Festival review 2014 Trevor Green
The 10th Wirral Folk Festival was held from Friday 6th until Sunday 8th June at Whitby, Ellesmere Port on the Wirral. I was working for most of the weekend and so could only manage yesterday (Saturday 7th). I could have got leave and the site is barely more than a half hour drive from my home in North Wales, but, a festival based around a working men’s club and its sports field seemed a bit incongruous and the thought of £56 per night for the four of us to camp put me off somewhat. So we set off for the site on a very wet Saturday morning with thunder rolling and lightening flashing. On arrival we found easy parking places and were confronted by a hive of industry. How British to not let a little irritant like Monsoon force rain to get in the way.
The club is extensive and surprisingly really lent itself to the festivals needs brilliantly. Entering through an indoor craft fair we soon found a well run office and were greeted like long lost friends as we received our bands in exchange for the tickets. It was a busy scene - hundreds attended. We discovered that the information re camping was a misinterpretation and it would have been a single charge of £14 a head for the weekend. Still pricey for a family group but the admission tickets were reasonable so it would have been viable.
Now, the club itself has a large lounge with good real ale and a serving area providing very good and very reasonably priced food. On a stage in here attendees enjoyed twelve hours of non-stop Fringe artists and some Open Mic sessions. Along the corridor was a very large concert hall (600 seats at a guess) and outside adjacent a smaller room that provided another alternative venue. To the front of the building were some outside stalls and a small area set aside for Dance troupes. We went out to watch the excellent Bollin Morris who produced a great show in pouring rain. One of the dancers must have had a crappy Friday because I’ve never seen such aggression in the stick dances. I told her later that if I had to dance opposite her I would wear gauntlets!!
We came in to hear a very good little set from Ed McGurk & Nick Caffrey. The song about Mount Tumbledown was excellent and poignant despite being of a different war than that of the anniversary of ‘D’ Day. We wanted to go to the Oak Room lounge to hear Becky Mills do a mini concert but as we made our way we heard a vibrant dance tune bouncing down a corridor. We walked round a corner and discovered Alter Ego delivering a ceilidh; it was like songs from the shed with an audience!! By the time we got to the Oak Room lounge we were in time to hear Risky Business perform their last song.
We didn’t have time to go to any of the outside marquees and hear the Poets compete or join a Ukulele workshop because the afternoon set in the big concert hall had just started and after Liam
and I raided the bar (again) for a pint of Trappers Hat at only £2-50, we joined Pam and Deanna in time to hear Sarah Horn and James Cudworth wrap up a good set. Next on were the Young’uns. Now there might be some who still haven’t heard the Teesside threesome and it’s good to know that people from Hartlepool can do something other than hang monkeys. These boys can sing; very good harmonies and very powerful. Quite brilliant really, as usual
Then, there were The House Devils and it was a first time hearing them for me. To start with I was less than impressed. The folksy numbers were good but not outstanding. I wondered why they were on the main stage. Then they let the American influences arrive and the transformation was staggering. If there is a better harmonica player than Mat Walklate I’ve never heard him. What had been OK became a ‘wow’ moment. I must hear more of these guys.
Then a dilemma, Martyn Joseph on the main stage or a mini concert with a band we’ve been hearing a lot about locally in Denbighshire, the Goat Roper Rodeo Band. The Goat Ropers won out. Most of you won’t have seen or heard these three twenty something’s yet. If you get the chance don’t miss it. A unique sound and excellent playing. Close your eyes you could be in one of those roadside show bars we see in American movies. A small room with about fifty people inside were blown away. The evening’s big star, Seth Lakeman had just arrived and was having a stretch in the artist’s area just outside. He came to the rear door to hear then and stayed a while. We wondered if they could transfer the electricity of their set to the big stage later on.
Dinnertime, I had a steak and trimmings for £6. I didn’t expect much for that but it was first class as were the curries the others had. Then ‘management’ did something unexpected. She went off to join a Singers’ Workshop with the Young’uns. She has a good voice but never sings outside our home. I went to watch. Now I knew these guys were good but didn’t know just how good until experiencing this. They taught the participants to form a choir and learn parts for a performance of Shenandoah they would do on the main stage later. Excellent.
So on to the pinnacle of the day, the evening concert. First up was Becky Mills. Now I’m not always keen on singer songwriters. Some are great singers and others are great songwriters. It’s rare to be both. Becky is. Her “Amy Sharpe” is just a great way to start any gig and to follow it with the simply fantastic “I Saw the Sun Today” means she has an audience exactly where she wants them. The only downside for me was that when I really enjoy an artist at a festival I like to go and meet them and get a CD signed. I was one of about thirty people who went to the signing desk only to discover that Becky had finished on stage and gone home directly. A shame as most of us will probably
download the songs we like from You Tube now. If she didn’t want the £10 from me in person she shouldn’t moan that I don’t want to give it to Amazon etc.
On came The Goat Ropers. Could they impress as much as they had in the lounge? You bet they could. Rip roaring, bounding with enthusiasm and oh so very well delivered. They need a bit more personality on stage but that will surely come. These boys can really play; they own a unique sound and are in an area where few others tread. They will become big stars on the Country/Folk circuit
The Young’uns were next and they delivered, but then they always do. Why other festivals miss out on these charming chaps I don’t know. They must be an organiser’s dream. So flexible, so willing to please and so darn good. My wife’s big moment came as “Shenandoah” was delivered movingly. The set ended with a song called “A nice cup of Tea”. It should be played back to back with Billy Bragg’s “Half English”. And so the final curtain.
Seth Lakeman is a rock god. He’s like Frank Turner in that he sings from a folk background based on stories from his homeland, (Dartmoor in his case, the New Forrest in Frank’s). But both lead ensembles of talent that play like the very best rock bands. Seth delivered a power packed 90 minutes in which we heard “Rifleman of War”, “The Courier”, “Kitty Jay” and all the standards. The “White Hare” was amongst the quieter numbers. Backed by a hard working band and joined by Lisbee Stainton they simply rocked off the rafters. I was genuinely wiped out when we left after midnight. What a show!
Wirral Folk Festival was a joy. If I’ve had a better day, then I can’t remember it. The venue reallyworks. The ‘busyness’ of it all was an attraction that gave it individuality. It was unlike any other festival I’ve attended and next year I will be back camping for all three days. I can’t think of too many other festivals that could bat off thunder and downpours as simple irrelevances. I would recommend it to all. This is a hidden gem.