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Monday, 3 September 2012

Shrewsbury Folk Festival 2012

As you may or may not know, it is only within the last couple of years that I have become a ‘folkie’. The problem with this is I am missing years of experience and knowledge about all the different folk music out there. I am still very much at the catch up stage trying to get up to date with all the different styles and main stream acts that are floating around.

This was a deciding factor when I decided I wanted to go to a folk festival. My first surprise was how many folk festivals there are!

Anyone who says folk music is dead has absolutely no idea! After looking at several big folk festivals I opted to go to Shrewsbury as it had one act going which I was particularly keen to see, so me and a work colleague booked tickets and waited.

When the programme finally arrived I got my second surprise. How much there was to do. Folk festivals seem to beat normal festivals to me because not only are there the main stages with headline acts but also vast selections of other events and activities to do during the day, and not to mention the option of attending ceilidhs at night if the current acts on don’t appeal to you.

This would actually be my only criticism of the folk festival, I was spoilt for choice and ended up feeling as though I had missed out because it was simply impossible to see everything I wanted to.

My third surprise was how many young people and children were interested. There is a stereotype that folk music for old people, and yes there were many older and middle aged people there. There was however a large number of people in their twenties and lots of children floating around too! In fact there were event whole event lists devoted to children’s activities, so there must be a lot of takers.

Now on to the acts themselves:


Lau was one of the acts I really wanted to see when I saw the act list. Unfortuntly I only caught the end because I had the most horrific journey of my life getting from Liverpool to Shrewsbury. When I arrived I was soaking wet and extremely upset and as a result I just could not really focus on the music.

Luckily I am going to see Lau at the Deaf Institute in manchester on November 10th, so I will be able to review them properly there.

What I can say is their popularity speaks for themselves as the tent they were performing in was literally overflowing with people, I was stuck outside with a vast crowd just wanting to be close enough to hear them!


I had never heard of Jim Moray before. Which I now know is ridiculous for someone who claims to be a fan of folk music, but I am young and new to this so I'm sticking with this excuse. Me and my colleague where only going to Jim Moray because we wanted a good spot for when the next act, Kate Rusby, came on. My colleague had listened to Jim Moray before and thought he was okay.

The queue for his performance though was downright insane, the queue stretched past the main marquee and down along the sides of the camp sites and even past the food tents. It took a good five minutes to walk from the front to the end.

This is pure devotion, you must be good at what you do to inspire this many fans. At this stage I was becoming very curious to hear Jim, I expected him to be the same kind of Folk as Seth Lakeman which i don't mind but certainly is not my preferred style.

Finally we got to the entrance and noticed that there was a queue probably just as long on the other side of marquee too! Much to my surprise we actually got in, although bunched up at the back.

It was worth it though. Jim Moray pumped real personality into his songs and the crowd loved him! My favourite song from hid entire set has got to be 'Bless You all the pretty girls" which had the audience bouncing and singing along with him! Even my colleague had drastically changed his option by the end.

Jim really did warm up the start of night and was just a hint of the good things to come. Starting on a high is defiantly a good thing and Jim did a great job doing just that! (Quick side note, I wanted to see his sister Jackie Oates, who performed with him, but her solo act clashed with other things I wanted to see, so hopefully next time)

Another act I had not heard of and should be ashamed by not knowing. This was one of the main acts my colleague wanted to see at Shrewsbury and I can see why. Her mere introduction sold it for me. She came onto the stage (greeted by the loudest cheering I have ever heard), gave a big smile and then say "Hello!" In the friendliest northern accent ever. What struck me about Kate and Jim and is that they sounded genuinely happy to be there. I notice that a lot with folk artists, they actually seem to enjoy what they are doing. Some popular musicians and rock stars don't seem able to put the same warmth into their voices when talking to audiences, many make it sound far too forced!

Kate honoured us with great sets and delightful little tales as her slot went on, enforcing what had already been a great night!


Somehow I managed to get right up to the front for this act. I had bought a couple of their CD's in preparation and I'll admit they were hit and miss, each song was a case I either loved it or hated it, there did not seem to be an in-between.

Show of Hands were doing the same set list that they used at the Royal Albert Hall during Easter and they pleasantly surprised me by putting on an excellent fun show. I enjoyed the chosen track list with I think only one song I found to be not in my taste but this was greatly outweigh by their excellent renditions of "Are We Alright" and "Cruel River", the latter of which I enjoyed the most. Double Bass player Miranda Sykes (Who I clocked the next day just walking around the festival, I doubt members of Nickelback of Gun's N Roses have ever done that) did a solo song which actually gave me goose bumps, which is very unusual.

What struck me the most about Show of Hands is the way it seemed different to the previous two acts. It seemed more like a mass concert like you would find at Leeds or Glastonbury than in a marquee in Shrewsbury. I think Show of Hands had a slightly more professional stage demeanour but I wonder if this was also partly due to my change in location. Despite being at the front I was also at the side so could not see them on stage, resulting me having to watch the screen, and this really does change a perception of a show.


On Sunday I planned to check out the 'Village Stage' which was a small stage set up in the middle of the festival show ground, the first act I arrived for was Ghosts of December. I feel slightly ashamed of myself because I formed an opinion about them before even arriving. When I saw their name in the programme I expected them to be one of these amateur folk groups which try to unsuccessfully modernise Folk in a way which simply fails.

Well I am happy to admit I was wrong. They were brilliant, and they were proper folk. They had just the right balance of folk, rock and a Celtic twang which came together as a great mixture. I wanted to buy one of their CD's during their show but unfortunately funds at the time did not provide for that so I had to settle with simply enjoying them in the moment.

Two members (I'm not very familiar with their individuals names yet) even came and sat by me in the audience for the next act (Again you wouldn't see that at Leeds).



Now this is the act that surprised me the most. This young man and his entourage (including a spoons player!) really made the day for me. Again I was sceptical, expecting a hippie act but instead was blasted by the greatest version of 'Matty Grove' and amazing original tracks.

The crowd that James Riley attracted from around the festival site speaks for itself and I even chose to go back for the same set list the next day (In hindsight I should have filmed one of his songs).

Look out for this guy because I think he is only going to progress further up the ladder!



Again the name got me curious and they have now pushed their way into my top five acts. The music they played during the Ceilidh was just brilliant. Folk and Rock is very difficult to mix well I think but these guys managed it no trouble. The best way for me to describe them is modern pirate music.

Unfortunatly for me I was at the ceilidh on my own so I couldn't really join in, but on the bright side I got to sit aside and watch as hundreds of people entered the dance tent and filled the dance floor.

All the members of BTP are very young but in their music they keep the traditional themes and ideas of Celtic folk music and just give of revamp them slightly but without losing that antique spark that folk music needs to be what it is. If the music didn't feel slightly old, then it wouldn't be folk music. BTP managed to keep that spark and yet make the music new!

I have since bought both their albums and loved them both.

I think it is hard for me to describe this group to you, let me show you instead:


These guys count as one of the other acts going around. During the daytime several morris groups and these guys were walking around various spots of Shrewsbury village performing. The first thing I noticed about them was the way they dressed up like cows.

I find it hard to class them as folk, they are more... awesome marching band, however they were very popular and created an unbelievable atmosphere in the dance tent just before Blackbeard's Tea Party came on.

The two worked well together actually Frumtarn Guggen hyping up the crowd and then Blackbeard's Tea Party taking that and letting people express it through an awesome dance!

The videos I took of these guys in the ceilidh unfortunatly were not very good because I was too close to the drums, but hopefully this one will give you a small taster:


Despite my father being a Morris Dancer when he was younger I did not think they would be something I would enjoy.

On Saturday I spent my time wondering through the town and bumped into a group called the Shropshire Bedlams and Martha Rhoden's Tuppenny Dish and they were absolutely crazy. Anyone who says Morris is boring needs to see these guys in action, from the strange dress to the bizzare noises and then launching themselves into the audience, they become a tough act to beat even buy the headline musicians!

Other groups such as Mortimer's Morris and Spank the Plank were good too and much more fixed to how people view Morris dancing. I am going to attach two videos, one for the Shropshire Bedlams and one of a Morris dancing parade that was done on the final day through the showground:


Faustus is the act that sold Shrewsbury to me. I am a massive fan of Bellowhead and through their album 'Umbrellowhead' got to experience the work of Belshazzar's Feast, Rachael McShane, Benji Kirkpatrick, Chavo, Spier's and Boden and of course Faustus.

This is kind of how my love of folk started, I was already into The Pogues and Dubliners but wanted to experience more English stuff so a friend sent me 'New York Girl's by Bellowhead and from there I was hooked and able to venture out to these other artists (who all play for Bellowhead).

Quite to my amusement I bumped into Paul Sartin as he was arriving at the festival. I had met Paul previously as a Belshazzar's Feast concert on the Wirral (Check out previous posts). Now Paul is a member of Bellowhead, Belshazzar's Feast and Faustus, all bands I have come to enjoy as a result of umbrellowhead, but I do hope poor Paul doesn't think I'm stalking him, especially as I will be seeing Bellowhead in November. As followers will know I like to get my picture with and meet bands I review, although naturally that would be difficult for all the acts of Shrewsbury, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to ask Mr Sartin if I could get a picture with Faustus. He kindly agreed! Now if I can just convince the rest of Bellowhead (Hah!)

Anyway. Faustus did not disappoint. They did all the best tracks (Appart from Temperly Hornpipe which was disappointing) including 'Green Willow Tree', 'Brisk Lad', 'Ballina Whalers' and of course 'Next Stop: Grimsby/ The Three Rascals/ Aunt Crisps'. As always their on stage banter added greatly to the show and made it the perfect way to finish of the festival. In some ways I am glad they were the last act I saw because it allowed me to end on a high, saving the best until last kind of thing.


If you want to see more of my reviews please follow me on Blogger and on Twitter @PaulRawcliffe, comments would be great and pass it on to anyone you think would like to read it!

If you are one of the acts mentioned: Hi hope you liked it and please get in touch if you want!