WE BANJO 3, BOC, THE RAILSPLITTERS, CHRIS WOOD, COCO & THE BUTTERFIELDS & MANY MORE – 5th & 6th June 2015

Jun 10, 2015   //   by Michael Stevenson   //   News  //  No Comments

Gate To Southwell Festival weekend (Saturday/Sunday)

If variety is the spice of festival life then there was no better place to be than Southwell in Nottinghamshire. In brilliant sunshine, on a new site near the racecourse, the Gate To Southwell event built on the successes of Thursday (Billy Bragg) and Friday (Clannad and The Young’Uns) to deliver a truly eclectic international mix of acoustic and roots music, plus great family entertainment and some of the most ferocious folk dancing in town by sides such as the Anstey Morrismen, the Witchmen and Nottingham’s own Whip The Cat and Mortimers.

Following the traditional Saturday procession, and taster pub performances by acts including Granny’s Attic, The Rusty Sunsand Said The Maiden, the centre of attention became the festival site. Given the high quality and great entertainment value of the diverse artists on display across four different stages, it was tough deciding which to focus on. There were even magical moments for children, with the irreverent puppetry of Pickled Image, the masterful juggling hilarity of Dan the Hat, as well as popular distractions from water zorbing, trampolining and climbing through to creative musical and craft workshops. And let’s not forget the top quality folk dance-off by local primary schools on Sunday and the fancy dress parade led by sci-folk band Maia.

On the main stage on Saturday night, there was an atmospheric splendour about the performances of Chris Wood and Andy Cutting followed by group of the moment, Galway’s We Banjo 3. Wood – who also performed brilliantly solo on Sunday afternoon – is a genius on fiddle and guitar and one of the finest songwriters of modern times; he combined with Cutting’s magic melodeon to create a mesmerizing and affecting blend of traditional English and French folk music. In contrast, the two sets of brothers who make up We Banjo 3 (yes, there’s four of ‘em!) worked wonders mixing traditional Irish sounds with cutting edge banjo-powered bluegrass Americana. Believe me, live they’re as excellent as their acclaimed ‘Gather The Good’ CD suggested.

As if this wasn’t enough there was a double-bill of comedic anarchy and global frenzy on the second stage. CoCo And The Butterfields combined banjos, fiddles and double bass with mad Scandinavian horns and an overactive beatboxer. Onstage they looked like refugees from a weird variety of different genre bands, but together they summoned up a whirlwind of influences. Great energetic performers, their recent single ‘Warriors’ had echoes of Adam Ant and House Of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’ gets a mad folk rap makeover here.

Hot on their heels came BOC, an eight-piece band from Mallorca – playing outside Spain for the first time – who must have swallowed the entire musical history of Europe and Northern Africa. Eastern European gypsy dance rhythms might be at the very heart of what they do, but there’s metal, ska, klezmer, Spanish folk and a whole host of other exotic ingredients in their very strange but irresistible soup. It’s no wonder Southwell has such a growing reputation for spotting emerging talent, having given The Young’Uns their first festival break six years ago, confident that music fans who flock to the festival are always appreciative of original talent.
Elsewhere – more low key but equally intriguing, there were plenty of original young talents on display, such as Leicester’s The Skunk Boy Project with his ukulele and thoughtful, funny, even spiritual lyrics on songs such as ‘Fourth On My List Of Evil Dictators’, and also Harry Skully from Leeds University who won the Open Mic competition singing traditional songs in the style of a young MacColl.

One of the greatest strengths of this year’s festival was the sheer quality of American bands performing at Southwell and in the UK for the first time. Following the Appalachian sounds of the Hot Seats from Virginia, came the beautiful, intimate and melancholic songs of Mark Rogers and Mary Byrne from Brooklyn. Add to this the entertaining Americana rock of San Francisco’s Blind Willies and we were already being spoilt for choice. But then came The Railsplitters, a two guys two gals roots band with a country twang from Colorado featuring great names like Lauren Stovall on guitar and Dusty Rider on banjo. Together they delivered a brilliant set of past and present classic bluegrass; among them, ‘My World’ was one of the sweetest country tracks of recent years.

Yet all these performances were matched by homegrown UK talents such as highly-entertaining Celtic folk rockers Manran, featuring extra fine fiddle, accordion, flute, and Highland pipes, the stylish Tweed Project – a youthfully brilliant blend of Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar with the Mischa Mcpherson Trio – and last but not least the remarkable Conservatoire Folk Ensemblefrom Birmingham, led by Joe Broughton of the Urban Folk Quartet. Given the responsibility of delivering an upbeat energetic finale to the festival late on Sunday night, the Conservatoire featured around 50 of the brightest young folk musicians in the country. As a result, the main stage was absolutely rammed with a global fusion of roots musics, and bouncing with such boundless energy and fresh talent that the big marquee crowd was overwhelmed with musical enthusiasm and appreciation.

Without doubt, it’s been a fantastic few days in Southwell in early June 2015. But it’ll be a really hard act to follow in 2016! Can’t wait…

Len Brown 2015

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