What could be better than a free afternoon of top quality folk music in a picturesque Victorian park on a warm Sunday afternoon?
The event that I describe above is Southport’s Folk In The Park, organised by local performers Richard Simcock and David Hirst. This is the fourth year that they have put on this highly enjoyable event and today’s show was the biggest and best yet.
Having secured some commercial sponsorship [from Barron Financial Solutions], Richard and David were able, for the first time, to book a national "star" artist as a headliner, namely the superb Bob Fox. Bob’s presence at the top of the bill ensured a large and appreciative crowd who soaked up the sun in the beautiful tree-lined natural amphitheatre.
The proceedings got underway with Bothy Folk Club regulars Pete Rimmer and Bill Hackney, talented guitarists both, who set the mood for the afternoon with a relaxed set of songs including "Georgia", "Sixteen Tons", "The Cuckoo", "Swimming Song" and closed with Neil Young’s "Rockin’ In The Free World".
Next up was Alastair Vannan, a seasoned performer who, as an archaeologist and historical researcher has a real empathy with the traditional songs of England,Scotland and Ireland [he grew up in Northern Ireland]. As well as being an excellent singer, Alastair is no mean guitar and mandola player as he demonstrated in his set, which included a lovely version of Richard Thompson’s "Beeswing", the traditional "This Young Briar Broom" and the atmospheric historical tale of "The Death Of Queen Jane".
A nice feature of Folk In The Park are the musical interludes, provided by a ceilidh band, which enable the audience to have a dance between sets. This is very popular, judging by the number of dancers both young and not-so-young.
I had not previously encountered Jai Brierley but was most impressed with his imaginative songwriting. "Tied To The Ebb And Flow" [a "love song tied up in a metaphor"] and "The Whale Song" [ a similar theme to "Lord Franklin" about sailors lost at sea] both demonstrate that he is a writer of considerable talent. I also enjoyed very much his cover versions of "Love In Vain Blues", "National 7" and, especially, his excellent rendition of "The Lakes Of Pontchartrain".
Following Jai was co-promoter of today’s event, David Hirst . I always enjoy David’s performances as he has a strong,rich voice and a unique, almost classical guitar-style [he plays using nylon strings ]. David began with his own composition "Send Me To Hell", an excellent piece which I never tire of hearing.David is also a fine interpreter of traditional material, as clearly shown by his versions of "Sheep Crook And Black Dog" and "The Trees They Do Grow High".
The penultimate act of the afternoon were a group of local musicians who go by the name of "Southport Convention". Yes, you have guessed it, they are [to the best of my knowledge] the world’s first Fairport Convention Tribute Band, and jolly good they are too!
The band is made up of Chris "DS" Nelson [fiddle and vocals], Siobhan "SD" Nelson [ lead vocals], Richard "SN" Simcock [acoustic guitar and vocals], Maurice "AH" Watson [electric bass guitar]and Dave "RT" Thornley [lead guitar]. As Chris Nelson stated " we are doing a very cheeky thing" but why not re-create this timeless music, especially on a day like today?
The band launched into Sandy Denny’s "Rising For The Moon", only to be greeted by a doggy stage invasion by a chocolate Labradoodle!
Southport Convention’s set took in such Fairport classics as "Crazy Man Michael", "The Eynsham Poacher" [sung by Chris], a thundering "John The Gun" [complete with car alarm], a touching "Rosie" [sung by Richard ] and a lovely "Who Knows Where The Time Goes" [sung by Siobhan] but the highlight was a superb, rocking version of "Matty Groves",with great call-and-response interplay between Dave on electric guitar and Chris on fiddle. As a coda, Dave treated us to a fine psychedelic guitar-freakout. Excellent stuff!
And so to the headliner Bob Fox, one of this country’s greatest interpreters of folk songs. As Bob himself says, he has never written a song in his life but what he does is to take traditional songs [particularly from the North East] and songs by contemporary songwriters and he makes them his own . He is a great teller of stories in song which is, no doubt, why he was chosen to play the part of Songman in the hugely successful theatre production of "Warhorse".
From "Warhorse", Bob gave us a lovely rendition of John Tams’ "The Year Turns Round Again", followed by another Tams song "Rolling Home", with its rousing chorus, which had the crowd singing along with great gusto.
As I said above, Bob is a great interpreter and his versions of Chris Leslie’s "My Love Is In America" and Jez Lowe’s "Greek Lightning" were nothing short of definitive.
Bob is steeped in the history of the Durham Coal Mining industry and he gave us a song by "Pitman Poet" Tommy Armstrong about the South Medomsley Strike of 1885 in which Tommy imagines the candymen [bailiffs ] being boiled up for soup and fed to the colliery owners!
Bob closed his set with the charming "Galway Shawl" [as popularised by The Dubliners] and so ended a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon . As Bob said "Where would you rather be than in Southport on a sunny Sunday afternoon?".
Photocredit Les Brown top to bottom: Bob Fox, Pete Rimmer and Bill Hackney, David Hirst, Southport Convention
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