Event review: Wirral Folk on the Coast Festival
@ The OC Club, Bromborough
Sunday 26th June 2011
Attending only the last day of a long weekend Folk Festival isn’t ideal if you’ve been tasked with completing a review of the event. It is possible, however, to uncover the success (or otherwise) of the three days that you missed provided you mix and socialise with those who have been there since the start and listen to their comments. Fortunately, those I spoke to on the Sunday had enjoyed the festival so far and everyone thought the performances in the concert theatre and across the site were of a consistently high standard. Mentioned most favourably in dispatches were Peter Donegan and the Lonnie Donegan Band, Richard Digance, and Vin Garbutt. Also highly rated were Graham Bellinger, Hughie Jones (I am sorry I missed Hughie, ex-Spinner and a stalwart of the Folk Scene and his Everyman Folk Club), The Deacons and Tri. Unfortunately I missed them all as I was holidaying in North Devon, only getting home 4am Sunday morning!
On arrival Sunday morning I took a quick look at the Festival Edge activities and during the afternoon and early evening snatched a glance at The Wirral Vikings, The Craft Fair Market Place and the Outside displays. In Marie’s, The Bowling Green and the Tennis Court Marquees performances by various artists were enjoyed by those who went. The impromptu plucking and strumming on a guitar and other string instruments with outbursts of singing (boy I needed that!) in the bar, was entertaining and provided a diversion for people going in for the performances in the Concert Hall. These impromptu performances also created a conducive, relaxing atmosphere while we were chatting, eating and drinking with friends. I recognised and socialised with many people who regularly go to the local folk clubs on Wirral and Cheshire and to my surprise a number of others who caught my eye passing by. Yes, there where a number of pretty maids in the sunshine but I was only there for the beer! Oh yes and the Music!
At lunchtime the festival was treated to a performance of the winning entry in the Schools Songwriting Competition organised by Annette Cavell. Riverside Primary School were the winners and their song was a Greek Love Song written and composed by the children as part of their school curriculum. Well done Riverside. During the evening session in the Concert Theatre, the Songwriting Competition winners Dawn Beth Evans and Alan Hesford performed their winning ballad on stage. Colette also contributed to the song, and watched proudly from her seat in the hall.
The Concert Theatre’s afternoon and evening listings were so strong that I couldn’t see when I would snatch some time in the marquees to perhaps play a song or two on my old guitar. Not that I wanted to really as I may have missed Kimbers Men who opened the early setat 1pm and the Hut People the duo that is Sam Pirt on accordion and Gary Hammond and who followed the second act onto the stage. Both gave very enjoyable performance, with audience participation elements that didn’t have the number of people in attendence they surely deserved.
Gareth Davies-Jones an Irish born singer-songwriter based in the North East of England was a highlight of the afternoon session in that his set illustrated a performer with a masterful acoustic guitar style mesmerising in itself. Add beautifully arranged and evocative songs and it is easily understood why those outside the Concert Theatre in the sunshine missed a performance by a fine musician who as stated in the programme is one of the UK’s best kept secrets. His powerful arrangement of the classic ‘Black Velvet Band’ inspired me to purchase his CD after to enjoy ad nauseum in my car! (Do others do this playing of a track off a CD over and over without getting bored simply because it so good?). Catch him wherever he goes, you won’t be disappointed.
Les Barker, who was new to me, although I have seen similar acts before, proved to be more than a writer of strange poems. He provided a laugh a line, write (right) on cue, written with skill and humour, and with belly laughs in mind. People were literally rolling in the aisles! I personally feel as well that after sampling seven poems and readings in 40 minutes from his vast repertoire, Les not only ’may’, as the programme suggests, ‘be the best writer of parodies and wordplay that the English speaking world has heard’, he surely ‘is’.
|Anthony John Clark and Julia|
If anyone could follow Les Barker to close the afternoon session someone like AnthonyJohn Clark would be the man. Luckily that was who the organisers had booked to fill the bill. Anthony John as a very popular performer on the Wirral with a large following who packed the hall despite the sunshine outside. He didn’t disappoint his keen and numerous followers, supporters and groupies or me as first timer seeing him ‘live’. Ten Tears ago I rescued one of his earliest CDs “An Acquaintance of Mine” from a clearance basket in a back street record store in Liverpool for £1 and became a dedicated fan from afar nearly wearing the CD out playing it over and over as I drove across the North of England working as a Sales Manager. I never did get to the Boathouse in Parkgate to see him live despite good intentions over the next ten years. His set did not disappoint anyone, myself included, as he delivered a selection of his poignant, thought provoking, sensitive and humorous songs including ‘The only Life Gloria knows’ for a special fan, me. I’m sure everyone in the Concert Theatre at 5pm would have liked Anthony John to continue into the evening especially as at the end he had brought his lovely wife Julia on stage to duet with him on guitar and voice. A real treat for those present. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better than that I was back into the Concert Theatre for the evening session to close the Festival. I had doubts that the evening concert would fall flat after the afternoon session. Not so.
Fake Thackery well known and liked on the folk circuit with his Jake Thackery songs opened with aplomb. John Watterson set a high standard for those to follow in this final session and fed the expectant atmosphere in the Theatre.
Jamie Landsborough performed a set with rock pop, ballads, love songs and James Taylor covers giving a contrasting selection of music performed with his astounding guitar style and voice. Not out of place or overawed with the experience of a larger stage and audience this year Jamie is well placed to perform at festivals further afield in future.
Martin Wyndam-Read reminded us of the traditions of folk music worldwide and that Australian songs of the Folk genre lacked promotion until his part in the folk song revival in Australia during the 1960’s. Martin delivered a relaxing and eclectic mix in his set that gave us a breather before the closing act that was to be the Tom Topping Band.
The Tom Topping Band
I have been in part to all the previous six Wirral FOTC Festivals and without doubt this year’s ‘topped ‘them all. No doubt supported, in its quest to be the best, by the closing act at the festival, the marvellous Tom Topping Band. What a last hour and a half. What a joy they are to watch from an audience. What a place to be when three individually talented people can produced such an immense and enthralling performance – energetic, humorous, musically accomplished, with choruses encouraging the audience to sing out loud. The synergetic performance provided by the Tom Topping Band is purely born from the togetherness on stage of three people whose standard of performances as a group eclipses that of any of them as individuals.
John Owen Director of the Festival and MC sitting next to me for the final session on stage in the Concert Theatre, commented to me just before Tom Topping were allowed to leave the stage saying that, “I agree TTB are just in a class of their own. Simply joyous, wonderful entertainment.” Johnhad proven an excellent MC for the evening session and although at one stage it looked as though he would not be able to rescue and release Tom, Colin and Brian from the stage before the audience would allow, he finally managed to request a final encore (More!) and give his closing comments and thanks for a most successful Festival this year. I found it difficult to believe that any performance that had been on stage before this closing session could have surpassed or equalled that of TTB that evening. I left the Festival in euphoria believing I’d experienced the best day of the Festival.
|Festival Director – John Owen|
Wirral Folk on the Coast wasn’t Glastonbury or Cambridge. There was no sharing the spectator area with sleep-deprived music enthusiasts exhibiting glazed, tired eyes like they’ve just endured the hardest three days of their lives. But because of the quality of the programme and facilities available to us all it was possibly the better place to be. It was certainly more comfortable! The added fact that the event hasn’t grown like Topsy is one of the many reasons this Festival event goes from strength to strength. It is actually quite the opposite, in that the committee have always asked for feedback on each of the previous events and any identified improvements added to boost the next year’s organisation. It will be very interesting to see if any of the feedback leads to many changes to 2012.
This Festival has the continued support of the Wirral Borough Council and each year since its inception people attending have been asked to complete a marketing questionnaire to identify from whence they came – Wirral resident or from foreign fields? As a Festival that covers music, song and dance together with the added attractions of market stalls and fringe activities to chose from, it is no surprise that I found many fellow folkies had travelled not only from all over the local Wirral Peninsular area but from all over Britain, Europe, Australia and Canada (or was it America?). The visitors are now more easily identified as the Festival venue is now at a single site at the OC Club in Bromborough rather than spread around Wirral as in previous years. Road transport links are good for those who came by car, or stayed in tents, caravans and motor homes, with the M53 very close. Also close were public transport links by bus and train.
For many people the Festival now holds a firm position of ‘favourite’ status on the festival calendar, and it continues to grow in popularity each year attracting visitors to taste the friendly place that is Wirral and the company of Merseyside, North Wales and Cheshire Folk alike.
Festival Director John Owen and his wife Angie where delighted that the FOTC Festival 2011 went so well, and with a bonus of good weather. Of course, it couldn’t happen without Wirral Council’s support, and the enthusiasm and dedication of the organising committee and stewards, the guest performers, the public and folkies from near and far. On that note let me extend an early invitation to the 2012 event. If the progress this event has made year on year, in identifying and researching what a ‘folkie heaven’ could or should be is added to the positive comments and praise for the organisers, performers and the rich tapestry’ of new, young and ‘golden oldie’ folkies attending then FOTC is in good nick, good hands and has the future prospect of growth.
Check on the website www.wirralfolkonthecoast.com for details of next year’s festival date which will be moving to an earlier weekend in June 2012.
‘Keep folking folks’
© 2011 Paul Robertson
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