This is a weekend that so nearly may not have happened. The 2012 Musicport - its return to Whitby from an initially optimistic but ultimately challenging exile in Bridlington - was a make or break year. Fortunately thanks to the generosity of the audience and the tenacity of organisers Jim & Sue McLaughlin the Festival pulled through. As the intervening year progressed with announcements of new funding and major headliners it was clear that Musicport was going to be back with a vengeance in 2013.
On our way to the Pavilion we were diverted by the sight of flames and the noise of drumming coming from the direction of Whitby's famous whalebones. On investigation this turned out to be the opening ceremony with fire jugglers Allabout - Walkabout and samba drumming from Claudia Kron and children from a local school. Although we were enjoying the atmosphere we left before this finished to secure a good seat for the evening so missed the parade to the Pavilion which apparently followed.
There is a really special atmosphere at Musicport which hits you as soon as you walk through the door - it truly has the feel of an outside festival with stalls, decorations and, importantly decent (if rather expensive this year) beer from Wold Top and Marstons. After getting our wristbands and programmes we settled down for the first band on the Main Stage - Snowapple. The three women making up this intriguing Dutch trio were visually striking - all tall and in various costumes of tartan. Their music was equally arresting with occasional quasi operatic elements combined with chime bars, guitar, accordion, whistle, fiddle, mandolin, tuba and trombone (the latter two instruments being played by a member of another band appearing at the Festival).
Next up were CC Smugglers from Bedfordshire who proved to be my highlight of the night - full of energy and a good set of original songs many in an Americana style with elements of swing, country, bluegrass, jazz and folk - marvellous! Also excellent were Manchester's 'A Harp and a Monkey' on the North Sea Stage whose subtle use of electronica supported both traditional and original songs - I could see this duo splitting folk club audiences' opinions but I would be very keen to see them in the particularly intimate atmosphere that clubs can offer.
Back on the main stage it was time for Louis Barabbas & The Bedlam Six. For some reason I cannot specifically recall this band just did not grab me - the music was well played and lively but my spirit remained unmoved - though judging by the number of people on the dance floor I was certainly in a minority. Finally the Neville Staple Band closed the concert performances for the night with a great set which included the classic 'Ghost Town' and 'The Lunatics have Taken Over the Asylum' and many other, ahem, staples from The Specials and Fun Boy Three years.
The next morning we visited the Chroma Van parked outside the Pavilion and had an 'immersive colour experience' and a colour reading. The colour reading was uncannily accurate in my case and 100% wrong in my partner's! We then approached the Main Stage with some trepidation as Jon Sterckx was performing his 'Drumscapes' which we were concerned would not be the ideal accompaniment to mild hangovers. We need not have feared though as the inventive use of samples and looping combined with live performance was much more engaging than expected - and thankfully not too loud! After a trip to see Leeds singer songwriter Patsy Matheson at the North Sea Stage we returned upstairs to see Himmerland - one of the highlights of the weekend. The multi - national (in a good way!) band delivered a mixture of (sometimes disturbing!) traditional and contemporary Danish songs and tunes (with occasional West African highlife elements). The performance was enhanced by their Ghanian percussionist who smiled throughout - I cannot remember seeing anyone look so happy for a whole hour!
Our first visit to the Theatre in the Pavilion complex was to see the Jadid Ensemble whose atmospheric interpretations of Moorish and Flamenco music was ideal for mid afternoon and a great lead in to the Moulettes back on the Main Stage. I was stunned by this band last year at Musicport and enjoyed them just as much this time - their new CD will be a cracker judging by the songs performed from it in this set.
Back to the Theatre for The Young 'Uns - I have a soft spot for this trio as they have re-energised the folk scene in my home town of Hartlepool. A mixture of brisk shanties and their own compositions was the order of the day and it was clear to see why they are such a popular booking on the folk and acoustic circuit. There was no rest for the wicked as we headed back to the Main Stage for the Baladi Blues who played street music from Cairo and Alexandria. Comprised of three percussion players, sax and accordion I initially enjoyed their set but after a while there just did not seem to be sufficient variety despite the undoubted virtuosity of the players. Again there was a good crowd on the dance floor who clearly found their somewhat hypnotic playing more rewarding than I did.
Skip 'Little Axe' McDonald who opened the evening on the Main Stage made such effective use of his guitar and effects pedals in the delivery of his primarily blues based songs that it was easy to forgive him the deployment of backing tracks. I would just love to see him with a full band though as, judging by the way he got the crowd chanting the refrain of his final song 'If I had my way I would tear the system down' during the demand for an encore, he made a great connection with the audience which the addition of more live musicians could only have augmented.
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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