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The Leicestershire Lass - shadows of echoes of memories of songs
j4
j4
The Leicestershire Lass
With just three weeks left in which to pack up, up sticks, mix metaphors and move house, clearly the most sensible way to spend the weekend was in the heart of the Midlands, at the first ever Loughborough Folk Festival.

Regulars of Cambridge Folk Festival (and readers of smallbeds's eloquent rant about Cornbury Folk Festival) will be familiar with the peculiarly middle-class Gazebo-Rage-inducing type of Folk Festival, frequented by belligerent real-ale-drinking Guardian readers and people who don't-know-much-but-they-know-what-folk-isn't (and it usually isn't at least two of the main acts at Cambridge)...

Well, before you get too carried away with vicarious indignation, Loughborough Folk Festival was nothing like that. For one thing, it was indoors, and on reflection, I think this is a much underrated location for festivals. Throughout the weekend I found myself completely untroubled by nostalgic thoughts like "Wouldn't this be improved by six inches of mud?" and "It's good, but I'd feel more at home if I was trying to watch the act through rain-smeared glasses and a forest of other people's umbrellas". This also meant that real sound systems could be used: that is, ones that allow sound to be heard. It's jolly good, this amplification thing. They should patent it.

Secondly, the gigs were seated. Again, I didn't find myself yearning for the uninterrupted view of a bald chap's shiny head, or the smalls of tall men's backs; instead, I enjoyed a clear view of the stage and the performers. Clever idea on somebody's part, there!

Thirdly, there was real ale in abundance -- never mind your usual two-varieties-of-Charles-Wells-and-count-yourself-lucky, we're talking about 12 different varieties including a very nice stout (Grantham Stout, IIRC), which is not bad for a mini-festival in a town hall. (Unfortunately there wasn't really any food to speak of, which was probably the festival's only major deficiency; but with half-hour breaks between most sets there was time to nip out and sample, er, Loughborough's finest -- or in our case nip back to my parents' house for meals.)

Fourthly, there was some kind of respect for the performers. No mobile phones allowed (and I didn't hear a single one go off), no nattering through the gig, and no wandering in and out of the concert rooms except during the applause between songs (as I found to my surprise when we arrived late for one of the acts we'd wanted to see); and a general expectation that you'd sit and watch the performers instead of doing the crossword, eating pies, or playing games with your kids. A bit of a culture-shock after the usual festival fare, but a very welcome one. Imagine, actually listening to the music you've paid to hear!

And now, about that music... Obviously there was nothing like the number of acts that you'd get at a major-league festival, but each act seemed to be allocated an hour's set, which meant a good-sized helping of the good stuff (though a bit much for the bands who didn't really have enough material for it, who would have benefited from a shorter support slot). We saw:

The Demon Barbers Roadshow
Sadly we only caught the last 15 minutes of this lot, but since that short sample included folk music with a Chemical Brothers influence, rapper, morris dancing, clogging, and children (but no animals) I'd be very glad to see them again. I have also been inspired by this and other acts to go and learn clogging, because it's like tap-dancing only better. Does anybody know where I can get clog dance lessons in Oxford or environs? venta, I'm looking at you here.

Coope, Boyes & Simpson
Brilliant a cappella singing in a variety of styles: some real finger-in-ear trad folk (including 'Horkstow Grange', from which Steeleye Span take their name), some barbershop, a rather fun bit of music-hall pastiche about the Christmas truce in WWI, and some original compositions. I'm always a sucker for close harmony singing, and these guys were excellent.

Tiny Tin Lady
The youngest band we saw over the weekend (band members aged between 15 and 20), and I'm afraid it showed; they had a jolly good sound at times, with some really strong singing, but after about half an hour all their songs started to sound a bit the same and a lot of the lyrics just plain didn't make sense (though I've certainly written worse in my teenage poetry-writing days).

Tim van Eyken
We saw him with the band at Cambridge Folk Festival, but this was just Tim on his own (or rather, usually, with two different types of accordion - not at the same time! - and a guitar), and to my mind that's an improvement. Not that there's anything wrong with the band, but he doesn't need them. Great voice (shown off to particular effect in a moving rendition of Lal Waterson's Stumbling On) and some fast and furious accordion-playing.

Rachel Unthank and the Winterset
Another band we'd seen at Cambridge, and been impressed with there; they seemed even better this time (or maybe it was just the effect of being able to enjoy the gig without having people smoking in our faces or standing on our toes) and had more clog-dancing and more new material, including a beautiful a cappella number sung in Norn.

Dave Swarbrick and Martin Carthy
Legends in their own lifetime -- neither needs any introduction or recommendation from me! - but Swarb in particular was simply magical, playing more notes at once than the average fiddler has fingers, and always so effortlessly that he left me blinking in disbelief at the idea that one gnome-like old man and a violin could produce such a rippling, shimmering sound. He has a trick of stopping the melody in mid-air for a split second so that there's space and light shining between the notes - words fail me! - before letting it fall again, spinning and sparkling like a silver coin in the sun. He may be only speaking and walking with difficulty these days (hardly surprising after a double lung transplant and two tracheotomies!), but he's obviously still dancing inside.

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Comments
chickenfeet2003 From: chickenfeet2003 Date: October 16th, 2006 01:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
I would love to hear more Coope, Boyes and SZimpson. I've only heard a couple of tracks and I really liked what I heard.
j4 From: j4 Date: October 16th, 2006 01:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
I bought their album "Triple Echo" from the CD stall, and it's jolly good if you like trad folk (it's all songs collected by Vaughan Williams, Grainger and Butterworth). The next one I want to get is "Twenty-four seven" -- more modern stuff, and they did a few of the tracks from it at the festival & they were all great.

[Note to self: must not buy any more CDs before Christmas.]
From: pir Date: October 16th, 2006 01:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
I grew up going to folk festivals with my parents, mostly Towersey, Sidmouth, Bracknell and a few others.

Other than the big acts being in big tents and some smaller things being inside what you're describing is how I expect festivals to be. Cambridge festival always felt a bit odd to me. They're also where I learned to drink real beer :)

I meant to get to Towersey this year but ended up travelling then. Next year.
j4 From: j4 Date: October 16th, 2006 01:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
Basically, Cambridge Folk Festival wants to be Glastonbury, with silly hats and all (and they certainly managed a Glastonbury-style ticketing fiasco this year).

A lot of the more civilised festivals always looked a bit too trad for me, but looking at the ones you mention, Towersey looks great ... and will be just up the road from us when we've moved to Oxford! Hurrah!
hmmm_tea From: hmmm_tea Date: October 16th, 2006 02:07 pm (UTC) (Link)

Never been to Cambridge, but I've been to Sidmouth, Towersey, Chippenham, etc and they've all had seats in the main concert venues (tents at Sidmouth/Towersey, but Chippenham was indoors).

Tenterden festival is nice for that too (one of the main concert venues being an upstairs room in one of the pubs setup especially for it).

Cambridge always seemed a bit odd, not having any of the dance side of folk at all.
j4 From: j4 Date: October 16th, 2006 02:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
Cambridge always seemed a bit odd, not having any of the dance side of folk at all

They always have at least one ceilidh, don't they? And I've seen the odd bit of clogging on the club tent stage... But it is definitely lacking in morris and suchlike. (Some might see that as a good thing. ;-)
hmmm_tea From: hmmm_tea Date: October 16th, 2006 04:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
As I said I've never actually been to Cambridge, but always got the impression it was distinctly different to other festivals.

But it is definitely lacking in morris and suchlike

Yes, and how are we supposed to get a free performers ticket if they don't want us to perform...
k425 From: k425 Date: October 16th, 2006 04:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
I read that as Tiny Tim Lady. Hmmm...
vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: October 16th, 2006 04:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
I doubt I can resurrect the e-mail but there are certainly cloggies round 'yur. I recall connections from my IVFDF days and these things bever really die. I'll rootle about.
From: srk1 Date: October 16th, 2006 07:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thirdly, there was real ale in abundance -- never mind your usual two-varieties-of-Charles-Wells-and-count-yourself-lucky, we're talking about 12 different varieties including a very nice stout (Grantham Stout, IIRC), which is not bad for a mini-festival in a town hall.

There's an amazing real ale pub round the corner from my office in Birmingham which permanently has about 14 different ales on handpump. They have so many the bar staff can't remember what they're all called, so you order by number instead of by name.
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