Underneath The Stars

Venue: Cannon Hall Farm
Town: Cawthorne
Date: 24-26/7/15
Website: www.underthestarsfest.co.uk

It was a suitably apt saying which opened up last years FATEA review of the inaugural UTSf as it's now become known and not wanting to waste the opportunity for some continuity this year, here goes.

"If it ain't broken, why fix it?" is surely the type of expression which surely must have Yorkshire origins and if not, seems the sort of thing you'd expect from straight talking Yorkshire folk. You can bet that Stuart Maconie (this year's reading matter in the campsite tent) would have done his research and found out. Despite being the first UTS in 2014, the outcome of years' experience at various festivals culminating in a wonderful effort, still not satisfied, it was more a case this year of "If it ain't broken, make it better". Sounding more like the result of a highly paid marketing man's think tank than a Yorkshire philosophy, a little tweaking for 2015 seemed to have been in order.

Simply put, it was bigger, better and with what was probably a more diverse range of entertainment, facilities and music on offer. From Taiwanese musical expression to swing, jazz and blues based concoctions to arty rock and indie pop and the almost obligatory traditional folk and Americana, no one can fail to have been impressed by the variety and not had the opportunity to chance upon something fresh and lively.

With Siobhan Miller kicking off proceedings, her set prompting thoughts of her taking the mantle as the Scots version of Cara Dillon, the impact of the angled lighting struts on the main stage gave it an intimacy which meant that solo artists could feel comfortably at home amidst the impressively vast environment. Add to that the album launching set from Damian O'Kane and his band plus the Folk Awrds best band The Young'Uns and you had a tremendous opening afternoon/early evening and a real shame that it wasn't a Saturday night or Sunday headlining line up.

With several hours spent running through songs and soundchecking, you can bet that the Damien O'Kane band were on top form. The opportunity to hear some of the new material from the new 'Areas Of High Traffic' and grab a copy as well as getting it signed, all well ahead of the release date in November was one not to be missed. Suffice to say that fans will be enthralled in the contemporary direction Damien has taken the traditional material accompanied by a crack band whose next mission is to surely get out on tour.

It was a festival opening that was matched by Saturday night's triple whammy of disparate proportions. Radiohead's Phillip Selway performing as a solo artists with his small band and taking time away from his drums to sing and play guitars and keys might well have divided opinion. A brave call from Joe Rusby but a long shot which came home. Think Pet Shop Boys meets New Order via Steven Wilson/No-Man and a set which blended electronic soundscapes with quality songs and stark yet simple, imaginative lighting. Not everyone's cup of tea and at the other end of the spectrum from the folk balance, yet brooding and compelling. Over n the smaller stage was what was called "fifty minutes of pure joy". Keston Cobbler's Club -were what Mumford & Sons could be. Unpretentious, light and friendly and perfect festival fayre. The new 'Wildfire' album being the core of their maybe the people's choice as the band of the festival and alongside Sunday afternoon's Hope & Social, certainly getting the vote from the younger festival goers. Those of a more mature and discerning persuasion were probably busy listening to the young pretenders from huge queues outside the main stage as they lined up to get a prime spot for Mary Chapin Carpenter whose awards and acclaim over the years and a perfect foil for fellow headliner Kate Rusby. An understated yet stately and elegant performance accompanied by just guitar and piano and a perfect illustration of the diversity of the festival next to what had preceded her on Saturday night.

So KCC or MCC? An interesting choice, yet many people's vote for the musician of the festival alongside Martin Simpson and Luke Daniles would have come with the appearance of Bruce Molsky just before the Kate Rusby big band closed out the Sunday night and handed over to the explosive Molotov Jukebox to send people away on a high. The weather might have blessed 2014 and it even dared to rain on God's own country on the final afternoon, but with the likes of Leeds' Hope & Social having the energy and enthusiasm to raise the spirits, any chance the weather took to rain on the parade was averted. However, with the rain flowing off the tents (briefly transforming the event to Underneath The Stair-rods of rain festival ), Molsky switched effortlessly between fiddle, banjo and (Kate Rusby's ) guitar in an exhibition of timeless song and music with an Appalachian flavour.

Clearly the star of the whole show comes in the form of Kate Rusby, adding an extra dimension and expanding to include strings in the Kate Rusby big band. She perhaps epitomises the whole vibe of the festival and it's totally appropriate that everyone should stop, down tools and cram into the big top for the final (bar one) performance of the event on the Sunday night. The genuine warmth and appreciation that oozes from the stage characterises what is quickly becoming a 'must do' event on the music festival calendar. It's not just about folk music, although that may remain at the core with the bill working from the Pure Records associations, but the assortment of music on offer added to the unique surroundings of the Cannon Hall complex are truly distinctive. Heck, you could have even gone to see the Downton display in Cannon Hall or spotted the enormous fungi on one of the trees in the grounds. There was even the omnipresent Mark Radcliffe here with his band with Galleon Blast and of course on hand to take care of main stage introductions on his round of the Summer festivals. No doubt he'll have saved the dates of 22-24th July 2016 in his diary…

Mike Ainscoe - Words, Phil Carter - Pics

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