We first attended Purbeck Folk Festival last year and found an absolutely delightful farm based festival in the South of Dorset. As well as providing great venues with good sound, the farm setting ensured a great range of food and the addition of a top bar ensured top gastronomy for the weekend. Musically the balance of local acts with those sourced from further afield seemed second to none.
Due to a long standing commitment, I'd missed the opening night of this year's Purbeck Folk Festival, a festival that is the current holder of the Fatea Countryside Festival Of The Year, but I'd arrived good and early on the Saturday to make up for it. Good and early at a festival ? On a Saturday Morning? Are You Mad? I hear you ask, well possibly. I really do love watching a festival site come to life and this farm based festival had some sites.
You know where you are when you see a whole pig spatchcocked and placed into a roasting frame. In fact food at the festival was of a really high standard and by festival levels pretty damned reasonable, for example full roast pork dinner with all the trimmings, eight quid, I've paid more for substantially less tasty, though it has to be said, there was less of a veggie choice than I've seen elsewhere.
A quick explore over what is a relatively compact site, quickly told me that there had been a new small outdoor stage, the Wood Stage added to join it's big outdoor sibling, The Fire Stage, bringing the total to five, with the two indoor stages, High Barn & Long Barn plus the Duck Shed all their own unique character. In addition to which a cinema tent had been added, providing yet another place for families to gather, especially if a whole day watching music is too much for the young ones.
Over the course of the next couple of days I would be thoroughly entertained by great performances over five stages all with excellent sound, an area that Purbeck seems to have made great strides in over the last couple of years to the praise of the artists, sated by great food and drink and even witnessed a wedding proposal, let me take you on a journey that was Purbeck Folk Festival.
As with a lot of festivals the day starts with workshops, singing, Morris dancing and wool play and fettling amongst those being offered on the Saturday. There was a guided tour around the Purbeck Hills and for the younger festival goers a treasure hunt. A shanty singing session bringing things to life in the Duck Shed followed by an open mic session, a pattern that would be repeated on the Sunday with songs of protest and Union replacing the shanties.
At midday, Threepenny Bit kicked off the programmed music bring their ceilidh/klezmer madness to the Wood Stage to be followed in rapid succession by singer-songwriters Chris Hopgood and Pete Morton on the Fire and High Barn Stages respectively. Threepenny bit would be superseded by the finalists of the Purbeck Rising competition, with the artists competing for a mainstage slot the following year. The Wood Stage would also host the annual poetry slam later in the afternoon, but apart from that a publically available performance area, both open mic and later in the evening, jam time.
The early part of Saturday afternoon saw a fine crop of young bands, pretty evenly distributed between the Fire Stage and the Long Barn, all spaced so that if the little of everything approach was your plan of attack you really could catch a section of The Drystones, Great Western Revellers, Willowen and The Klezbians.
On a couple of recommendations my first port of call amongst them are The Drystones, a duo consisting Ford Collier and Alex Garden, who came together as a scratch duo to fill an unexpectedly vacated spot at Priddy Folk Festival back in 2011 and who haven't looked back since. I always like it when a recommendation bears fruit, this predominantly guitar/fiddle lead duo certainly delivered a rousing set of tunes bringing many on the embanked field to their feet to bob up and down iof not dance. I'm pleased to say they already have a debut release, "The Album (Or What You Will)" available and definitely well worth sniffing out.
One of the other things I love about festivals is bumping into people that you know and new people that you've met through social media, but haven't actually met in the flesh and this year, that included Jon Earle, who was at the festival to enjoy himself and who knows, possibly sound out the ground to bring his rightly famous Songs From The Shed here next year. Also a quick hello to Steve Dagleish, who was heavily promoting Folkstock a one day festival on the 21st of September, good to have been able to sit down to a coffee and shortbread, my round next time.
Thoroughly enjoyed Willowen, a dynamic three piece, with an acoustic pop core and who will have a new single out in the not too distant before moving onto the Cornish twelve piece combo, The Klezbians. As the name suggests there is a large amount of Klezmer that influences their sound. Loud, brash and definitely enjoying what they do, this band was not only fun, they have a real impact, looking around me, I found myself surrounded by the beaming smiles of a predominantly dancing and bobbing audience .
The Duck Shed is the most intimate of the stages, but even here real attention was paid to detail and the quality of the sound. Actually it's probably worth giving the sound a special mention, all around the stages the sound set up was excellent, nowhere did it over power the venue, but was always loud enough for you to hear what was going on, well once the compere remembered which mic they were supposed to use. A big thumbs up all around to the sound team.
I was actually at the Duck Shed to see an artist that has really impressed me with her cd and radio performances, so much in face that she's currently one of the artists on the Fatea Showcase Session download, but this was my first opportunity to hear, Danni Nicholls perform live and she certainly did not disappoint. Just her, her guitar and a real positive attitude, Danni seemed to be out to enjoy herself and she took the room with her, there was a real sparkle to her brand of Americana, a real joy to listen to and have a chat with after. If she's playing near you, definitely make the effort.
A bit of a stage blitz then saw me catch April Maze, an Australian duo who include a quirky sense of humour in their material and whose left field approach to songwriting has that real uplifting quality that seems to come naturally to our Antipodean friends. It provide a grand contrast with Karine Polwart and her darker more political set, both equally enjoyable and a contrast that shows just how much scope there is in what we call folk music, but unlike Karine's set, April Maze's didn't contain a wedding proposal, which was accepted.
Following a set from English folkster Martha Tilston, most of the early evening was spent with American influenced music across at the Fire Stage. Initially that was via the Carrivicks who brought their old timey mountain music and bluegrass influenced songs to the stage, including a good number from their new album, "Over The Edge" which sounds absolutely great live.
That was followed by a lesson in the blues from Mark Harrison, who includes Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker in his band, amongst others. Mark took us all on a fantastic musical journey, following the blues from the Mississippi Delta to Chicago as it followed the work. It was definitely one of the sets of the festival with Mark coaxing the reserve out of the crowd and getting a load of people dancing and that rare festival honour, a genuine encore.
I rounded the evening off on the Fire Stage with two local singer-songwriters. Hannah Robinson had the tough task of following Mark Harrison and whilst I found myself enjoying the music, I'm a sucker for songs, Hannah's material seemed more suited to a more intimate setting and struggled a bit against the fireworks of its predecessor.
No such worries for Pete Christie, who claimed to be the only artist from Purbeck playing at Purbeck this year. There's rumours of a new album from Pete at sometime soon and there were a number of songs in his set that I didn't recall hearing before.
Pete is an artist that wears his heart on his sleeve when performing, angrily ranting one minute, losing himself in his music the next. He's also an artist that really wrings every last note and chord out of his guitar, an artist that deserves to be wider known, and great to watch.
As I said at the start, festivals are more than just about the music, so without an ounce of guilt or regret, the rest of the night was about the banter, knowing that in the morning it all started again.
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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