West Midlands Agricultural Showground, Shrewsbury
Too late for the August takeover, but would clog up a busy September if I waited.
Here’s the link to Retro’s review again. As an SFF veteran of 15 years, I think I am in a position to say that he does the place justice.
Early evenings gave the best opportunity for chewing the fat, but mainly sipping single malt, with Retro. A couple of ‘fancy seeing you here’ moments found us both centre-moshpit for Leveret and Dreamers Circus, the latter being the high point of the festival for me, and proof that festivals really do listen to those feedback forms, as I’d been suggesting them for years. It struck me that Dreamers occupied the Friday night spot where Lau had peaked so many years ago; a gifted inventive sparkling intense trio; it seemed appropriate. Most of their material was new to me, which means new to most, and it would be true that things started more pedestrian than I was expecting. But the pace quickened, the interplay intensified, and the crowd were totally drawn in.
I cannot add to Retro’s accurate depiction of Leveret, so I won’t. Oh yes, I can! ‘Cause they did a ceilidh as well, which was a first, but surely not a last. This was yet another coup for the Director of Dance, Rosie Butler-Hall, who did an outstanding job, programming both the adventurous (Oscina, Bagas Fallyon) and the ever-reliable (Melrose Quartet, Whapweasel). Apart from the Leveret gig, I spent the entire Saturday in the dance marquee, probably dancing for over eight hours, including another blinding Topette! bal. Knackered but exhilarated.
My experience of the festival complements Retro’s. I am that man to whom he refers, who arrives in town early to inhale the pub sessions, and hangs on to my pitch on site til the bitter end; who rarely visits the main stage, spending most of my days dancing, then singing til security chuck us out of the Berwick Pavilion. I will confirm for you that MoonGazingHare bars do an excellent job of looking after the …er… needs of your festival toper.
I caught Spiers & Boden on the main stage, so that Retro didn’t have to, he not being a fan of that voice. But truth be told, it was Knight & Spiers that hit the spot for me, when I was in need of some hardcore folk tunes on the Monday. I really do hope the main stage comes back under cover some day. It enhances the atmosphere. But I hear that the actual structure is no longer in this country, so not available for hire. My only other venture to the big stage was for Joachim Cooder. I’m not a huge fan of his dad, thinking that Ry’s bland voice smothers any sparkle from the music. I’m not sure that I am any more in favour of son’s voice, but his mbira chimed round the festival site joyfully on the breeze and that drew me in.
Yes, Shrewsbury throws the folk net wide and always has a strong international element. I understand that the drive for this, and knowledge of who to book, comes straight from Sandra Surtees, festival director. Good on her, not least for taking a punt on teenager Sidiki Jobarteh, who got a rapturous welcome, none more than from his own mum who took to the stage to thank us all! That said, I will confess to being one of those westerners who likes their world music to be traditional – nothing inconsistent or patronising about that, ‘cause that’s how I like my western music too – and I do sigh in disappointment when some acts have fascinating influences upon which to draw, but still essentially play pop music. That’s their choice of course.
So, my leave is already booked for next year’s festival. Please don’t let on to my colleagues that 2020 was the only August bank holiday I’ve worked since 2008; they haven’t noticed yet. I am utterly at home at Shrewsbury, even as it subtly shifts from year to year. There are no longer gigs in the town pubs; the open mic which my niece won in 2012 has been dropped; and the genteel singarounds where I first cut my teeth have been banished to a windy tent where the noise bleeds from the main stage. But the bonhomie of the Berwick Bar thrives, even while it misses old faces and welcomes new. It would be fair to say that I am expected to be there each year, and I will be. Any festival that gives me three opportunities to see Andy Cutting is alright by me.
That depends where you are on site. If you frequent the dance tent and the Berwick, I am one of the older ones around; it’s not often I say that at folk events. (I’m 60)
To borrow a phrase, Morris dancers are getting younger.
It made me think..
“I must stop going to parties / I think they’re doing me in”