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-
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-y
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.