Rambling about bands, in no particular order:
Having looked forward to Linda Thompson being one of the highlights of the weekend, we were disappointed to be told that she was ill and wouldn't be appearing... but the disappointment was outweighed by delight at the news that Fairport Convention would be taking her place. Their set was every bit as good as I'd hope and expect from them; mostly comprised of old favourites ("Who Knows Where the Time Goes", "Crazyman Michael", "Matty Groves", and of course the ubiquitous encore "Meet on the Ledge") but with some interesting newer material thrown in.
Lots of Irish-influenced bands this year; I was impressed by Gráda, but even more impressed by NOI.D. -- a local band who were nearly all under 14 but nonetheless incredibly good, particularly their bodhrán player who managed to get a staggering range of tones and sounds out of the instrument. And their accordion player turned out to be the son of one of my colleagues -- small world...
The Eliza Carthy Band were good, but personally I think I preferred her sets last year with just her and Martin Green -- she's a superb fiddle (and viola) player, but the band rather overwhelmed the subtleties of her playing at times. Bought another of her CDs anyway, "Heat Light and Sound"; it's good but not as good as "Rice" or "Red".
Julian Cope was disappointing, to say the least. There's only so much demented howling, droning keyboards and self-indulgent rambling I can be bothered to listen to. And Steve Earle, despite being a "country legend", just wasn't my kink either. The only other people whose name I can remember who I gave up on completely were Dangerous Curves (think Pam Ayres multiplied by three and singing slightly off-key barbershop) and Eckie (local singer-songwriter, nothing dreadful but not very inspiring). Roddy Frame was slightly disappointing though (just him and a guitar, and after a while the songs all started to sound the same, though they were still quite good songs), and The Boo Hewerdine Trio likewise (interesting to hear him singing "The Patience of Angels", and it wasn't a bad set on the whole, but not particularly memorable). La Bottine Souriante were interesting, but the set went on far too long with too little variation -- apparently they were a lot better last year. Orchestra Baobab were pleasant enough background music but long-winded Afro-Cuban noodling isn't really my thing. Though Mark Tillotson (who we bumped into a few times during the festival) seemed to think they were amazing.
Had been looking forward to seeing The Broken Family Band since another colleague had lent me his copy of "The King Will Build a Disco" (and I bought my own copy soon after), and they didn't disappoint -- interesting and lively alt-country, though I'm not sure why their lead singer was worried that they wouldn't sound as good in an "acoustic" gig; they're not that much more "electric" on their first album... Anyway, I'll definitely be buying the new album, "Cold Water Songs" (and in fact it appears that I can even buy it on vinyl!).
The children's concert of the music from Bagpuss was lovely, though the "children" who it appealed to most were definitely the 20-something and 30-something ones. Spent a happy hour chanting the "magic words", shouting "heave! heave!" along with the rest of the marvellous mechanical mouse-organ mice, trying to resist the urge to call out the answers to the questions too loudly, and clapping along to the songs. And the music really was quite good, even without the rosy tint of cheesy studenty cult-TV nostalgia. (And, oops, I appear to have bought the CD.)
The Saw Doctors were good fun, and I was surprised to realise how many of their songs I knew, or at least vaguely recognised. Was feeling a bit too headachey and ill at that point to bounce up and down as much as the music merited, but I will definitely be trying to get my hands on some of their albums now -- any recommendations, anybody?
Left sion_a to go and see the Afro Celts on his own (I just find them a bit boring, to be honest, though apparently they've become less bleepy since ditching "Sound System" from the band name) while hoiho and I investigated Robert Randolph and the Family Band -- very loud steel guitar; great sound, but not very interesting to watch (four people sitting down), so we wandered a bit while listening to them from outside the tent. Probably less ear-damage that way.
John McCusker and Phil Cunningham were excellent -- mostly original trad-style material, played energetically and feelingly. We actually saw them twice, but both their sets were almost identical (and the jokes were even less funny the second time around)... Kate Rusby (who's married to John McCusker) joined them each time for one beautiful song; wish she'd been doing a set of her own too, but still, I can see her at the Corn Exchange later this year (if I get my act together and book tickets!).
Martin Simpson was superb -- some very moving songs, but it's his guitar-playing that really left me breathless. No idea how human fingers can produce a sound so effortlessly rippling, so fluid. Yet another must-have on the CD-buying list, I fear.
While most of the festival-goers listened to Steve Earle, we investigated Alasdair Roberts, a Glaswegian singer-songwriter who we'd never heard of but whose review sounded interesting. Definitely worth hearing -- interesting songs, great lyrics, and a lovely guitar style (with different tunings for nearly every song!). It was just a shame he was playing to a half-empty Club Tent -- and not only that, but the bar staff in the Club Tent were (irritatingly) clanging the "closing time" bell at least once in every song, despite the fact that it was nowhere near time.
The last band we saw were Shooglenifty, who provided a fantastic note on which to end the festival. They describe themselves as "acid croft", which I think is a sufficiently tongue-in-cheek comment on the futility of trying to stick bands in genre-shaped boxes that I don't need to add to it; but whatever they call it, it's incredibly energetic, and we bounced up and down like mad things.
Phew. I think that's everything. Did I miss anyone?
In addition to the bands, I went SHOPPING far more than I should have done. Bought: some clothes (a little black dress with a celtic design on the front; some silk trousers; and a stripy shirt) that I didn't really need; a book of trad tunes for fiddle (well, for any instrument really, but I'll most likely play them on the fiddle); CDs as mentioned above; and a miniature working harmonica on a necklace chain (more for the cuteness value than any real desire to play harmonica, though I am going to try to learn to get a tune out of the thing).
Oh, and I bought a couple of multi-coloured ball-type-things and a pair of shoelaces and made them into rather silly poi. The weight/length distribution was all wrong though. The idea was to make something a bit smaller than my huge traily-ribbon poi, so that I could do them without taking up such a huge amount of space, but I think I will just have to buy some real short poi. Need to learn to do some more interesting stuff with them too -- I have the Poi Spinning book on order from Amazon, though I sort of feel it's cheating to look at a book now, having worked out the stuff I can do so far from scratch! Ah well.