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.
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.
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 set at 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'
If anyone could follow Les Barker to close the afternoon session someone like Anthony John 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’. 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, who with his wife Angela is 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.” John had 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.
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 were delighted that the WFOTC 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.
Keep folking, folks.
© 2011 Paul Robertson
Liverpool Acoustic -liverpoolacoustic.co.uk
Review of the 2010 Festival - Peter Massey
Wirral Folk on the Coast Festival, Bridle Road, Bromborough, Wirral, CH62 6AR
4th to 6th June 2010
June - “ Now is the time of the year, when the winter of our discontent, is made glorious by the advent of ‘The Folk Festivals”- or to put it another way, the time of the year when we do things ‘folkie’ in cold marquees, drink copious amounts of real ale, and lie down to sleep on damp ground in our discount tents after tramping through the wet grass or the mud! Mmmm yippee… you’re probably thinking.But seriously, maybe that’s the way it used to be twenty years ago. Today, things have changed a lot in as much as the campsite of most festivals is now taken up with caravans and motor-homes (that’s R .V’s to our American cousins) - offering a lot more comfort.
This year was only the 6th year for the Wirral Folk on the Coast festival but already it has made its mark on the festival calendar as a firm favourite. I said last year it would grow in popularity, - and it has. This is due I must say to the most excellent site and facilities it has to offer, and the dedication and hard work put in by the organisers led by John and Angie Owen.
The festival site is at the O.C Club in the village of Bromborough on the Wirral and is only 8 miles from Chester. Centred in and round the O.C Club’s bar and restaurant. With its own concert theatre, its not surprising that any guest artist feels comfortable and enjoys performing there.
This year due to its growth and popularity, a second stage was also available. A marquee erected in the tennis courts. With its open sides, this was used for mini concerts and Ceilidhs. A welcome relief for those that enjoy the open air. Added to this there were also many FREE events, including ‘Marie's Marquee’ where what seemed like a continual sing-a-round, hosted by many of the local folk clubs and performers, proved very popular. Indeed, the level of singers made the atmosphere quite electric as people enjoyed the summer weather.
The weather this year, apart from a little shower on Sunday afternoon, proved very fair.
All the main guest artists performed very well in the concert hall, I couldn’t fault any, but personal favourites had to be ‘The New Rope String Band’, - very clever and hilariously funny. Bernard Wrigley as entertaining as ever, Dave Burland as smooth as ever. The Houghton Weavers, I was surprised when 'Big Tony' said “This is the first time they have ever been booked at a folk festival” – unbelievable, but its true!
The one act that surprised and impressed me the most was ‘Tri’ at only 14 and 15year old, these kids were amazing musicians. The band is Niamh Boadl, Neal Pointon and Ciaran Algar. They lacked a little with stagecraft, - but more than made up for it in pure talent. They have been well taught. It will be interesting to see which way they go in a few years time.
I felt a little sorry for Bram Taylor when he had to start his Saturday midday concert in the marquee with only 3 people in the audience! But being a true professional, he pushed on and after about 20 minutes the audience filtered in. To be fair he did have to follow Anthony John Clarke, who has quite a following on Merseyside and his fans turned up just to see him. The final act that afternoon was ‘Tri’ (Irish for three) and needless to say the marquee filled up again for another brilliant performance of the band, performing mainly Irish material.
Robin Laing was in fine form giving his talk and songs about Scottish single malt whiskey. Everyone in the audience is treated to a dram or two of several malts to taste. Needless to say it goes down very well!
I managed to catch the novel item in the program, that in which Bernard Wrigley & Dave Burland teamed up to explore some old ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ tunes in an informal atmosphere, not to be missed if they ever do it again at a festival near you.
To sum up, this was again an excellent festival, the guest list catering for every taste in folk music or song. The usual craft fair, Morris dancers, story telling, good food, real ale, ample camping / caravan space all on one site. Plus the friendly people of Merseyside & Deeside – what else could you want?
Check out the website www.wirralfolkonthecoast.com for details of this and next year's festival. See you there on Thursday 23rd to Sunday 26th June, 2011.
Review of the 2008 Festival Peter Massey
What a weekend! This festival must been one of the best-kept secrets in Cheshire. However, the secret is now out! It must surely be the ‘jewel in the crown’ of Cheshire Folk Festivals. The Festival only started modestly 3-4 years ago and has grown steadily ever since. It is held in the grounds of the O.C. Club in Bridle Rd, Bromborough, Wirral, Merseyside. The village of Bromborough is on the A41 8 miles out of Chester towards Birkenhead & Liverpool (12 miles). The festival really has a lot to offer in that the O.C. complex houses a large dedicated concert theatre with excellent acoustics and comfortable seating, plus upstairs another small theatre and function room. These are used for smaller concerts and rolling folk club, sing-a-rounds, and work shops. If this isn’t enough there is even an outside marquee for never ending sing-a-rounds and sessions. So whatever the weather, you are sure to have a good time. The field and grounds are flat and ideal for camping and caravans. Plus nice clean toilets and hot shower rooms. Good food is served in the bar (and the beer is reasonably priced!) all day. There is ample free car parking space on tarmac and the overflow field.
This year the weather proved fair and the festival stated with a concert on Friday evening with Martin Carthy heading the bill. Also on bill were local singers Phil Chisnall, Zoe Mulford, and John O’Connell each putting on a fine performance.
Saturday afternoon concert found another local act Alison Parker & the Third Man opening for Jez Lowe with the first of his two spots, - brilliant of course! Followed by the Shellback Chorus, Johnny Silvo, and the headline act for the day with the first of their spots, Chris While & Julie Mathews.
Saturday evening concert found local act Vocal Point opening with Fiona Simpson following. Next up was the riotous Keith Donnelly, followed by Johnny Silvo and finally the last set from Chris While & Julie Mathews to finish.
Sunday dawned with another fine day. It almost seemed a pity to go indoors to see the concert, but with Jez Lowe headlining a bill with Joe Topping, Full House, Les Barker, and Harvey Andrews the shade was most welcome. Needless to say each artist put on a brilliant performance and left me wondering if the evening concert would come up to scratch.
Well it certainly did! Colin Henderson opened for Anthony John Clarke followed by Harvey Andrews before the final guest the Tom Topping ‘big’ Band. Big it certainly was. I counted 7 of them. Tom of course is a very popular local singer with a big reputation. They soon had the whole theatre singing along. The atmosphere was electric, and a superb ending for the festival.
In between the main concerts there was plenty of other attractions going on along with Appalachian Dancers, Traditional Welsh Dancers, and even Belly Dancers! Craft stalls, I managed to catch a few of the sing-a-rounds, and I have to say from what I heard, the standard of singing was very high, - (but it would be being near Liverpool the Capital of Culture!) There you have it! “The Jewel in the Crown” of Folk Festivals. In my opinion. So if you are looking for one to visit next year, take my advice try this one. Its not too expensive, very friendly staff and stewards, with a selection of artists to suit every taste. The word will get around and the rest of the world will be there next year!
See you there next year!