Great British Folk Festival, Butlins (Skegness), 2-4.12.11.

This year was the 2nd folk festival at Skeggy. For many years they have had eg 60s, 70s, 80s, Soul, Rock ‘n’ Blues weekends and last year launched the latest in their ‘themed’ weekends.  For those who haven’t been, there are basically 2 indoor venues, featuring (mostly) simultaneous live music.

So, Friday night is the first session, with a choice of 3  Daft Monkeys or Emily Smith. Now, before I start, can I please apologise for any inaccuracies. As with all my reviews, I do not go and take notes…I want to enjoy the event! So it is all from memory.

We chose the former. I SEEM to remember having seen them before, but that was exactly it! They weren’t  all that memorable really. Quite lively 4-piece (!), plenty of their fans and T-shirts in evidence but we thought we’d give Emily Smith a look. She was pleasant enough but nothing that stopped either Lady A or me in our tracks. Then it was Ralph McTell or Chumbawamba? No contest (I still have my copy of ‘Streets of London’ sheet music). Still a class act at 67, he also included ‘Angie’ in his set.  But barely an hour, for the first true folk legend of the weekend? Final choice was Quill v Peatbog Faeries. Quill seem to pop up all over on the fest circuit, so we chose the latter. Plenty of jumpy-up-and-downy stuff but they’ve been going for 20 years!? All much of a muchness for me, although Leila Slater from the Moonbeams Fest says they are her favourite group.

So, on to Saturday afternoon. Only one venue, starting with Richard Digance.  He really is a great turn, in the mould of the 70s folk/comic raconteur people like Harding and Connolly. If you haven’t seen him, you are instructed to do so at your earliest convenience! Next up was Joe O’Donnell. Yet more fiddle-based jiggy stuff, but this time with mostly Gaelic words. Went back to watch the telly, thereby also missing The Wurzels.  Have already had the misfortune of witnessing them once this year. Digance is a genuine example of music integrating with humour. this lot are just tripe.

Saturday evening set up Steve Gibbons (solo) vs Merry Hell. Have seen Mr G many times and liked him, but we both, without prompting, expressed our disappointment this time. Why? Dunno, but we went after about 20 minutes to give Merry Hell a try. Nothing too daring, but pretty decent. We would both go to see them again.  We then had Matthews Southern Comfort or Cara Dillon. Sorry Miss D, but I reckon Ian Matthews has one of the best voices going and it is still holding up well. Nothing like the original MSC line-up, but a mixture of new stuff and older songs re-worked, including ‘Woodstock’ of course.   Final choice was The Outcast Band or Kanda Bongo Man. What a dismal challenge!  The former, featuring miserable minor chord stuff with tuneless semi-spoken lyrics who seem to appear at every other festival or…some ‘legend’ who has been championed by both John Peel AND Andy Kershaw! No intention of watching the former, I suffered about 20 minutes of some shell-suited reject from Tiswas  and went to the chalet (amidst a stampede of like-minded punters).

Last day, Sunday afternoon. Again, only one venue, featuring the debut of Fairport Connections, an ad hoc group of Fairport-connected people.Dave Pegg and P J Wright up first (fine),  followed by multi-instrumentalist Anna Ryder. Sorry Anna, great versatility but piano/vocal segment was too long. Bob Fox was his usual North Eastern folky self, Anthony John Clarke provided some Northern Irish alternative and Steve Tilston finished proceedings with a shortened set (no doubt Peggy will do some fine-tuning to the schedule). Gerry Conway helped out and all on and off stage seemed to have enjoyed it. Well, not quite all!  It was like being in a folk club for 3 hours, which you might say that is what it should be! But every song had a chorus you were asked to sing along to, usually taught at the beginning. And there is always some fat, ‘homely’, bespectacled , bearded woman who closes her eyes, smiles soporifically, sways and sings along…loudly. She also sings the rest of the song…loudly. Why don’t you shut up and let us listen to the people ON stage, who we’ve paid to see sing?! And, of course, she is a  personal friend of Peggy, Swarb etc!  Phew! The Churchfitters came on, a bit different, but I was totally folked up by then , so left.

Sunday night, Jane Taylor vs Jacqui McShee’s Pentangle. The latter are a bit too jazzy for me nowadays, but we gave them a go. Lovely version of ‘She moves through the fair’, but we went off after 30 minutes to get ready for Seth Lakeman. (I wouldn’t have stopped to watch Seth’s competition Martyn Joseph anyway. I’d had enough of him at Cropredy). We booked this year’s fest last year, on the strength of Seth Lakeman coming, but we both found ourselves thinking how disappointing he was. By all means ‘promote’ your new cd, but the opening songs were almost ponderous, and he himself admitted his new stuff was a bit ‘different’ . It seemed to take forever for him to get wound up to his familiar fiddle/singing/stomping self, and the word ‘pacing’ sprang to mind. Hit the ground running, to use a football cliche!!  So , a bit saddened but full of beer and lager, we went off to see a (hopefully) rejuvenated Steve Gibbons in The Dylan Project rather than risk Mr Toledo and his Tombolinos. It was a good choice. Dylan songs played by fans for fans. And it was all over..

Plus side? Good organisation. Mostly strictly-timetabled. Great value, and despite some reservations, we’ll probably come next time (but will await line-up details). MOST of acts booked were appropriate.

Minus side?  Queues everywhere and for everything. Many hundreds waiting for hours outside venues to rush in and put 12 coats on chairs for absent people. Silly perpendicular queues at bars. Look, the bar is about 60 feet long!! Why stand behind someone else!? Even a queue outside dining areas! There are hundreds of places! Queue to buy Digance CDs and another queue to have him sign stuff! Actually, quite sensible but people spent 10 minutes in the wrong queue! Wonderful! See a queue and join it , don’t ask what it’s for.  Best queue was to get OUT of Kanda Bongo Man! And finally, the line-up fell short of last year.  Nothing to compare to Kate Rusby or Oysterband.

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