Hatfield House, Hertfordshire
We rolled up for our FbtO debut when the first act was already on stage. Not a great loss, we are veterans of enough Cropredies to know that afternoon folk festival acts pass the time pleasantly rather than being indispensable listening. Moore Moss Rutter seemed to fit this bill perfectly, and if the first act is accomplished trad folkie musicianship it’s a fair bet that the next one will be lovely female harmonies, and sure enough here come Lady Maiserie right on cue.
By now it was time to for the first band of the day to make a real impression on us, and we all three agreed that Keston Cobblers’ Club (not at all sure about that name) reminded us of Noah and the Whale. At this point we were still in our chairs, well up the field, but even from there it was clear that the following act, Nancy Kerr, is near the top of the current crop of singer song-writers but the next act up were the ones I had really come to see.
Things didn’t start promisingly for The Unthanks. From close to the stage we got to see them standing around for several minutes looking a bit puzzled about why no-one was turning the between acts tape off, and then an under-micced opening song had people around us shouting complaints about the mix. Things all came good with Mount the Air and the ten piece band came together in a mix of wonderful harmonies, folk, jazz and clog-dancing. Their festival slot was about an hour which left me wanting a lot more, so it’s just as well that I already have tickets for Union Chapel in December.
Next up, Mary Chapin Carpenter, who had been due to headline until the final act’s announced break-up and the accompanying publicity changed things around, and thank God for break-ups. Perhaps she was pissed off about being moved off top of the bill, or maybe she always plays like that. We had returned to our seats by now, and after a couple of songs had returned to our books. Every so often we would glance up to see if she was still there, and find out to our slight surprise that she was. Her hushed and intimate performance might have worked for her own crowd at an indoor venue but cut little ice at a festival.
Events having over-turned the billing of the top two acts, MCC was just the quiet before the storm that is Bellowhead. I’ve seen them twice before at Cropredy but never bothered to get down to the front to join in the hand-clapping, sea-shanty riot of Bellowhead in full flow. It’s simple tunes in raucous arrangements, lots of sing-a-long choruses and nothing too tricky to clap along to, but at the end of a long day in the field, a bottle of Malbec coursing through my veins and the festival finale fireworks going off to stage left it finished the day on a real high
All ages folkie crowd, overwhelmingly white, lots of families (they pride themselves on family-friendly demonstrations of folk-dancing, face-painting, yoghurt-knitting and so on). Something struck me in the middle of the afternoon and I spent the rest of the day checking it out – in the 7000+ people there I didn’t see one person smoking. I don’t mean I didn’t see any spliff, which would be remarkable enough in a crowd like his, but I didn’t see a single cigarette, and at various points I really did look. Is that normal in big open-air gatherings now?
It made me think..
One day-ers which let me enjoy all the benefits of a festival and still sleep in my own bed are definitely the way to go. Also, the wild mushroom, rosemary potato, garlic and white truffle oil pizza from the wood-fired oven-van may be the finest festival food ever created.