ANARCHY IN THE UKELELES

Jun 15, 2016   //   by Michael Stevenson   //   News  //  No Comments

After the tropical heat, fireworks and musical riches of Thursday night, the heavens above Nottinghamshire opened on Friday. A torrential downpour at high noon threatened the existence of the festival as both the Big Top and the New Stage suffered from flooding. Thankfully, several hours of great ground work by Mike Kirrage’s site crew (led by Simon Walker) of stewards plus lighting and sound staff managed to save the day. It was, literally, all hands to the pump before normal festival service was resumed by early evening.

As always, there was a tremendous variety of music across all four smaller tents, including the warmly upbeat singalong songs of Pete Morton, the Canadian traditional sounds of Vishten and the a-capella harmonies of The Teacups on the Folk Stage. In the Barleycorn, there was rising folk star and former Nottingham student Bella Gafney, who also performed with Bric-a-Brac, while on the flood-defying New Stage there were waves of exotic and extremely danceable sounds such as the gypsy jazz of Maniere Des Bohemiens, the thoroughly funky Cheshire & The Cat and the mad Balkan party ska-meets-swing of Mr Tea & The Minions.

But it was primarily an evening of excellent North American music in Southwell’s Big Top. Charismatic and confessional, the young Canadian country singer Meaghan Blanchard drew us into her solo songs that openly struggled to make sense of this world. All the way from Prince Edward Island, looking like a pre-Raphaelite painting come to life, she tackled failed relationships on tracks like ‘Broken Pieces’ and ‘Cry Cry Cry’ and she spoke warmly of her grandmother’s words of wisdom: there are only two kinds of people – movers & shakers and those who sit listening to sad country songs.

Then came to magnificent Ooks Of Hazzard, fronted by four fine ukulele masters who all looked like extras from that appropriately dark drama True Detective. Internationally famous for their great cover of MGMT’s ‘Kids” and string-driven interpretations of Led Zep and Lynryd Skynyrd, it was their brilliant version of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ that stole the show tonight. (Their ‘Redneck Mother’ would come pretty close the following lunchtime!)

But Hayseed Dixie are hard to beat as a headline act. Whereas the Ooks are seated, look almost dignified (albeit in an outlaw-ish sort of way) and have the sardonic drawls of Southern gentlemen, the Hayseeds are as wild and frenzied as a box of mad Appalachian frogs. Never have eyes bulged so much or tongues been stuck out so often and so lewdly on a Southwell stage. Hilarious but slightly scary, their crazy repertoire, always played at breakneck speed, drifted from takes on Survivor’s ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ and Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ through to a fantastic badlands bluegrass version of Motorhead’s ‘Ace Of Spades’.

After the heavy rain had left the festival site distinctly moist and muddy, it seemed entirely appropriate that the Ooks Of Hazzard and Hayseed Dixie managed to transport us all to the sweaty swamps of the Southern States.

Len Brown

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Southwell Festival