Maverick

Venue: Easton Farm Park
Town: Easton
Dates: 3-5/7/15
Website: http://www.maverickfestival.co.uk/

First there were just the two of them, sat down in camping chairs, front and centre. A little strange but then possibly appropriate for the opening of the Clubhouse Records curated Peacock stage. Paul McClure led Emma Swift and Simon Stanley Ward in a songwriters circle around the theme of "Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed and Something Blue". Unsurprisingly, for an Americana festival, none had any problems with the last category, even though McClure's was called I Could Be A Happy Man. It was McClure's re-working of Case Hardin's Lady Hill that was the undisputed highlight of the set - very Dylanesque and it took me a verse to twig what song it was.

As the set finished and the crowd moved out; maybe for refreshments, maybe to see what was going on in the barn, the space left was quickly filled by more chairs - rows and rows of them. I thought that The Rosellys must have attracted a certain sit down crowd for their beautiful harmonies, fiddle and pedal steel but they remained for jangle of The Dreaming Spires and through the technical difficulties that plagued Don Gallardo's set.

By the time Case Hardin hit the stage the flanks were getting packed and the sitting middle getting squeezed. With the departure of Hannah Pirana Case Hardin are operating as a four piece. The joy of hearing more of Jim Maving's lead guitar is tempered somewhat by the reduced layering of sounds caused by the loss of the violin (and, from earlier times, banjo and mandolin). However, the songs of Pete Gow are so robust that they can handle any line up.

There is a price to pay by staying in one place. I missed Miriam Jones, and only caught fleeting glimpses of Curtis Eller and Larkin Poe with the latter clashing with The Clubhouse Allstars Rollin' Revue. They started with Helpless and when Paul McClure announced that Rebecca Rosellys was singing the "Joni Mitchell part" I assumed that we were in for a Last Waltz selection but Californian Stars punched a Billy Bragg/ Wilco / Woody Guthrie sized hole in that theory. There were a couple more Band songs; the obligatory The Weight (so often heard that is it right up there with Waggon Wheel in the list of songs that should be barred) and I Shall Be Released to close the night. There was also a crunching take on Mudcrutch's version of Lover Of The Bayou with Pete Gow on lead vocals. This was the perfect way to end Friday night.

There was loud thunder, sheet lightning and heavy rain in the early hours but throughout the day there was nothing but a clear blue sky and a hot, hot sun. Whilst I am a "better hot than cold" and "better dry than wet" man a few degrees cooler would have been welcome. When the Sweethearts of Alabama took to the outside stage I couldn't believe it could be hotter here than in any of the Southern States. Sweethearts of Alabama was, essentially, a live sampler. Hannah Aldridge, Lisa Mills, Sonia Leigh and Debbie Bond all had a couple of songs and then a 45 minute set in the evening on The Moonshine Stage. I'll admit to being initially sceptical about the format but I think it really worked.

Seeing Alan Tyler is always a treat and is possibly the definition of UK Americana. His latest band, The Alan Tyler Show, is a laid back three piece. Their current album - half original and half covers - is a delight. Yes, I am biased, but Essex Girl is a favourite of mine and I was more than a little happy when it was played. Throw in some of his river songs, a cover of The Return of the Grievous Angel and couple of Rockingbirds tracks and I could have left a happy man. But, if I had left, I would have missed Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band. I've seen Dana many times in the past; either solo or with a jazz tinged band that was not always to my taste. I had it on good authority that they were worth watching. They were. Danna played her troublesome banjo and there was cello, washboard, cajon and a deliciously loud electric guitar to back her. Throw some three part harmonies in to the mix and you get something magical. There was nothing else quite like it all weekend.

Having Billy Bragg headline was something of a surprise seeing as (Mermaid Avenue and Tooth and Nail aside) he's not really known as an Americana artist. He was originally going to play Saturday evening in the barn but it was decided to move his slot to last on the Sweet Home Alabama Stage, thereby giving an opportunity for more people to see him. An undoubtedly logical approach but one that didn't work particularly well. Firstly, 95% of the audience were sitting on their camp chairs. They'd probably been there all afternoon, in their spot, their square yard of prime Suffolk land. Which meant that the 5% who wanted to stand were effectively barred from doing so. I'd expected Bragg to do a set heavy on the Mermaid Avenue / Tooth and Nail material but we got a crowd pleasing greatest hits package. Sexuality was dedicated to the US Supreme Court and we were accused of being "softies" for getting misty eyed over The Saturday Boy. I Ain't Got No Home was heart wrenching, as was Levi Stubbs' Tears. A New England finally got people up and he gave an encore - short because he didn't want to encroach on anybody else's sets, but perfectly formed as it was A13, Trunk Road To Shoeburyness rarely played outside of Essex's Borders.

The second problem with Bragg finishing around seven o'clock was that he is a hard act to follow. I wanted to go back to my tent name checking the places I passed on my way to work twenty years ago not wondering how the next four hours would stand up.

I saw both of Hannah Aldridge's sets, the first in the Barn and the second on the Moonshine Stage. Both were packed, helped no doubt by her couple of songs in the early afternoon. There were a few new songs played; Aftermath, Burning Down Birmingham and Born to Be Broken. We had to imagine her with a southern rock band behind her as she played her acoustic guitar which was not too much of a stretch for anyone who has heard Try from Razor Wire.

After Hannah was a special appearance by Robyn Hitchcock. Many festivals announce their unannounced guests in advance but this was genuinely surprising. There were relatively few people there and judging by the chatter later on in the evening quite a lot who were disappointed to have missed him. It would seem very likely that there will be a longer more formal set from Hitchcock in 2016.

The rest of the evening was spent wandering, trying to catch pieces of as many acts as I good. A little more of Debbie Bond on the Moonshine Stage; Amanda Rheaume and Anne McCue on the Peacock and Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Revue finishing up on in The Barn. Chastity Brown made a pleasing soulful noise that made me wish I'd have got in the barn to see all her set.

Because of the early close, I've always felt that Sunday is a tricky day at Maverick and this year was no exception. In contrast to the blue skies and sunshine of the previous day, the morning started dark and got darker with the inevitable rains falling soon after nine I headed south.

Maverick has fast become one of the highlights of the festival calendar. I do hope that in the next few years it can avoid becoming like many folk festivals and their predicable bills, not having the headliner in the early evening and getting chairs away from the Peacock Stage. I want Maverick to stay, well, a maverick.

John Hawes

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