Shrewsbury Folk Festival

Venue: West Midlands Showground
Town: Shrewsbury
Dates: 23rd-26th August


Joe Grint(See Below)

Mike Rolland

Joe Grint's Shrewsbury

I've been attending Shrewsbury Folk Festival every year since its inception and it always guarantees a weekend of superb music, both that which is familiar to me and exciting new discoveries. Last year's festival was probably the very best so far for me and I was a little nervous that the line up this year didn't seem quite as strong from my personal taste perspective - though nevertheless it was still impressive.

After timing our arrival for the gates opening at 10am and pitching camp, unusually we spent the afternoon on site rather than heading into town. The set up was much the same as previous years - two main marquees and the third, smaller but still impressive, blue and yellow striped 'Sabrina' marquee. An open air 'Village Stage' ,surrounded by craft stalls, and a large dance tent at the far end of the site completed the main on site performance venues, though there were also a number of indoor rooms around the site for more intimate events. A number of pubs around the town also host concerts and sessions but as usual we did not manage to get to any of these.

As always there was an incredible choice of real ales and ciders available from the three bars and mains toilet facilities provided appropriate relief.

There is always a frisson of excitement in the first reading of the programme over a pint of Salopian's stunning Hoptwister ale and, fortunately, to prevent too much squabbling over our one copy, there is also a handy pull out card that describes the line ups on the main stages over the weekend.

I was delighted to see that one of my favourite duos, Jinski, were opening the festival on the Village Stage and, as expected, their set was suitably uplifting and seemed to be well received by the crowd. I wasn't over keen on the Grimaldi Band who followed Jinski so we wandered over to join the Shrewsbury institution of the queue for the huge Marquee 1. Fortunately this year people were queuing a bit later than usual so we got a good place in the marquee to see the stunning southern Italian band Nidi D'Arac whose set went up another gear when the lead singer put down his guitar and picked up a tamborello - basically a larger and, therefore, deeper tambourine.

I initially felt a little sorry for Steve Knightley having to follow that without his Show of Hands colleagues. My sympathy was misplaced, however, as he had the audience in the palm of his hand from the opening 'Company Town' through a superb selection of material including a surprisingly successful 'Galway Farmer' and an intriguing Pink / Bob Dylan mash up to the final ' Country Life' during which the audience chorus of 'oohs' brought a shiver to the spine. My only disappointment was that personal favourite 'Cousin Jack' was missing from the set but it would have only made me weep gently as it always does! This was the first time I had seen Steve solo and I concluded that his performance was a master-class in stage craft which many could learn from.

I had been looking forward immensely to the Afro Celts following their last triumphant appearance at the festival but for some reason they just didn't hit the spot for me this time. Most of the components for a thrilling evening were in place - pipes, kora, talking drum, dhol drums (though not Johnny Kalsi) but a seeming over reliance on programmed sounds and the lack of of the wonderful vocalist Iarla O'Lionaird seemed to lessen the experience - or maybe I was just that way out as the crowd clearly loved them.

Saturday's music commenced for me with most of Moore Moss Rutter's set in Marquee 2. Superb musicians all three (fiddle, guitar, melodeon) and surely the only band to perform a tune named after a Wii game ('King of The Pond'). The only reason we left a little early was to head to the Sabrina Marquee to catch James Riley who I had not come across before. With an excellent ensemble, James's confident delivery, strong voice and good choice of material made him someone I certainly hope to see again before too long.

Across to the main tent now for Tim O'Brien's Band. With a line up featuring surnames of McGoldrick, McCusker, Kelly, Talbot and McGlinn it was unlikely that anything could go wrong and it certainly didn't - a veritable feast of North American and Irish music was laid at the audience's table and they devoured it with great enthusiasm. The highlight for me was the song 'San Patricios' which told the tale of the group of disaffected Irish-American conscripts led by Capt. John Riley who crossed the border to fight with the Mexicans in the 1840's.

Colvin Quarmby who followed are truly unique. The only other time I saw them (also at this festival) I was almost helpless with laughter during the patter between the (truly excellent and often moving) songs and the same happened this time. The comic invention and exuberance of Gerry Colvin and the superb musicianship of the band is one of life's great pleasures - though not for the sensitive! As someone else commented they should be available on prescription. I just hope some philanthropic promoter or festival can tempt them up to Yorkshire sometime as most of their gigs appear to be in the southern half of the country.

Marquee 1 was also our home for the evening and the concert opened with a typically passionate set from Martyn Joseph the highlight of which for me was the song '5 Sons' about the senseless deaths that continue to plague the Middle East. Eddi Reader followed and though her music is often not my cup of tea ('Perfect' is one of those songs that makes me shudder!) her set was very professional and varied, the band were stunning and Boo Hewerdine's 'Patience of Angels' and Burns' 'Ae Fond Kiss' were beautifully performed. The Oyster Band ended the evening with a typically high energy performance led from the front (and, during 'Here Comes the Flood', from the mosh pit) by the 'still cool after all these years' John Jones. A truly stunning version of 'Blackwaterside' and the insistently singable 'Everywhere I Go' were highlights of a triumphant set which released the endolphins (as John Tams would say) most effectively.


Pictures:Jinski, Colvin Quarmby

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