Saturday Review 2017

Jun 13, 2017   //   by Michael Stevenson   //   News  //  No Comments

Always Trust A Hippy!

One of the great highlights of the 2016 festival was the Dylan @ 75 celebration concert. This year, Gate To Southwell marked fifty years since the Monterey festival in California, which gave birth to the US underground hippy movement (June 1967), with an onstage gathering of artists performing songs from that flower-powered era. Led by the hugely-talented Jim Moray, Saturday afternoon’s Summer Of Love in Southwell was transformed from Sweet England into Haight-Ashbury. It was a nostalgic whirlwind tour of counterculture classics including Grace Petrie’s take on Janis Joplin’s ‘Piece Of My Heart’, Megan Henwood’s cover of Bobby Gentry’s ‘Ode To Billie Joe’, a heavy duty version of Hendrix’s ‘Hey Joe’ by False Light’s axeman Sam Carter, Moray and Petrie duetting on ‘She’s Leaving Home’ and Reg Meuross channeling his inner-Byrds beautifully on ‘Turn Turn Turn’. But, tripping the light fantastic, the contributions from Philip Henry & Hannah Martin deserve special mention. Not only for Henry’s Ravi Shankar raga slide guitar solo blending into their moving ‘That’s No Way To Say Goodbye’ Leonard Cohen tribute, but also for their powerful version of Jefferson Airplane’s hippy classic ‘White Rabbit’: “Remember what the dormouse said, Feed your head, Feed your head”. Yeah indeed man!

In true festival style, it was a day of musical variety, exceptional family entertainment and vibrant colours, mainly thanks to the floral headdresses created by local charity Reach and The Flower Pod. In the morning, the streets of Southwell were crowded with thousands of visitors watching nearly 300 dancers from sides such as Harlequin Morris, Slubbing Billy’s, Thrales Rappers, Anstey, Rattlejag, Lincoln Mickelbarrow, Bishops, Grimsby and Poachers, plus the Conroy Irish dancers, the Koyuki Tribal Belly dancers and the black-faced Hell’s Angels of morrisdom, the Witchmen. Back on the racecourse site, there was great entertainment from top juggler Jason Maverick, Johnny & The Raindrops and, as ever, Crazy Keith Donnelly with his Incredible Custard Circus.

Just about every roots and acoustic style was covered on the five music stages, notably the emotional music harmonies and fine storytelling of Daphne’s Flight (Helen Watson, Melanie Harrold, Julie Matthews, Chris While and Christine Collister) with a classic cover of Costello’s ‘Shipbuilding’ and strong recent songs such as ‘Count Me In’ and ‘Goddess Of Man’ from their recent ‘Knows Time, Knows Change’ collection. In a similar if saltier harmonious vein, there were also the She Shanties, a warm Geordie women’s collective who seem to be riding the current wave of positive communal singing.

Then came highly-respected American songwriter Chris Smither arrived sounding as gravel-voiced as Johnny Cash, looking like a cross between John Wayne and Robert Mitchum, before delivering two fine sets that charted his personal history while offering wise insights into the state of modern America. Great folk blues guitar playing and poetic lyrics shone through on tracks such as ‘Leave The Light On’, ‘Crocodile Man’ and ‘Love You Like A Man’, famously covered by Bonnie Raitt (as ‘Love Me Like A Man’). Bring him back next year please!

It was entertaining to see Californian ukulele stars, Ooks Of Hazzard back at Southwell with their drawling dry American humour and lovable covers of diverse tracks such as ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’, ‘Sunny Afternoon’ and the theme from ‘Thirteen’. (They’re also performing again on Sunday afternoon on the Robin Hood Energy stage.)

As if all this wasn’t enough for one day, headliner Jon Boden, the former Bellowhead frontman, captivated the Big Top with a solo set from his famous ‘Painted Lady’ and ‘Songs From The Floodplain’ albums, proving again that his importance as an artist who can transport an audience through centuries of English folk music and make it all sound contemporary and socially relevant. (Boden’s Summer Of Love takes on Pink Floyd’s ‘Bike’ and the Bee Gees’ ‘New York Mining Disaster 1941’ were both brilliant and bonkers!) In contrast, there was Grace Petrie with her politically-charged songwriting and increasingly confident stage performances since her stint as topical troubadour on BBC Radio Four’s The Now Show. Regardless of your personal politics, Petrie is a youthful, alternative force to be reckoned with, and a cutting edge social commentator as tracks such as ‘God Save The Hungry’, ‘Pride’ and ‘Departures’ testify.

But if Grace Petrie wasn’t political enough for those suffering from General Election Fatigue and Hung Parliament Syndrome, there was the added bonus of veteran counter-culture poet Atilla The Stockbroker on the Frontier Stage. Peddling his excellent Undaunted: Selected Poems 2014-16 collection, Atilla had us recalling the good old days when he was targeted by fascists, led his medieval punk band Barnstormer, and bizarrely stood in for Donny Osmond when the teen idol once cancelled. Naturally, this led us to join him in a singalong of ‘Puppy Love’ followed by a celebration of Prince Harry’s royal appendage. Most famous as a ranter and provocateur, Atilla’s poetry is also personal and moving, particularly his reflections on childhood and the difficult but resolved relationship he had with his stepfather. Top performance from a proper punk legend!

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Gate to Southwell Festival