Acoustic Festival of Britain. Uttoxeter Racecourse. 30.5.2014-1.6.2014

This has been our annual first outdoor festival of the year pretty much since the first one. Thankfully, we don’t have to rush there or back nowadays. ( But still managed to fall out and break a rod putting the tent up.).  Sadly, the ground was showing signs of previous heavy rain but onwards and upwards.

Friday.  First impression. Having bought a programme, discovered that official T-shirts were only a fiver. Well done to Mike, Rob and whoever else decided on that. I paid £25.00 for one at a recent Alison Krauss gig that must have cost 25 p to make (or whatever the currency is in the far-eastern sweatshop).                     So first up were Pelico, from the place of my origin, York. Not sure about the Simon and Garfunkel comparison, but they played lots of originals (featuring lots of trumpet) with a clapalong to finish.                Next, Adam Palma (Parma?).   Polish guitarist, he played more notes in the first 30 seconds than Pelico had played in the previous  30 minutes.  I suspected he may not have had too many Wilko Johnson tuition videos at home. Very accomplished, but ‘Inspector Gadget’ reminded me of Leslie West’s 1980s stock rendition of ‘Hall of the Mountain King’.  Snatch of ‘Little Wing’, AWB’s ‘Pick up the Pieces’ , I went for a Graham Nash and he had finished.                                  Sisters in Grease.   At this point , a few hundred politely sitting down and paying attention. Apparently all in the wrong, according to someone on Facebook site. She reckons chairs should be banned in all the music tents.  The organisers have the sense to choose otherwise. They start with ‘Post-Natal Blues’, followed by their eponymous number.   They were quite well received but, for me, there was just something lacking. We got ‘Ain’t no sunshine’, ‘Route 66’ and a song with Imelda May in the title. Again, polite applause.         (Heard Ian Prowse from the Main Stage. I was a bit too old for his group Pele, but I have a Back Stage pass from when my brother’s group supported them at Leicester Uni on 15 December 1992!! Yes, totally irrelevant but the nearest I can get.                Wille and the Bandits.  Programme feature made them look bonkers before they played a note. 3 piece, namely stand-up bass, drums and guitar. Same notes indicated Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Santana comparisons. The last-named seemed applicable. Unusual style for 3 relatively young men, not heard anyone else do John Martyn’s ‘ Bless the Weather’.  A ‘Crossroads’-ish treatment ended the set. Didn’t quite live up to the promise, but things  were getting better.                       Caught a bit of Matt Cardle. I walked in when Her Ladyship was watching him in the first stages of a talent show and told her he would end up winning it. Honest, ask her!  He does have a good voice ( ‘Jolene’ seemed a strange choice though) and there were plenty of people watching him.    Just as an aside, organiser Mike Stephens was walking round. He personally emptied a full rubbish bin, well done  (again!). Can’t imagine head honcho at Glasto doing that nowadays.                         We decamped to a smaller tent to watch Tony Wright and Milly from Terrorvision. One of Her Ladyship’s favourite groups from the 90s, ‘111 Wishes’ got an early airing (a single that they didn’t play much at all). Mr W still has the same mischievous stage manner and ‘Alice what’s the Matter’ was quickly upon us. A new song was plagued by a Norman Collier sound setting ( the first of many throughout the weekend) and he mentioned how his new recordings had been ‘pledged’. Caravan did a similar thing for their latest one, I believe. Old favourite ‘Moonage Daydream’ didn’t disappoint, and  No.2 hit 45 ‘Tequila’ was always going to be lurking. Great slot, best so far by a ‘rural 8 furlongs’.                            Steve Harley. No stranger to this festival, he looked genuinely pleased to be there, but he looked genuinely ‘unpleased’ with the sound. ‘Best years of our Lives’ had Her Ladyship in tears, and ‘Judy Teen’ and ‘Mr Soft’ followed quickly. And , yes it is a festival, but there a group of people standing near us, close to the stage, shouting at each other as if they were in different post-codes, not paying a blind bit of notice to the ‘turn’. Tw*ts.     Some newer songs followed, plus a a jazzy piano solo. Mr H said the line-up gave them the opportunity to indulge themselves. (We would rather have had ‘Sebastian’).  Still we got’ Riding the Waves’ with a lengthy audience participation, and his ‘pension song’ , of course. No encore, but Her Ladyship didn’t mind.  Bed -time.

Saturday. Pig Earth. Blurb included British Country Music recommendation, so gave them a shot. 5-piece, with male and female lead vocals.  They were…okay…I went for a walk just before ‘Whiskey in the Jar’!!  We could have stayed in bloody Castleford!  The girl started up a Karen Carpenter-ish number when the sound died (believe me, not worth counting how many times this would happen).  Eventually sorted it. Not sure if they were quite as memorable as the programme suggested they would be.                Jon Gomm. Mind-boggling guitar technique, I can’t do it justice in words. Needs ‘to be seen to believed’ ( is that from  Free’s ‘The Highway Song’?), check out YouTube.   I would be surprised if he had never heard of John Martyn, and he got a well-deserved ovation…and the sun came out!                       John Smith. Her Ladyship looked at the notes, and it seemed that he was in a similar vein to Mr Gomm, which looked like careless scheduling. So she went for a tactical kip. As it turned out, he was probably more like the soon-to-be-with-us Seth Lakeman if anything. Accompanied by a stand-up bassist, the programme notes of being met by ‘hushed appreciation’ obviously didn’t refer to the quartet of smog-monsters standing behind me. They certainly wouldn’t have lasted long in The Sun folk club in Stockton-on-Tees on a Monday night in the 70s. Ronnie Angel would have slung ’em out (we got slung out every week, but his wife Rita always let us back in the following week!).   Mr Bassman had a timeout, and a slide guitar song ‘Time to Time’ was as good as his preceding numbers. ‘Perfect Storm’ had a real Paul Simon feel to it. as had the title track from his last cd ‘Great Lakes’.  His final song featured some percussive lap-top playing, with a swift rag-time style number as an encore.  Mike Stephens was pleased that he had booked him, I can see why.          On a bit of a down note, it seemed that sound checks and end of sets on adjacent stages seemed to be coinciding. It only takes one act to overrun (or have sound problems!) to have a knock-on effect.            It seemed like The Counterfeit Stones were well past their opening time. Didn’t bother me. No interest in copy groups, but obviously a lot of people do have. The organisers seem to allow one of this genre per festival, I can handle that.                    Polly and the Billets Doux.    Check out the review of last year’s Americana gig at The Sage, the programme then summed them up pretty well.They were a bit folkier this time. Polly grabbed the double bass for a bluegrassy number, then the electric 6-string for ‘Pretty Thing’ Another Bo Diddley song ‘Who do you Love’ followed.  The next song reminded me of the Allman Brothers ‘Whipping Post’ and ‘Hold Fast’ had a JJ Cale feel. The set seemed to have been shortened though, the organisers probably having to play catch-up.                      Emma Stevens on the Main Stage. Another coup from Mr Stephens, pleasant poppy stuff which was probably well-suited to her age group…which is not us!                           Ukelele Theatre 100% singalong required ( well, not quite!). Madness, Beatles, Stray Cats and lots more familiar songs a la ukelele.  Good afternoon festival stuff, but didn’t quite have the chuckle factor of the wonderful Hayseed Dixie or even The Bad Shepherds.                        Fairport Convention on the Main Stage.  Her Ladyship went down to take some pix while they were setting up, and said that Simon Nicol was getting very ‘frustrated’ with the sound people!  ‘Walk awhile’ started proceedings, followed by ‘Fotheringay’ and ‘Festival Bell’. Next up was a song about HMS Investigator, the title of which escapes me. I shall consult Jarrow’s No 1 Fairport fan, Mr Les Gibson, and will report back*.   ‘Lark in the Morning’, ‘Round the Wild Cape Horn’, ‘Hiring Fair’, ‘John Gaudie’ and the set closed with ‘Matty Groves’ . Her Ladyship was aghast at the thought of no ‘Meet on the Ledge’!  The annual award ceremony followed, and Richard Thompson’s classic meant that she could dissolve into another puddle.                     Back inside for John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett.  A packed tent, I stood at the back next to a group of premature-ejaculents shouting at each other and necking pints of some purple liquid. ‘Really Free’, ‘Body Talk’. ‘Two little Boys’, ‘Beware of the Flowers…’, ‘Cheryl’s Going Home’ and a couple of encores. You are either a fan or not. No halfway house. We are definitely in the former.                     Back outside for Seth Lakeman.  ‘King and Country’, ‘Blood Red Sky’ and ‘Solomon Brown’ all went down well. ‘Portrait of my Wife’ slowed things down and ‘Rightful Men of War’ gave way to yet more sound problems. (Like I said earlier, don’t bother counting!) Still Mr L smiled philosophically and we got ‘Hold your Fire’, ‘Lady of the Sea’ and ‘The White Hare’. He had plenty of fans there, me included.                   Finally, inside, The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican.  Barnsley-stoked pastiches of Ramones, Blur etc classics, but I couldn’t pick out the words. Combination of poor sound and pissed noisy women.  ‘Sean Bean’ (i.e. ‘James Dean’ ) similarly couldn’t get through to my ageing ear-drums, so I took my teddy home. They seemed similar to their excellent South Yorkshire neighbours, The Everly Pregnant Brothers. And , yes, I should have stayed!

Sunday. Wildfire Folk.  A group of 20 or so young people whose main attraction seems to be that they can all play their instruments well and it time with each other.  No doubt lots of mates and parents in attendance for this ‘ Graveyard Slot’. I am sure they will all continue in their own smaller outfits when this group eventually collapses inwards.             Ben Waters Boogie Band. Reckoned to be the best boogie woogie piano player in the land. To paraphrase Brian Clough, if he isn’t the best , he is in the top 1.  Augmented by some Junior Walker-ish sax, he gave us ‘Iko Iko’, ‘Matchbox’, ‘Take on Me’ and ‘One Step Beyond’. Sadly , we had to go to get a good spot to see the stars of last year’s festival, Babajack.                   Babajack expanded into a 4-piece for their last cd, ‘Running Man’, which saw the duo and 4-piece split the duties 50/50.  It meant that Becky can now strut her stuff while explaining that the money’s all gone and that love has come tumbling down. The two extras leave the stage to allow her and Trevor to perform the classic ‘Death Letter Blues’ and ‘Hammer and Tongs’. They return to flesh out Led Zeppelin’s  (yeh sure, just like most of their songs were ‘theirs’!) ‘Gallow’s Pole’ . Check out YouTube for last year’s version here (and her description of Page and Plant!), you can hear Trevor’s great vocals. Couldn’t hear him at all this year. ‘Black Betty’ got everybody going.   So, what about the new line-up?  A dilemma. I reckon if I had been sitting in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, drinking a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster and the ‘maitre d’ told me that I had to make a choice between the duo and the 4 piece , or he would magic up Thin Lizzy and make me sit through a complete rendition of ‘Live and Dangerous’, what would I choose?!  I would have to go for the duo. In that form, they are a bit unique (can that be possible?!). And, also, the drums totally obliterated Becky’s percussion. Sorry, but I had to make a choice, the consequences were unthinkable.         Bizarrely, Becky said that she was attracted to the letter ‘W’, namely ‘Water’, ‘Wine’ and ‘Whiskey’, because I am mesmerised by the letter ‘B’!  ‘Beer’, ‘Babajack’ and…’Biggles Wartime Band’.  And they are on next!                       A short walk to Biggles Wartime Band.  ‘Salty Dog Blues’ followed a chaotic soundcheck, with ‘Jollity Farm’ as usual to follow. Some more severely-abused bluegrass next, which like the opening number recalled the Flying Burrito Brothers ‘Live in Amsterdam’ lps. Father Green got in his usual terrible comments before a bit of cajun stuff and, yes, more sound problems. They ended up turning the monitors off for ‘San Francisco Bay’ and ‘Raggy Annie’.  A ‘little -known’ punk anthem was followed by a barrage of ‘Doctor’ jokes which almost necessitated my female companion having to go back to the tent to change her underwear.  The classics ‘Then she kicked me’, ‘Delilah’, ‘Tha’s addicted t’ love’ and Jungle Book stuff gave way to an instrumental medley and ‘Are you lonesome tonight’.  Wonderful entertainment, again, by a group whose combined age must be approaching that of Hadrian’s Wall.                           The Animals (and Friends?). No Peter Barton on bass and vocals now, he seemingly has his new ‘Friends’. Guitarist Danny Handley has undertaken vocal duties. OK, I am not a fan of how Mr Barton seems to favour particular artistes for the Butlins festivals, but he is a good front man and has a very good voice. So how would Mr H do?  A bit strange at first but we both reckoned by the end of the night that the line-up is pretty decent. I won’t go through the set. All the hits, plus bits of the Animals early 60s blues-based sets. ‘Lonely Avenue’, ‘C C Rider’, ‘Road runner’.  (Historical note. John Steel pointed out that they had remembered Mickey Gallagher from ‘The Chosen Few’, when they needed a quick replacement keyboard player. I have an old sepia photo with the afore-mentioned Mr G, a certain Alan Hull (lead vocalist) and my cousin Alan ‘Bumper’ Brown (bassist).                    And finally, The Cheese Cutters.  They kicked off, and guess what?! Yes, correct. Her Ladyship, fuelled by Flying Scotsman and Old Peculiar chasers, let the sound people know that there was a definite lull in the decibel level (or words to that effect).  Got there eventually, and anyone who plays an Old Crow Medicine Show is worth listening to. (Mind you, I reckon half the people there thought OCMS is the title of some obscure 60s Hanna-Barbera cartoon.).  All good end of night singalong stuff, with some good body swerves (John Prine, Paulo Nutini and ‘Alberta’).    And it’s all over.

 

The verdict.  A really good weekend. Efficient and pleasant barstaff and security. Beer prices ok. Toilets very good. Some very wet areas were attended to as best as possible. Overall, good selection of artistes that were within the budget.     Yes, a few problems.  Far too many sound issues. Mr Harley , Mr Nicol and Mr Lakeman are all pros at the top of their field and expect…and deserve… decent sound. The organisers, the artistes and the customers must all have been frustrated. I reckon it won’t be the same next year!

Also, the event sadly seems to have fallen prey to the low-lives that burgle festival sites. To be fair, the person giving us our wristbands warned us to be vigilant, and there was an announcement from the stage. Maybe a bit more visible patrolling should be considered, even if it means a few quid on the ticket price.  We don’t leave phones, money etc in the tent! Be sensible, people (  or try to be, if you are shit-faced!)!

Change of date for next year, and as Levi Stubbs famously sang ‘I’ll be there…’. I am sure I speak for most of the people there when I thank Mike, Rob and the team for a really good weekend.

* ‘Mercy Bay’. Cheers Les.

Hello ” Her Ladyship” here.   Some pictures are o.k.  Some not so good.   Can you spot Phil Jupitus  moonlighting as a roady?

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