Moseley Folk Festival @ Moseley Park, Birmingham 2nd-4th September 2011

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Ever wondered why the secret garden Moseley Folk Festival is a year-on-year ticket sell-out? Because it’s not really a ‘Folkie’ festival at all (although the folk are delightful people). Well, there’s the occasional performer’s auto-tune finger in the ear and a nasal twanging hey nonny-nonny, not to mention elk-horn Real Ale tankards and occasional references to comely young maidens being troth plighted.

What’s really going on is a three day cider-punk meltdown and it all jollily kicked-off mid-Friday afternoon (sorry Vijay!) when we caught alt.Druid/Nu-Welsh Folk Language Trad-doom, harp pluckers 9 Bach. Lead singer, Lisa Jen, has only to pronounce the name Caernarfon more than once to set any sentient male aged between 12 and 55 all wobbly in the linguistics. Their harmonies and chiming cadences are to die for: a similar fate that becomes many of their balladic characters but it’s all done with bewitching charm.

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Onto the Bohemian Jukebox Stage Tent (the clue’s in the name) with its resume to explore all things experi-mental and then some. The interior decor was 60’naiff retro with only a whiff of Faberge Brut or Denim lacking to complete the quintessence. Dave Boddison sang songs from his eponymous e.p. including ‘Make A Bad Day History/So The Lesson Goes/Books & Songs’. Mad dash back to Main Stage to hear Crystal Fighters flamenco swing to a KC & The Sunshine Bands via Kings of Leon groove. Think Iberian skiffle if it helps. Following on, Dreaming Spires, opened with an enchanting take on the traditional air, ‘Northern Girl’ after which they will always be a true love of mine with their golden harvest of sublime guitars and harmonies.

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The Villagers brought a deceptive, misty, whispery, early autumnal balm as ducks dappled amongst scattering moorhens and preening swans across the park lake’s soothing, early evening canvas. But not for long. Theirs is a dark beauty that broods with introspective tremors of Celtic mysticism. Singer, Conor O’Brien surely made a Faustian pact to have acquired so much talent. If I have to write yet again about how much I adore Malpas I’ll need to be resuscitated with a vigorous Vik vapour-rub and put to bed. An studied exercise in surrendering to a synth and string-driven mugging. Heavenly.

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Night-time began falling as the giant ballon-spheres reflected live-feed video projections. An apposite, off-beat introduction for the super-beardy Gruffalo, Gruff Rhys. He brought his Blue Peter activities table for a sit-down set of beguiling eccentricities. Accompanied by fellow Welsh bard, 9 Bach’s, Lisa Jen and erratic metronome he just sort of did stuff in a rambling Donovan/Ray Davies sort of way. Imagine Ivor Cutler’s harmonium soaked in snakebite!

I’d really like to say how much I enjoyed Badly Drawn Boy. But I can’t. Because I was drawn away by the beguiling cider-Sirens who bathed me in the scented vats of inebriation. And lo, I succumbed and did drink deeply of their bewitching brew.

Saturday: at the Boho tent, Ben Calvert’s very English, very well received, violin vaudeville take on all things Vivian Stanshall, Pete Atkin and Country Joe gently caressed away a few midday hangovers, whilst on Main Stage Oh Ruin showed them no mercy. A beardy, stripped-down Bluesy boogie minimalism that evoked Black Keys/Jack Black and Jim Morrison’s crawling king trouser-snake. Jess from She Keeps Bees gave sterling vocal support with the closing number approximating ‘Ballroom Blitz’ re-mix inspired by a dodgy batch of your Nan’s psycotropic mushrooms.

Bonfire Radicals are a Medieval plough-girls’ lunch of Chaucerian troupadors meets Captain Beefheart. Strings, myriad recorders and clarinet raga-beats to a ‘Balkan Divorce Dance’ breakdown. And what a delightful conundrum ‘n bass pizzicato jiggery-poguery it was.

More delightful quirks and scatological, syncopated swing came from Ruth Theodore and ensemble. Yet more, and ever welcome, cello and clarinet and vocals that shivered across the sun-drenched crowd that must have brought a tear to those with fond memories of Melanie.

Badly Drawn Boy 02Gruff Rhys

Meanwhile, in the Boho tent Barry Jones leads a Kids Ceilidh square-dance workshop as we literally watch paint dry as graffiti guys, Tempo 33/Title/ Tony Graffiti create an enchanting Festival mural stage right. And no, it isn’t the heady vapours from the spray-can giving us visions, there really is a troupe of ultra hard-core stick-splintering Morris Dancers from Highgate, Birmingham. And you’d need to need to be hard-core dressing like that after dark around Bradford Street.

We practically had to beg Luke Concannon to keep running through the crowd and far away because his inexhaustible optimism, charms and plaintive song-writing craftsmanship were mesmerising. Songs of love for young and old, paternal admiration and the fading fragility of old-age dignity were spellbinding and it’s not often this crusty review is brought to tears! He featured a guest-spot for Brum born rapper Jimmy Davis whose incisive rhymes and muse maneuvers drew on positive vibes for ways to a better, sustainable life-style. No tree-hugger mind. He’s a shrewd dude.

What else is left to say of the legendary guitar dexterity and no nonsense Yorkshire cuddly faux melancholia that’s Michael Chapman in his eighth decade? Fingers still dancing in a hum-dinging fury of agitated spiders. Lovers sighed and were struck dewy-eyed during the haunting ‘That Time Of Night’. What a gentleman. In the Boho tent Dust Motes serenaded their dream-weaving magic, a bit like being bludgeoned by cobwebs. Alternatively, there was Kidnap Alice who are basically a banjo/double bass Billy bonkers explosion. And then some. With an invitation it was wise to not to refuse from Laura & The Good Lads, we dutifully crammed the Boho tent to relish their acoustic mantric drones and atmospheric use of drum-stick mallets on open-tuned lateral electric guitar. Drummers playing guitars, hmmm! Read the instructions perhaps? Keeping a close eye on these guys. Willy Mason’s hooch-mellowed, Dixie smoke-soaked vocals and open-tuned guitar growls brought a mid-afternoon invigoration to the Lunar Stage whilst back at Boho base-camp Richard Burke sang of ‘Oceans full of broken stars.’ How charming is that? His beer-mat, tear soaked confessional anecdotal songs captured a fleeting moment in time of vulnerable innocence. Now, when you see a group of bright-eyed and bushy tailed young folk wearing knee-high blue socks and carrying formidable looking wobbly blades, and they’re called ‘Rapper Dancers’, what conclusions do you draw? But, it was a dance workshop where they weave in and out in most serpentine complexity until they create a fascinating blade matrix motif. Those who had a go did indeed become dizzy rascals (sorry!).


Sadly, only caught the end of Junip’s Rhodes piano tinkles and string-driven rhythms. You just can’t see everyone, damn it. But oh my, I wasn’t going to miss The Staves. Jaw-droppingly beautiful, these sisters three could melt glaciers and calm ocean tempests with their poly-phonic harmonies. The swans on the lake entwined their necks in feather-downed sculptures as though they were Cannova’s Three Graces and toddlers lullaby-dreamt of every day being Christmas. The Bees were at their effervescent all things retro Bonzo/Gonzo best and if you can imagine Wild West Ska with look-alike pub landlord, Al Murray, on trumpet, you may well have drunk as much cider as we needed to to make any sense of it at all. They went on to DJ at the Hare & Hounds in to the early hours. Compulsory mention for the late night slot at the Boho with singer/songstress, Poppy Tibbets, whose seemingly disarming, scatty pixie charms are juxtaposed by a lethally shrewd observational wit and canny whiles. Literate, acerbic with barbed-wire comforting irony and a signature song closing chirpy ‘Thank yew!’ Her Royal Wedding tribute? ‘Let them eat Kate.’ Told you. The Boho closed with The Dirty Old Folkers’ giving it some yo ho hoe-down jiggery mayhem with Death and a panda cutting the rug freestyle. You had to be there. Tinariwen, headlining the Main Stage, understandably blew the place away with their percussion driven hypnotic, Malian magic.

Fian 02Sam Lee 03

Sunday: Both Elfynn and a very youthful Fian, caressed tired heads as midday ambled by with celtic airs and soothing ballads. Sam Lee’s Romany heritage inspired songbook of traditional and contemporary Folk was given a serendipitous slant when the PA blew a mega fuse into their second number. We were getting in to a ‘kinda blue’ trance groove with gas cylinder gongs, cello and trumpet until then. But we gathered round stage-front for a brief acoustic set. The sun came out and we’d all made new friends. Sam Lee’s set needs a review all of its own. Miss him/them at your peril.

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The Eliza Carthy Band soaked up the mid afternoon sun and an effusion of good will from the basking crowd. Sharp and pithy, suffering no fools sadly, her incisive lyricism can scythe through pretensions and moral hypocrisies. Mind you she does a cool anecdote about quaffing spiked champagne at premier night of The Jerry Springer Show.

Back at the Boho again. Ebeneezer Pentwhistle shrugged-off any constraints regarding conventional guitar-tunings, breathing exercises, song titles and structured lyricism to establish an alternative and charming nobility all of his own. We were likewise captivated by the little kids who, as is their wont, not so much ate their chocolate ice-creams as created facial installations. A great weekend’s sound-mixing from Justin by the way.

David Campbell

Old School Dance did exactly what it said on the tin and David Campbell (of that dynastic family) rendered an incandescent cover of ‘Buddy can you spare a dime.’ The Boho tent was rammed for trio, Village Well, whose unique approach to Indian tabla/harmonium mixed with Caribbean steel drums and Kurdish traditional percussion set the place alight with their uplifting anthems. On main-stage Jim Moray led some new song sing-a-longs and an XTC sea-shanty cover. Sort of Captain Punkwash.

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Cut A Shine led the crowd in hoe-down, Bluegrass kick-ass barn-dance call song routines. Lots of dosey dos and kiss your partners and then it all went a bit mental may-hayhem in a storm of straw throwing giddiness. Scott Matthews debuted some new songs alongside his repertoire of lyrical treasures sung in that enchanting voice.

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Headliners, Stornoway captivated the crowd with their classics in a fiesta-mood eliciting howls of pleasure with ‘Fueled Up’ and ‘On My Way Home’. Heavenly. Quick mention for John Presley’s pared-down grungy swamp-stomp in a voice that surely must gargle on Cillit Bang. Intense, passionate rock-raw just as it should be. And finally, at the other extreme of the musical spectrum, we heard the angelic Bluegrass twin harmonies of The Carrivick Sister. To be so talented, beautiful and young is just not fair on us ordinary mortals. And so it came to Billy Bragg, ageless troubadour, class-warrior and scourge of establishment bullshitters.

Cut A Shine

Though the rain began to fall it little dampened his sparkling mischievousness as he closed the weekend with his fiery rhetoric and timeless songs of love and injustice. He made an impassioned plea for all of us to banish cynicism and its debilitating weariness. That’s something we can all do, and yes that means you Daily Mail readers as well. How sad can that be? A very special thanks to John Fell and all the crew who put on the Festival and sorry if we’ve not been able to name-check you. And what a way for Brum to show the world our true good heartedness this weekend! Birmingham live would like to wish Richard Shakespeare a speedy recovery and many thanks for his help in sorting the passes out. “Get well soon Shakey”

Review – John Kennedy
Photos – Ian Dunn

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5 thoughts on “Moseley Folk Festival @ Moseley Park, Birmingham 2nd-4th September 2011

  1. Hi I was wondering if I could borrow the Image of David Campbell from your website to promote his upcoming
    gig at the Black Diamond folk club.

    Regards Paul Ryan.

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