as I'm anticipating hearing some of the tracks she recorded on her most recent album, "To Each And Everyone - The Songs Of Gerry Rafferty" live for the first time.
Barbara starts off her performance behind the shurti box, but after a couple of numbers, dons her guitar and moves that be closer to her audience. Whilst she is probably still better known for her musical tunes, she does have a folk background and perhaps it's her exploration of Gerry Raffertey's back catalogue that has brought her closer to her own performing roots, because I think that this has been the most organic I've heard her.
Now that does sound a bit patronising, but what I mean by it is that sometimes I feel that when she performs some songs, she drops into the character of the song and by doing so you lose a bit of Barbara, this set was the most Barbara I can recall and I find myself responding accordingly, it's a great night.
As anticipated there were a good number of songs from the new album, but there were also nods towards her earlier releases. She seemed like she was having a good time, bantering with the audience and getting a lot in return. In fact it was one of those sets that seemed to be over why before it should have been, but that a glance at the watch told otherwise.
Next up was my toughest call of the night, The Monster Ceilidh Band or Ahab, now that was a question. I decided to stay in Reds and go with Ahab, a little Americana with tight harmonies would be the way to go, a perfect way to end the evening.
As it was it didn't quite pan out like that, at 11:15 when they should have started they were still soundchecking, which giving the length of time between soundchecks was not a good sign. Butlins has had soundcheck problems before, one of the reasons is the relative complexity of more acoustic oriented music, the combinations of instruments, active mics etc. When you get technical issues and an increasingly impatient crowd, there are two responses, one to treat the issue with a maturity, get going and make any unhappiness with the organisation known in private afterwards, no one likes bad sound, but there is something to be said for getting started and making corrections on the fly.
Thinking about it, I can't remember a time when I've blamed a band for bad sound and from the discussions I was having that seemed a common consensus. Alternatively you can throw your toys out of the pram and lash out at the organisers in public. When Ahab started goading the crowd, I'd had enough and headed off to the Monster Ceilidh Band over in Centre Stage, apparently it was the right move.
The dance pit in front of Centre Stage was full of gyrating dancers, all of which seemed to be enjoying themselves with a good vibe being driven from stage easily filling the venue. The Monster Ceilidh have a really contemporary vibe to their dance sound, but it's also one that retains the core elements of what is known as 'the tradition'.
I quickly threw off the stupid idea that I should join in the dancing, I may have had a couple of drinks, but certainly haven't had enough to get rid of those pesky inhibitions. Instead I settle down for a thoroughly entertaining that was relatively short, only because I missed so much at the start, this really was the way to end the evening, top music, great band.
Monster Ceilidh Band
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