Well, it's Friday the 23rd of March and Fatea is officially opening its 2012 Festival Season. Bournemouth Folk Festival reaches the grand old age of two and already it's expanded into a second day and that confidence seems to have been justified judging by the turnout.
Late March doesn't guarantee good weather, but that doesn't matter if you're a venue based festival and the Bournemouth International Centre(BIC) once again plays host. It works well, not only does it provide the facilities for two performance areas, not including the outside space for morris dancing and the like on the Saturday. It also means there's plenty of rooms for workshops and no risk of sound bleed from one stage to the others.
The organisers have done a great job, but you would expect no less from a team that also run Bournemouth Folk Club and Purbeck Folk Festival the sister festival to Bournemouth Folk Festival that runs later in the year so hats off to them.
On the Friday, I'm pretty much camped out at the Tregonwell Hall. There is music going on in the bar area, but the lineup in the main arena has definitely got my attention for the evening with a really good balance of a couple of the Folk Club regulars and some visiting artists, including Urban Folk Quartet, whose recent "Off Beaten Track" really impressed.
Alex Roberts gets the honour of opening the second Bournemouth Folk Festival and is an artist that until now I've only ever seen play smaller, more intimate venues before. He's a singer/songwriter, well more a balladeer with a reputation for being an exceptional guitarist, both conventional and lap. He's also an artist that believes song writing is an organic process; they grow out there, waiting for a songwriter to come along and harvest them. Sometimes that can be a pretty instant thing and sometimes a song needs to be nourished over a couple of growing seasons.
Surprisingly, he starts his set playing what looks from where I'm sitting, to be a lute, which I don't recall ever seeing him play before and an excellent choice of song and instrument to start a folk festival, that said, whilst Bournemouth Folk Festival is folkier than some it does have a very open interpretation of the genre, including world music as well as rockier acts over the course of the bill.
Alex delivers a couple of self penned folk influenced songs before moving across to his more familiar guitar. He's got a very engaging style, gaps between the songs are definitely for talking to an audience not just for introducing the next number.
Whether it's because he feels that songs come to him, rather than are written by him, Alex has quite a range of material. By that I mean he can write very personal songs; how many other artists can have a song about escaping the house as a five year old via the cat flap whilst dressed as an astronaut? To songs that have far more of a universal flavour.
Roberts is a great way to start a festival. Regardless of whether he's playing folk, blues or anywhere in between there is a chilled feel to his sound. It's welcoming, inviting you into the core of the songs and he himself comes across an amiable chap that's easy to warm to. More importantly he filled the venue, he still came across as intimate and is surely ready for the bigger stages on a more regular basis. There's rumours of a new album later in the year, definitely one to listen out for.
Talking of rumours of a new album, brings us neatly to the next act Fearne. Fearne really should be a lot bigger than they are and it's really difficult to understand why. It's not the quality of the songs, the band have a real stage presence and in Alex an enigmatic lead singer supported by three good quality multi-instrumentalists Nick, Adam and Darren. Apart from continuing to work their bollocks off it's difficult to see what more they can do. Luckily that hard work has been paying off and they are moving steadily out from their Poole/Bournemouth base to recognition further afield just not the national recognition they deserve, maybe that's something that will come with their overdue next album.
Tonight sees them pad out the sound with additional musicians, with an additional multi-instrumentalist, Guns, on loan from a rock band, whose name I missed and Sophie on joint lead vocals for their epic long song.
Fearne delivered a set that was at times quirky, heart warming, heart rendering, straight to the point and off at a tangent. If that all sounds a little confusing it's not, they know how to put a set together and how to get it across to an audience.
When Alex said, we've got two numbers left you couldn't really believe that they'd used up their allotted slot so, seemingly, quickly. Their acoustic, folk-pop-rock sound has a real spark to it.
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