"Ogres are like onions. They have layers." Shrek said that. How about "Festivals are like strawberries" You can now get them all year round.
Rather like October's English Folk Expo/Homegrown event at Bury's Met theatre, Butlins provides a Winter fix of folk with their Great British Folk Festival. Adding to their Winter calendar of live music weekends, the 2015 folk event was sold out with towards six thousand heading East and packing into Skegness' Skyline Pavilion and beyond. It simply confirms the fact that these weekends and the folk genre are in rude health and with the east coast escaping the battering of extreme weather laying waste to other parts of the country, Skegness, or Skeg Vegas as some call it, was the place to be.
Also like The Met, the event brings together a quality bill of folk acts which is as good as any larger folk festival has to offer; all on three stages and with a mouthwatering choice, there are times when bagging a decent spot for the duration means missing out on something worthwhile elsewhere but as they say in nearby Yorkshire, you pays your money, you makes your choice. A slight sense of déjà vu prevailed with FATEA joining the Northern Sky contingent out in force and the return of the three most popular bands from last year's 'Introducing' stage striking up a sense of warm familiarity. That and the brisk walk on the beach after breakfast to blow away any cobwebs following any shenanigans from the late night bands.
The wind was fair whipping up a storm outside and the electric folk of False Lights and Eliza Carthy's ten piece Wayward band seemed to be determined to be doing similar indoors. They do say, allegedly, that the mark of a good gig can be measured by (a) the amount of people who pack what you might call the dance floor at the front of the stage and (b) the proportion of people, who once there, actually 'dance'. While it took a while for Sam Carter and Jim Moray's band to coax the people forward, they proved that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em as they trooped downstage come end of set for an unplugged 'How Can I Keep From Singing' maybe to prove that although they might be seen as folk brigands, making a raucous noise while interpreting traditional songs, they can still tick the traditional folk boxes.
While False Lights might have been crossing the bar, the Wayward Band seemed set on raising it, delivering a full on jamboree; the good news being that they seem to be set to continue as a recording unit after coming together as a temporary festival band. Just in time too, with another big (in numbers) band about to run its final course. Talking of which, Sam Sweeney at a festival and only doing one gig? At least he made it count with a furious fiddle off with Eliza and polishing off a few of those scissor kicks which are his trademark in the other main job. It was 'Mr Walker' and its ending which didn't seem to want to end which set the bar for the weekend ad giving Friday night an end of term feel about it that maybe deserved a higher profile spot. On the other hand it was an explosive way to kick off the festival.
Elsewhere, as there were other things happening, the opening evenings choice pitted a solo Billy Bragg against the Wayward Band - and after the political machinations of the previous week, you could have been assured that Sir Billy Bragg would have plenty to say. Having the chance to catch just a short part of his set, he was in full flow on his high horse on the subject of the death of transgender prisoners - always on the ball with something topical and good for a few words of wisdom. Plus a well stocked merch stand. Whether or not he bantered with the crowd or what else he spake forth upon, you'd need to hang around a little longer but in terms of getting people on their feet and up to the stage, a great success.
Merlin's Keep found themselves in good company then having been voted up to join the main stages, X Factor style, after last year's performance. The constant turnaround of bands on the 'Introducing' stage in the main indoor public area always provides handy entertainment for anyone in the queues for the other stages. This year's showcases cast some quality acts against each other; three piece Said The Maiden with their Fairport links and Ben Nicholl's Kings Of The South Seas project which has also toured with Bellowhead meant a strong high profile line up for Friday night. Together with the more country folk of Fitzwallace and Strummin' Steve Jackson, yet to put things in a nutshell, it turned out to be an excellent first night. One which was going to be hard to top.
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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video Peter Simmonds
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