On the festival calendar, the last weekend of December now means the Great British Folk Festival at Butlins Skegness, ending a festival season which for Fatea kicked off back in March with the Bournemouth Folk Festival. By anyone's standard, that's become quite a season.
The Great British Folk Festival has reached the grand old age of two, but for a number of people it has already become an established part of the festival scene. When you think about it the reasons are obvious. Accommodation is included as part of the package, so with no need to worry about cold tents, warm venues with good views of the stage and most importantly good sound.
Fatea didn't make the debut event, last year snow and ice did put a bit of pressure on the event, but pretty much everyone who booked got there and the feedback was good. By contrast in was in blazing, though not too warm sunshine the team headed off to Skegness.
As well as being my first time at the GBFF, it was also my first time staying at a Butlins. As a youngster the family never took entertainment centre based holidays and my rights of passage holidays were generally taken on narrow boats around the country.
Naturally I had some pre-conceptions about holiday camp holidays. I know they've moved away from the images lampooned in Hi-Di-Hi, but I hadn't realised how far they had moved away. Pretty much all of my preconceptions were shattered.
The booking in process is clean and efficient, obviously it's a well practiced routine. From arriving on site to getting into our accommodation was less than ten minutes. The staff polite and helpful, making sure you had everything you needed.
The apartment that would become team headquarters for the weekend spacious, fridge, dishwasher and most importantly comfortable beds. Add in a decent sized lounge and enough sockets to supply our heavy requirements, job done. I hadn't expected the old caravans and huts of old, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. It was a similar scenario with the food, good quality, served in good surrounding, definitely not a weekend where lack of nourishment was going to be a factor.
In fact my only real quibble on day one was "A Little Guide To Your Big Weekend". Whilst all the timings were in there, not all of the artists had a biog, which could be a bit of a pain if you hadn't done all your research up from. My other suggestion for the guide would be to list the days horizontally rather than vertically to make it easier to compare times.
Base camp established, fed and watered it was time for the festival proper to kick off. Generally I'm a little of everything type person at festivals. There are always odd acts that will hold me for an entire set, but that's generally concert road for me.
Initial plan of attack was to start with 3 Daft Monkeys in Centre Stage and then switch to Emily Smith in Reds. Both venues are of a similar size, but there are a couple of pillars in Red that restrict a very limited amount of view of the stage. It's free seating so literally a case of first come first served.
3 Daft Monkeys are slightly late coming to the stage, trying to squeeze in bit of a sound check, before kicking straight into the hard driving folk sound for which they've become renown. The first thing that you noticed was they there appeared to be 4 Daft Monkeys on stage, with a percussionist now sat in amongst the former power trio. Personally I thought it complemented their sound in a way that a more conventional drummer might not have been able to.
3 Daft Monkeys have evolved into a really tight unit, their sound is almost a personification of the word festival, their role is to ensure you have a good time and they take that very much to heart. Whilst their recorded works go someway to capturing the spirit of the band, it is the live environment that seems to suit them best and judging by the way they've got the people in the pit moving there's quite a few people here that would go along with that.
Their approach to music pretty much reminds me of the Levellers, put in the hard graft, mix it with talent and the audience will come. It's a philosophy that has won them quite a few fans as well as record sales and there were quite a few in the audience that were already well into the atmosphere as I take my leave and sneak away to capture a very different mood in Reds with Emily Smith.
When I get there, Emily is sharing the stage with three other musicians, including James Lindsay on bass on loan from Breabach, who will apparently have a new album and tour early in 2012, I digress. The number of musicians on stage fluctuates depending on the songs and if Emily is strapped into her accordion. The consistent factor being Emily's incredible voice.
Her sound and style are instantly recognisable, the lilt in her accent, and it is only a lilt and not the affectious vocals that some artists seem to think are necessary to be distinctive. Where as 3 Daft Monkeys have an audience that are out to really get moving, be loud and boisterous, Emily Smith has an audience that are enchanted. Except for the wild applause between songs, you can pretty much hear a proverbial pin drop and even that would have a Scottish feel to it.
With a blend of self penned and traditional songs, Emily and co really pull the audience in. You find yourself forgetting that you are in a very large hall and start believing that you are in a far more intimate club setting. It's a remarkable talent and one that shows if the artist is good enough, the size of venue should not be a defining factor in the expansion of folk music. In order to achieve that you need good sound and the guys behind the desk have definitely achieved that.
Emily Smith has a wonderful voice and having taken a sweep of the venue you can hear it clearly even in the deepest recesses. Whilst it's a very different start in Reds to Centre Stage, both are definitely folk. There really is quite a lot of choice and variety on the folk band of the acoustic spectrum and we're going to get a lot of that during the course of the weekend.
Whilst Emily Smith cannot be defined anymore as one of folk's new voices, I think it is beyond a doubt that the next act to take to the stage in Reds is one of the genre's old stalwarts, Ralph McTell.
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