Musicport Festival

Venue: Whitby Pavillion
Town: Whitby
Date: 5th-7th October

This year's Musicport marked a return to its roots in Whitby following a brief but not totally successful four years in Bridlington. Although the Bridlington Spa building was impressive, comfortable and capacious the atmosphere in the main hall was less intimate than that at Whitby Pavilion. The seeming inability of the Spa management to recognise that a major festival needs to have some consistency of dates to help retain its audiences also caused some financial difficulties and hence the return of the Festival to the smaller venue at Whitby. I must admit the thought of spending a weekend in Whitby is always going to be more appealing than a weekend in Brid where the only pleasing aspect was the one out to sea!

The opening performance on the main stage was by African Roots Fusion Band whose chilled out sounds were, in my opinion, not done any favours by the presence of rapper Mo Hawk - but then I'll never understand rap! The theatre stage played host to the first truly memorable moments of the festival when Belinda O'Hooley and Heidi Tidow provided the finest set I have seen them perform to date. Everything was just right - their voices, Belinda's astounding piano playing, a skilful blend of poignancy and humour, perfectly engineered sound and a warm receptive audience. Stunning! Later on in the theatre I was disappointed by Marry Waterson & Oliver Knight's set - I struggled to catch any of the lyrics and the melodies didn't really grab me - and wished I had gone to see Salam who had been performing on the North Sea Stage on the lower floor of the Pavilion - I caught their last number and their middle eastern influenced music certainly sounded interesting.

The final act of the evening Dub Colossus were enjoyable though I probably needed something a bit livelier at that time of night as I was beginning to flag half way through their set!

Noon on the Saturday had been fixed in my mind for some times as the incomparable Hut People were on the main stage for the first time having played one of the other stages each year since I had been attending the festival. They turned in a typically entertaining and uplifting set and demonstrated yet again that the unusual union of accordion (Sam Pirt) and multifarious percussion (Gary Hammond) is a winning combination. One handed triangle and cube tambourine anyone?

The Moulettes were new to me and I got the impression that if the Warsaw Village Band were English and slightly more restrained this is what they would sound like! Interesting instrumentation included violin, cello, double bass, autoharp and bassoon which combined with excellent female vocals to create a truly delightful sound - listening to their new CD 'The Bear's Revenge' as I type this suggests that their recorded work is just as captivating.

A very pleasant couple of hours were then spent at the North Sea Stage where Lightgarden performed interesting songs some of which were enhanced by the very strange sound of overtone singing. One of my favourite bands of the moment, Sail Pattern, then provided a high energy onslaught of intelligently arranged traditional material and equally thoughtful original material. The afternoon ended on a definite high with the Sona Jobarteh Band reminding me how much I love West African music and particularly the sound of the kora. Sona is a cousin of the great kora virtuoso Toumani Diabate and weaved equally beautiful sounds with the instrument.

After a very brief break to sample the wares from one of the two catering vans or Pavilion café the evening opened with Celtarabia whose wall of sound I enjoyed - though a bit of light and shade would have been welcome as it became a little too one dimensional. Rather than go to see another artist we hung onto our seats at the main stage to ensure we had a good position to watch Reem Kelani and her band. I have seen Reem twice before at Musicport and she is an astounding performer, using music and song to demonstrate the plight but also to celebrate the life of Palestinians and others caught in the tensions that exist in the Middle East and North Africa. Ninety minutes passed incredibly quickly in the company of this charismatic woman and her superb band - if you get the chance to see Reem please do so - your life will be better for it. We ended the night in the company of Edward II whose marriage of reggae and English folk was as enjoyable as I remembered - it had been a long time since I had seen the band and good to hear that they are still on top form.

Sunday morning we headed straight to the theatre to see Reem Kelani's presentation which, despite problems with the laptop and projector, was so informative and enjoyable it was hard to tear ourselves away to see Calaita. We were, however, rewarded with a superb hour of the various styles of flamenco with Chico Pere's voice imbuing emotion into every syllable and the flute and saxophone of Matt Nickson adding an unusual dimension to the sound.

The Former Members of Country Joe and the Fish provided a nostalgia trip for many of the audience with songs including 'I Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die Rag' and, unfortunately for me, one of my top ten most hated songs, 'Space Cowboy'. Excellent musicians all, they seemed to be having a great time and so, apart from during the latterly mentioned song, did I!

Two major discoveries of the Festival for me next with young bands The Wonderful Sound of the Cinema Orchestra and Maia both providing a surreal take on the world but in totally different ways. The former band were like aural Art Deco whilst the latter were just strange but in a rather glorious way. I can't really describe their music in detail you will just have to search them out!

Circle of Sound closed the Festival with an interesting though not fully engaging sarod and percussion performance accompanied by video and, I have to say rather cheesy, pretend phone messages. There was no doubting the virtuosity of the musicians but for me the sound needed more variety throughout the fifty or so minutes length of the set.

So the festival ended and we were treated to a small but rather impressive firework display in the darkening skies over the North Sea. As always I felt very emotional at this point as I contemplated the beauty and togetherness that organisers Jim & Sue McLaughlin and their team create through this festival. Long may it continue bringing joy to many hearts.

Words & Pictures: Joe Grint

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