Festival Reviews

I was at Cambridge Folk Festival last weekend. Glastonbury may have the spectacular location and world famous party vibes, but if I could only come to one festival, Cambridge is the one I would choose. It is musically right up my street and everything is just so pleasant, friendly and comfortable.

When you camp at Cherry Hinton you are so close to the stages that you can get to your tent and back in between sets. The weather was fairly good, even though at Cambridge that does not really matter as the stages are in tents. This was my 11th time at the festival and as many people come every year there are familiar faces everywhere.

Apart from gigs I attended some of the special events. Singer/songwriter Chris Wood did a talk on songwriting, which was fascinating. Audience members would ask about particular songs and Chris would talk about the song, explain technical stuff that I never would have thought about and he played some songs as well.

Eliza Carthy did a similar thing about singing. She rarely plays solo these days, so it was a treat to hear her do quite a few songs completely solo. The Mojo interview was with Kate Rusby this year, who can talk the hind legs off a donkey. Damien O'Kane was with her and accompanied her on the guitar for a few songs. Kate explained that she cannot play guitar anymore due to arthritis in her neck.

The highlights:

1. Gogol Bordello

This will go down as one of the most fun gigs I was ever at. They were exactly at the right place at the right time, as the last act on stage one on Friday night. We had barely recovered from Glen Hansard when the stage was invaded by these 'Ukrainian gypsy punks' from New York. Eugene Hütz is a great frontman, kind of a deranged pirate with wine bottle constantly in hand. There was so much to see and hear and everything played on proper instruments. Not a computer or a gadget in sight. I like that Eugene sings in his original accent. At the end of the show the two dancers threw their big drums into the audience and Eugene and one of the dancers then climbed onto these drums that were being held up by the crowd. It was thrilling stuff and it made for a great change from all the flutes and fiddles.

2. Christy Moore

I had seen Christy a few weeks ago in Killarney, but Cambridge was the better gig. He was accompanied by Declan Sinnott, Seamie O'Dowd and Jimmy Higgins, and I realized that I had missed Declan's contributions in Killarney. Christy paid compliments to the great listening audience. I was a bit unlucky in that a very drunken Paddy who evidently had Christy's greatest hits (we were okay on the newer material...) was near me and roaring loudly along to the songs (he knew them word for word, I have to give him that). He was that drunk that his own friends did not dare to try and silence him. But at least he was not talking and I was more or less able to zone him out. The tent was absolutely rammed. One of the highlights was what Christy described as "something local" - 'Shine on you crazy diamond'.

3. Kíla

Cambridge does not publish the performance schedule in advance, so it was only when I got there and saw the program that I learned that Kíla would be the closing act on the Sunday night. Couldn't wish for a more perfect end to the festival. I am a huge fan and therefore biased, but they got a great reception and CDs were selling briskly afterwards. Of all the festivals I go to Cambridge has by far the best stocked CD stall.

4. Mary Chapin Carpenter

Mary was on stage directly after Eliza Carthy and her 12-man/woman circus-like Wayward Band and it was the perfect antidote. Accompanied by a guitarist and a keyboard player, Mary's songs are so strong they do not need any embellishment. Her chat in between the songs was very nice too. Another one in the long list of grand country dames I have seen at Cambridge (Emmylou, Lucinda, Rosanne, Nanci Griffith, Kathy Mattea).

5. Glen Hansard

Glen had a huge band with him and played a blinder. His enthusiasm is so infectious. It is like he is still a busker at heart. There is a real carpe diem vibe about his performance. I particularly loved his cover of 'Astral weeks', with just Glen on guitar and his bassist playing. Eugene Hütz said later, in his inimitable Ukrainian accent, that it was “a real honour to play with Glen – respectus maximus”. Glen brought Lisa O'Neill on to sing 'The Galway shawl', as he said he was sorry to have missed her set earlier in the day.

6. Solas

As with Kíla, I am a fan of Solas, rarely miss a gig and I have everything they ever released. This was a top notch trad gig; a great mix of songs and instrumentals. It was my first time seeing them with new singer Moira Smiley. She is good, but then so were all her predecessors.

7. Duncan Chisholm

Due to an unfortunate clash I only saw half of Duncan's show. I had planned to leave halfway through Mary Chapin Carpenter to go to stage two, but Mary was so good that I stayed. The 25 minutes I caught of Duncan's gig were still absolutely beautiful. There are many good fiddlers out there, but it is the fact that Duncan writes all these amazing tunes himself that makes him stand out. I bumped into several of my friends at the CD stall immediately afterwards, so I wasn't the only one who thought this was extraordinary.

8. Le Vent Du Nord

I love the Québécois music. So much so that I actually went there a few years ago. I had a lovely time but was disappointed not to find any of this music. “Ah yes, we believe zis is very popular in Europe”, people would say.... Oh well, their loss. Le Vent Du Nord never disappoint. Despite the early hour (they were on at 11:30 a.m.) it was full in the tent for their gig.

9. Chris Wood

One of these artists that never seem to come to Ireland, so I have to catch him when I can at a festival. Chris is a great songwriter, storyteller and performer. During his songwriting talk he had said that he never really took to playing with a band and quite frankly he does not need one. His was one of a few gigs at stage two that suffered badly from sound overspill coming from stage one, which was most unfortunate.

10. Imelda May

I was in doubt whether to go and see Imelda, because I had seen her before and when you have seen her once you have kind of seen her. I knew that she recently went through a divorce and I wondered if it would be different as a result. It certainly was. She looked fantastic for a start, kind of Shirley Manson meets Chrissie Hynde. Not only was it 'a bit different' – it seems that the split fired up her creativity and the new songs were great. Nice talk in between the songs as well, about how lucky we all were to be standing in a tent listening to music. True of course. She finished with a cover of U2's 'All I want is you', during which she got half of the audience to sing 'Walk on the wild side' and the other half 'You can't always get what you want'. It worked wonderfully well.

11. Lisa O'Neill

This was my first time seeing Lisa with a band. I first saw her in Whelans quite a few years ago when she supported Joe Pug and she has gone from strength to strength. Another great stage personality with very dry humour. She finished with a cover of Jefferson Airplane's 'White rabbit', which really suited her voice.

12. John McCusker Band

One of trad's greatest. I had seen him play many times with others, but this was my first time seeing John McCusker front his own band. Heidi Talbot sang a few songs, as did Kris Drever. I love Heidi's voice, have never quite taken to Kris. Graham Coxon also came on as a guest. Top gig from start to finish.

13. Kate Rusby

Last time Kate played I left halfway through as I wanted to see something else, so this time I was keen to catch her entire set. She has the most beautiful voice and her own unique way of making you feel like you are sitting in her living room listening. She did some old songs I knew ('I courted a sailor', 'Awkward Annie') and a number of new ones, one of which ('Big brave Bill') I have not been able to get out of my head since (“The hero who drinks Yorkshire tea all the time.....”).

14. Darlingside

A vocal harmony quartet from Boston. They found themselves suddenly in a prime time slot on stage one as Charles Bradley had called in sick. Every year there is one act who takes Cambridge by storm, is on everyone's lips and sells out all of their CDs and this year Darlingside was that act. The boys looked charmingly chuffed with the overwhelming reception they got. Their singing was very beautiful indeed (CSN-style) and very humorous in-between-song-chat as well.

15. Jon Boden

From the 11-piece beast that was Bellowhead to performing completely solo, Jon Boden headlined the Thursday night. It was good, but maybe I had expected more, because I liked Bellowhead so much and indeed Spiers & Boden as well. This is a new venture for Jon. It took me a while to warm to Bellowhead, so no doubt this will get better as the tour progresses.Cambridge being Cambridge, what lurks outside the top 15 is still top quality stuff: Michael McGoldrick, the Afro Celt Sound System, Leyla McCalla, Megson and O'Hooley & Tidow.

One thing I will be mentioning to the organisers about was the new lighting on the Cherry Hinton campsite. These lights make it seem as bright as day in the middle of the night. Who wants that? My tent was under some trees so it was not too bad, but there is no need for lights that you can read by when you actually want to sleep.....

Finally a big thank you to my friends. It was great watching bands together and talking music with you. Hope to see everyone again next year.

Helen Minnes.

Steve's notebook from Shefield

Friday 22nd July

Clay [Leadmill] - 4 piece pop band from Leeds who although describing themselves as 'indie' played groove based songs (from their new EP 'Heaven') sounding all a bit sub-Friendly Fires/Jungle. Very young band, attracted a good female following

Inheaven [Leadmill] - Definitely of interest, not least because this 4 piece South London outfit have sealed Julian Casablanca's approval via release of their debut single 'Regeneration' on his Cult Record label in the US. And I can see why, lead singer James Taylor has the Strokes front man's style and intonation. Latest offering on single is the doom-laden 'Bitter Town'. Worth seeing again.

Virgin Kids [Washington Pub] Forgoing Meilyr Jones (as he's at EOTR), I plumped for this band. I can see why the NME would champion them. Playing 3 minute slabs of garage rock in what I can only describe as a pub corridor they really went for it. The comparison to Black Lips isn't too far off the mark, and their 30 minute set covered songs from their album 'Greasewheel'. Powerful for a 3 piece, I enjoyed them - well worth a viewing again

Saturday 23rd July

Holy Esque [O2 Academy] - Glasgow based 4 piece who sadly didn't draw a crowd - there must have been about 30 of us. As such they were pretty sullen, especially singer Pat Hynes. They played songs from their 2016 album 'At Hope's Ravine' which were pretty good - worth a second look when they don't have to do a set at 4pm maybe...

NARCS [City Hall] - 4 piece Leeds/North England band who aired songs from their current album 'A Thinking Animal'. Part Indie punk interspersed with anti-Tory political rants involving the lead singer jumping into the crowd to get his point across, they have had some airplay from Tom Robinson and Steve Lamacq. Plenty of energy but it wasn't their crowd, as I discovered the majority had come to see....

Yndi Halda [City Hall] - What can I say - a revelation! Sounding to me like a cross between Sigur Ros and BSP [when Abi and the band 'go melodic'], they couldn't have been more suited to the massive City Hall ballroom which had fantastic acoustics. I spoke with guitarist/singer James Vella who said that him and the band are friends with BSP so understood the comparison to the instrumental stuff. He also said that they made a tacit effort in their song writing to 'not be as electronic as Sigur Ros' and it certainly works for them. I immediately purchased their 2 offerings, 'Enjoy Eternal Bliss' from 2006 and their new 2016 release 'Under Summer'. They finished their set playing bell-like glockenspiels, and here's a rarity for a gig these days - the audience (100+) didn't make a sound. The highlight of the 3 days for me.

The Crookes [O2 Academy] - Home town gig, so the audience was with them from the start and this was their 7th consecutive Tramlines appearance. Very polished, but the songs seemed to be written for maximum sing-along appeal. Not my cup of tea. If The Crookes were footballers they would be described as 'journeymen'. Too Kaiser Chiefs....

Mystery Jets [O2 Academy] - Second highlight of the 3 days, they were fantastic, benefitting from a huge crowd. Sheffield doesn't get many bands like this - they tend to by-pass Sheffield for Leeds, so they were surprised by the reception. Playing a full set which included songs from 'The Curve Of The Earth' such as 'Bombay Blue' and 'Telomere', I was chuffed that they still include 2008's 'Young Love' in their set which originally featured a very young Laura Marling. They were great - top value.

Sunday 24th July

Eliza & The Bear [O2 Academy] - A crowd pleasing band first and foremost; their anodyne lyrics and nursery rhyme tunes all rushed headlong to a chorus that typically included 'ooh, ahh' instead of WORDS. Sadly, the crowd: 200+ loved 'em. What do I know.

Silver Wilson [The Harley] - Nottingham based 3 piece pop band who were excellent considering they looked about 12 (they aren't). Shades of Bombay Bicycle Club and Kajagoogoo type pop resulted in a slick 30 minute set from a stage area in a an intimate setting. Nice Sunday pop.

Reflecktor [Leadmill] - Doom laden electronica/psychedelica with guitars who I actually quite enjoyed. The guitarist had a bit of The Kills Jamie Hince about him. They aren't a band as such, more a collective of musicians/DJ's and Producers.

High Hazels [Leadmill] - Sheffield based band who had more carefully constructed songs than most, with a story telling based set along the lines of Richard Hawley. Early days, and the songs weren't that memorable yet but I'd like to see them in a year's time.

Johnny Lloyd [Leadmill] - You get the impression this ex-Tribes man was born in a leather jacket - he oozes rock 'n roll. Songs such as 'Hello Death' - produced by Jamie T - and 'Happy Humans' were perfectly crafted classic indie. Big crowd for him, and he was up for it too.

Gaz Coombs - A massive crowd for Gaz who played an acoustic set aided by drum machines/electronics. Drawing from 'Matador' and 'Here Come The Bombs' he put an acoustic slant on songs such as 'Hot Fruit' and 'Matador' plus - my personal fave song - 'The Girl Who Fell To Earth'. The crowd went nuts for him and he played a full 90 minute set. Excellent.

So, that's it. A great event and I'll be back next year.


Festival Website

There can surely be no better ‘value for money’ festival anywhere in the land. Tickets were £89.50 for the whole weekend, including camping. And this year the festival was extended to three days, where previously it had just been two. Truck has a local feel and the absence of corporate badging is refreshing and the  festival continues to punch above it's weight in terms of line-up.

Many of the outlets are run in aid of charities, eg local Rotary Clubs or churches, which complement the usual food and drink stalls. This gives the festival a 'do it yourself' vibe which is fine apart from the amateurishly constructed urinals many of which sloped the wrong way - enough said......

There are five principal stages with only the main one ‘Truck Stage’ outside. Second stage is ‘Market Stage’ inside a large-ish rectangular tent, then ‘The Nest’ and ‘Veterans & Virgins’ in tents of decreasing size. The ‘Barn’ is in a cowshed on the farm – on previous visits this housed some established acts but this time around felt like it was just peripheral bands appearing there. Finally there was ‘The Saloon Bar’, a mock western bar but with a real drinks counter inside – catering for country/folk performances.

The good thing is the site is small so extremely easy to dip between the stages. Sally and I got to see 31 bands across the weekend with loads of variety. As usual for us though, this didn't include any of the Main Stage headliners (Catfish & The Bottlemen, Friday; Manics on Saturday; Kodaline Sunday). Stand out sets we saw were Youngfathers and Yndi Halda, a new discovery for us. Also one to look out for: Palm Honey

Reflecting the diy vibe, alcohol can be taken into the festival. Really welcome but can lead to some hazy afternoons (and band reviews, below).

Friday 15/7

Connah Evans - Palm City Stage
Indie singer-songwriter dude. Songs complemented brilliantly with guitar (Leon) and drums (Callum). Guitar gave the songs colour, depth and quality. A confident lad but with no swagger.

Willy J Healy - Market Stage
Lively songs from WJH supported by a quality band

Ady Suleiman - Truck Stage
Cloudy afternoon with sun occasionally peeking through made for a marvellous backdrop for AS's RnB tunes. 5-strong support. We particularly liked the little acoustic guitar player

Hooton Tennis Club - Market Stage
Played some songs from their forthcoming second album. Powerful Pierre was a crowd favourite (as usual)

Boon Mew & Wooster - Saloon Stage
Rockin country tunes that somehow failed to get the place rockin. Good box-beating though.

DMAs - Market Stage
An accomplished Aussie band. Punchy and anthemic songs. Best band of the day so far albeit a little repetitive. Much chanting of 'D, D, DMA' from the ebullient crowd

Soak - Market Stage
There was an irritating over-fussiness through the set up and sound-checking which lead to Soak taking the stage 45 minutes late by which time much of the crowd had departed for the Main Stage (for Catfish & The Bottlemen). So the set was played to a sparse crowd, lacking a vibe. And ironically the sound was poor with overly heavy bass (guitar and drum)

Applewood Road - Saloon Stage
Emily Barker's latest side-project with two American girls, Amber and Amy; all three each taking a share in the lead vocal. Excellent folk harmonies and included a great rendition of Losing My Religion.

Saturday 16th July

Flights of Helios - Truck Record Shop Tent
1.00 pm set. Very pleasant dreamy tunes while we browsed the vinyl racks and sat outside firming up our plan for Day Two. Rather comically on the stroke of 1.15 the crashing opening chords from Judas on the nearby Truck Stage swamped the band completely. Fair play, they soldiered on.

Judas - Truck Stage
Rockin guitars. Perfect sunny afternoon stage-opening set.

Virgin Kids – Nest Stage
Excellent band, a pre-fest pick for me having been impressed by them in a recent supporting slot (to The Big Moon) at The Joiners earlier on in the year. 3-piece guitar band. Song 'Never Nude' is worth checking out.

Shame - Nest
5-piece guitars. This band has a lead singer with serious attitude. "We're Shame - to listen to us is a privilege". Second song in he pulled his arm out of his T-shirt so he was half bare-chested and proceeded to pour lager over his stomach and chest. The next song was titled ‘Lick’. After that they threw in a new untitled number that got a spontaneous mosh-pit going which heralded beer throwing amongst the crowd, lead singers shirt coming fully off and a spit into the audience. The final tune saw him join the mosh. Great stuff – the kind of youthful exuberance that rock n roll was built on. Ones to watch.

Estrons – Truck Stage
Estrons means ‘Aliens’ in welsh. 4-piece from Cardiff. Thumping bass and female lead vocal. A bit shouty in places

Traams – Nest Stage
This brilliant threesome from Sheffield was another ‘must-see’ for me. Bass and Guitarist share the vocals. Parquet Courts soundalike in places so they’re in great company. As ever, they build their set and culminate with Klaus, an 8-minute tune with an exhilarating guitar climax

The Big Moon – Truck Stage
London female foursome; slightly edgy but actual playing well-constructed pop songs. Totally at home on the main stage. Included a Madonna cover ‘Beautiful Stranger’. Penultimate song ‘Formidable’ sounds like a tune to listen out for on their forthcoming debut album.

Public Access TV – Nest Stage
This festival serves up a good helping of British bands so it was a refreshing change to hear some good old American garage rock from PATV. Good set.

Spector – Nest Stage
Back to quintessentially English tunes. Indie pop to perfection. The tent was the most rammed we saw it all weekend. Brilliantly crafted tunes, the crowd singing along to most of ‘em.

Ratboy – Truck Stage
Jordan Carty’s show takes on a different hue on the bigger stage. Solid performance, fully appreciated by youthful crowd, but loses a bit of edge compared to performances we’ve seen on smaller stages.

Spring King – Nest Stage
Spring King’s debut LP ‘Tell Me If You Like To’ is one of my favourite albums of 2016 and was given a good airing here. Started the set with ‘Better Man’(not on the vinyl but is a bonus track on the download) a belting song that got the boisterous crowd forming pit-circles from the off. Drummer and Lead Singer Tariq Musa sounded truly genuine when he said this was the best festival crowd they’d ever played to.

Youngfathers – Market Stage
Marvellously different to anything else we heard all weekend. Dramatic drumming in the Scottish standy-up style. Perfect backdrop to the rapping/chanting of the three front-men. Strong on social commentary. Particularly impressive is that they can all sing very well. Powerful in all regards. The most striking set of the weekend.

The Long Insiders – Saloon Bar
Was expecting country but got rockabilly rock n roll. With disguised relief we had to depart after four numbers for our final band appointment of the day

Recreations – Veterans & Virgins Stage
‘Recreations’ is Sam Duckworth’s new persona. Played some tunes off recently released album under that moniker, including excellent song ‘Built To Last’. Also several songs of inaugural ‘Get Cape Wear Cape’ album ‘Chronicles Of A Bohemian Teenager’, Joined on stage for final two numbers by Festival co-organiser Joe Bennett on cornet.

Day Two was rounded of with an hour in the Silent Disco – an experience I cannot commend highly enough.

Sunday 17th July

Palm Honey – Veterans & Virgins Stage
From Reading – four-piece band but refreshing to see keys rather than the usual second guitar. First on at noon but I made a point of catching their set as had encountered them previously in a support slot. Great vocalist and the keys give an electro/orchestral feel. Shades of The Boxer Rebellion...... or in places even Radiohead (but that may be brain being unable to break the connection with this band’s name). Drummer was shoeless. Penultimate song was a wonderful orchestral/melodic 6-minute song. Final number ‘a new one’ was a seven minute epic with a lengthy metronomic middle eight and a fantastic guitar climax that wound down to see the band take us into ‘two additional minutes’ of scuzzy guitar. Real potential here.

Cassels – Nest Stage
A guitar and crashing drum duo. Grunge rock in a classy style, interlaced with some good social comment (or maybe they were just angry because their booking agent had ripped them off so they weren’t getting any fee for playing the festival). Confident in what they do. Lyrically clever.

Emily Barker – Market Stage
Usual top notch country folk from EB. Today supported by The Dreaming Spires

Yndi Halda– Nest Stage
Our find of the weekend. This band has a welsh-looking name with a sound like Icelandic favourites Sigur Ros mashed up with Scotland’s Aerogramme, but actually hail from Canterbury. Yndi Halda means ‘Enjoy Eternal Bliss’ in Old Norse. Fantastic cinematic tunes with violinist taking centre stage. Definitely will be seeking out their recorded material.

Storme– Band Stage
Our one visit to this stage. 3-piece with female lead vocal, keys and electronic keypad.

Get Inuit– Nest Stage
Angular rhythms, sounding like Alt-J in places. Confident lead singer.

Danny & the Champions of The World– Market Stage
The best thing by far about this band is the great sight and great sound of the Hammond Organ.

Blossoms– Truck Stage
Looked highly presentable on the main stage. Played their increasing recognisable pop-indie tunes.

Black Honey– Market Stage
Crowd in excellent lively mood for this band who I feel are slightly underrated. Haven’t had the same attention that Wolf Alice have had, but their songs and stage show are equally as strong.

Mystery Jets– Market Stage
Irritatingly were 45 minutes coming on (in common with the Friday and Saturday headliners on this stage). Particularly annoying in this case as the excellent Blaenavon were paying another stage at this time and we could have squeezed them in as well. But during the wait the crowd was extremely good natured and remained lively during MJ’s excellent set that featured a number of tunes from their excellent recent release ‘The Curve Of the Earth’ with some old crowd-pleasing favourites thrown in ‘Two Doors Down’ and ‘Half In Love With Elizabeth’


Festival Website


So the annual, small and bijou family friendly Deershed festival was upon us once again, and the weather gods were smiling on us with a forecast of sunny spells over the whole weekend.

The live music is only actually spread over 2 full days, 4pm start on Friday, and roughly 5pm end on Sunday afternoon, but if you have young kids, there’s plenty of other activities to keep them occupied.

Being in the massive minority with no kids to entertain, after the tent was erected, we headed into the arena on Friday afternoon with the first stop being a cold cider to keep us cool.

The music takes place over 4 stages - Main, Lodge, In The Dock and Obelisk, in decreasing capacities, and the festival does its best to avoid any clashes, which means due to the intimate venue, it’s simple to stage hop and catch sets from pretty much anyone and everyone.

Highlights from day 1 were Lusts - Leicester based shoe gaze, indie types, Gwenno and Patch & The Giant - a 5 piece, multi instrumentalists of alt-folk. Everything Everything closed the first day, doing what they do.

Day 2 dawned warm and sunny making it impossible to stay in the tent after about 9am, so the hangover had to be nursed alfresco with the obligatory bacon sandwich....although the baby crying at approx 5.30 woke most of us in a 100 yard radius.

Saturday is the real meat of the festival, where the established acts mingle with newer unknown artists and where I always look forward to finding someone new to go on about. New (to me anyway) were Fews (Swedish/American guitar driven indie), Plastic Mermaids (uncannily sounding like Mercury Rev playing Flaming Lips songs), and a 17 guy called Declan McKenna who played some lovely songs to a sun drenched, lazy midday audience on the main stage. It’s also worth mentioning the quality of the sound system at this festival - always top class.

The wonderful Emma Pollock played the Lodge stage on Saturday afternoon - incredibly engaging and charming - swigging from a bottle of York Brewery Guzzler, and playing mostly songs from her magnificent latest release In Search of Harperfield. The only downer was her declaration that she no longer plays Delgado’s songs....”a line had to be drawn”.

Misty Miller was next up, on the Main Stage, and have to say left disappointed. She seems to have been turned into a pop princess - over produced and polished, as opposed to the rock chick I first saw a couple of years back.

Boxed In livened us up again, being the first band we saw you could dance to. Excellent set. This Is The Kit were there usual charming self, but with 1 major omission.....no Rozi on bass. And no explanation either...

Steve Mason pulled the largest crowd so far, which still was’t much as most of the kids and therefore parents, were still playing and enjoying the other distractions. He did hilariously keep referring to the people on the slope of the hill with their camp chairs and picnics as the Melton Mowbray brigade.

Anna Calvi was next up on the 2nd stage, where I bumped into Mr Marc Riley, who was also doing a DJ set at midnight. Ms Calvi reminds me of another Annie....Ms Clarke. I admire both of them, without actually liking much from either of them. Leaves me cold.

Leaving half way through the set meant we could catch C Duncan playing to approximately 50 of us in the In The Dock stage - massive highlight of his set (and maybe the festival) was his cover of The Cocteau Twins’s Pearly Dew Drops Drop. Fantastic. I may have been the only one present who knew the original...

Richard Hawley closed the night and was as professional and fantastic as ever. We finished the night watching Mr Riley press play on his ipod a few times, before staggering off to bed.

After the horrendous tasking of dismantling the tent etc, the few of us that bothered to make it down to the main stage for 11am on Sunday had our spirits well and truly lifted by the wonderful Mt. Wolf. Sounding like a choirboy accompanying electronic, ambient and at times indie music, these guys were a most pleasant surprise. Laters on The Lake were also as lovely as ever, even when the unexpected rain shower hit.

A trio of folk acts closed the festival for us - Serious Sam Barrett (finger picking a 12 string acoustic like a banjo), the uplifting Buffalo Skinners and Sam Lee & Friends playing earnest folk to a large gathering. We didn’t stay for Beth Orton which in hindsight I regret at least not staying for the minimum 3 song Bob Boilen set.

And so that was that for another year. For me Deershed always feels like a warm up for the rest of the summer, especially for the End of The Road festival, but the loveliness, politeness and quite frankly value for money it affords, cannot be denied. 25 bands seen, from stage front and centre, while the kids and parents are playing, cannot be argued with, and add to that the fabulous food and beer, and that’s what I call a good weekend.



This event should be high on every free-thinking person’s bucket list – a warm and generous helping of traditional English eccentricity, in a beautiful setting.

I had never been before but knew the village and its ancient sycamore, meeting place of 6 agricultural workers who were expelled to Australia for campaigning against poor pay and conditions; I helped to select the tree as one of 50 Great British Trees many years ago. It’s normally a quiet place of thatched cottages and tranquil streams – except for the third weekend in July, when thousands of trade unionists march along the high street with full brass bands and banners to honour the 6. In recent years this has developed into a 3 day festival of talks, debate and music – and it’s not what I expected at all...

For a start it would be possible to avoid the politics all together, and some people do. No-one harangued me or tried to influence my thinking, it was more like a large country fete run by well-meaning socialists. There were lots of stimulating things going on, but they were all optional. I started with a film, Cultures of Resistance, shown in a rare 1960s cinema coach, apparently commissioned by Tony Benn to show public information films.

Maxine Peake did a great Q&A about how to succeed in acting without compromising your principles, and there was a fantastic comedian, Elvis McConnogal, who had plenty of material given the current political chaos. There was wonderful food, including a travelling community Real Food shop and the WI doing salads in in the village hall, and lots of stalls covering everything from Cuba and LGBT supporting migrants to Greenpeace and the RSPB, plus all the unions of course. Instead of the morning papers I got a free Morning Star (which seemed remarkably conventional , even covering sport and tv. I may well buy it in future).

And the music? Well, the big names were Dreadzone, Ferocious Dog, Lisa Knapp and Tom Robinson Band. The latter was way better than he had any right to be, with great new material, sing-a-long classics and a genuinely warm audience rapport. He gave a solo spot to his guitarist, Mancunian Lee Forsyth Griffiths, definitely a songwriter to look out for. Worth mentioning that his stage, along with most of the festival site, is on a distinct slope, suggesting band and audience would all end up at one end after the encores.

Ferocious Dog were fantastic as always, channeling early Levellers and the Pogues and playing to the ideal audience for their political songs of sacrifice and history. Said audience did suffer a bit from seeing them outside mid-afternoon on one of the hottest days of the year, and on an even steeper slope than Tom Robinson...but no obvious casualties.

Best discovery of the weekend were local folk rock heroes Skimmity Hitchers, impossible not to dance to, every one of their humorous songs about either cider or modern life in Devon or both. It was great to see an old friend Jon Langford of the Mekons , here playing songs about 19th C Welsh riots with his band the Men of Gwent, along with lots of Mekons stuff.

Rob Heron and his Teapad Orchestra won me over, playing bluegrass and 1940s Americana but almost all original songs, many set in their native Newcastle.

The highlight of the weekend? It had to be the march. Like the Durham Miners Gala but in a totally rural setting, and thousands strong. I walked with the actors union Equity, who had a great band of elderly musicians blasting out rousing tunes, and briefly helped Cambridge politicos Rebel Arts Radio carry their banner. It felt great to be part of it all, whatever your beliefs.

The climax was a speech by one J Corbyn Esq, a great chance to hear him direct without the filter of a biased media. For what it’s worth he seemed to me a good man, kind and honest, old school Labour, though maybe not the strongest speaker. I was a bit disappointed that, surrounded by adoring fans of all ages in a huge variety of JC t-shirts, he didn’t deliver a rallying cry to vote for him in the Labour election. But then that was Tolpuddle in a nutshell – understated, warm and human, politics plus, with a smaller p than expected and a bigger heart.

Kevin Hand

Tolpuddle Website

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