Live Review | Montgomery Hall, Wath upon Dearne | Review by Allan Wilkinson
Once again the sleepy South Yorkshire town of Wath-upon-Dearne came alive with colour and music over the weekend, courtesy of various street performers and dance displays from around the World, including Bhangra dance, Irish dance, Street dance and the the Mighty Zulu Nation. The sound of drums from the Barnsley Samba Band and the contrasting sounds of stomping feet and jingle bells from the Wath Morris team breezed up the hill towards the Parish Church just before noon, where buns were scattered upon the gathered congregation from the tower above, after the will of Thomas Tuke was read out in the town centre moments before. A timely spell of good weather draped a blanket of sunlight upon the town just as the ancient bequest to the ‘poor’ – that ‘Forty dozen penny buns will be thrown from the church tower at 12 o’clock on Christmas Day, forever’ – took place. Thomas Tuke obviously wasn’t thinking too much about inflation 200 years ago as penny buns are particularly difficult to come by in 2010, so as one deviation from the will inevitably occurred, it seemed only logical to make another slight amendment by moving Tuke’s bequest forward by a few months and have the celebration on May Day at a much warmer time of the year; ‘tis a moveable feast after all. The Festival kicked off on Wednesday night with a schools concert at the Montgomery Hall and continued on Friday night with the first of several concerts featuring some of the best known names in the folk and acoustic music world as well as some of our more local talent, including York’s Holly Taymar and Chris Bilton. Holly is a singer-songwriter with a chirpy personality and a penchant for writing songs about everyday things such as the guilt of cutting back overgrown bushes for instance, or waking up and not quite being quite able to feel ones toes as well as that old favourite, home sweet home. Making her debut at the festival in 2009 on the Marquee stage, Holly managed to make a host of new friends in Wath, that is apart from one little boy in the audience who loudly declared during her set – ‘I can’t take any more folk music!’ With a constantly cheerful nature, Holly provided a delightful opening set this year on the main festival stage. Kevin Dempsey and Joe Broughton are unquestionably a faultless act in terms of brilliant musicianship and fun stage presence. The duo provided an astonishing set of songs and tunes, despite arriving late to the festival due to some unavoidable and horrendous traffic problems on the M1. With no sound check, Kevin and Joe played a set of complex instrumental music with the odd song thrown in, courtesy of Dempsey’s impressive repertoire of songs, with influences ranging from Irish, Scots and Eastern European and even a version of the theme from Postman Pat, just for the kids in the audience. Jon Strong was last seen at the festival in 2007 when he played a solo set at roughly the same time, on the opening night back then. This year Jon returned with his band consisting of Duncan Waller on bass and Roy Wyke on drums. With a selection of self-penned songs, some very recent, the band increased the volume and rocked the joint for fifty minutes, concluding with a remarkable version of Rod Stewart’s “Mandolin Wind”, without a single mandolin in sight. Headlining the opening night was the Lonnie Donegan Band featuring Peter Donegan who took centre stage to present a real treat for Skiffle fans. Peter and the band brought back to life the memorable Lonnie Donegan repertoire featuring classic Skiffle hits such as “Rock Island Line”, “Grand Coulee Dam” and “Putting on the Style”. Starting with the marching drums of “Battle of New Orleans” and closing with the lullaby “Goodnight Irene”, with an encore of “Muleskinner”, Peter alternated between guitar, mandolin and keyboards throughout a set that took us well into the late hours. Not only sounding like, but also bearing an uncanny resemblance to his dad, Peter and the band brought a real sense of nostalgia to the festival. The town was full of community events during Saturday morning, which included the aforementioned reading of the will and the celebrated bun throwing at the Parish Church. A procession climbed the hill past the Montgomery Hall where all of the main stage concerts would be held throughout the weekend. Behind the Church, a marquee had been erected to cater for further events and concerts providing a variety of activities and entertainments for all including an afternoon ceilidh with Desperate Measures and performances by the Samzeo Georgian Singers and the Orlyk Ukranian Dancers. The main concerts continued throughout Saturday afternoon at The Montgomery Hall with a programme of guest appearances starting off with the young singer Lucy Ward who began her set just after lunchtime with enthusiastic performances of songs such as Lal Waterson’s “Red Wine Promises” and the traditional “The Canny Lad” going on to encourage the audience to sing along, by way as an ode to the British weather, George Gershwin’s classic Summertime. Alternating between guitar and concertina and sporting a Sex Pistols t-shirt, the young Derby-based singer performed each song with an almost theatrical passion, convincingly adopting the role of each of the songs’ characters. Providing the festival with possibly the most touching moment, Lucy performed a beautiful rendition of her own song “Bricks and Love” featuring the chorus of the traditional “Eriskay Love Lilt” which I defy anyone to be unmoved by. Chris Sherburn and Denny Bartley gently eased the audience into a set of songs and tunes in their own inimitable style. Full of humour and fun, the set included songs such as “Connie’s Song” (mo bhrón ar an bhfarraige) and “Roseville Fair” together with a handful of traditional tunes. Quite possibly the most approachable characters on the folk scene today, their warmth on and off stage was almost tangible throughout their stay at the festival. The Swedish-born Canadian Sarah MacDougall and partner Tim Tweedale made a welcome return to the area for another set of songs from the singer-songwriter, predominantly from her current album Across the Atlantic. Starting with “Crow’s Lament” Sarah and Tim performed the songs on guitar and Weissenborn respectively with one or two brand new songs thrown in such as “I Fall” and “It’s a Storm”. Two of the most memorable songs from the set were “Cry Wolf”, during which the audience was encouraged to cry like a wolf together with the burlesque “Ballad of Sherri” which tends to stay with you. Rounding off the afternoon with an astonishing set was Wirral-based band Elbow Jane, whose easily accessible self-penned songs together with a selection of well-chosen covers held the audience captivated for the entirety of their ninety-minute set. The evening concert began with an appearance by local hero Ray Hearne together with bodhran player Ciaran Boyle. Alternating between Ray’s own songs such as “Manvers Island Bound” and “Melting Shop Chaps” from Ray’s current album The Wrong Sunshine and Ciaran’s traditional Irish songs, the duo served the purpose of warming up the audience and setting the standard for the rest of the evening. Festival patron John Tams along with singer/pianist Barry Coope, provided the festival with what could only be described as its heart midway through Saturday evening, with another memorable and thoroughly engaging performance. As a singer, songwriter, sometime actor and social activist, Tam sees himself first and foremost as a ‘communicator’ and it was through his words and music that he communicated on Saturday night to an enthusiastic audience. One table of Guinness drinkers, known locally as the ‘Guinness Boys’, held their thumbs skywards once again as the duo performed a bunch of favourites from their repertoire including ‘Lay Me Low’, ‘Amelia’ and ‘Steelos’. Headlining Saturday night was new parents Heidi Talbot and John McCusker along with singer-songwriter Boo Hewerdine and double bassist Kevin McGuire, who took to the stage for the first time since little Molly Mae was born five weeks ago. Adding baby stories to their between song chat, Heidi and the four-piece ‘trio’, performed songs from Heidi’s album In Love and Light to a delighted Wath audience including “The Music Tree” and “Bedlam Boys” as well as a couple from Heidi’s forthcoming album, which included the lullaby “Tell Me Truly” as well as a couple from Boo Hewerdine’s pen including the Eddi Reader favourite “Patience of Angels”. On Sunday, two concerts ran simultaneously both in the Montgomery Hall and in the Marquee behind the Church. Steve Tilston is very much part of the British songwriting establishment and has over the years provided many artists with memorable songs such as “Slip Jigs and Reels” and “The Naked Highwayman”. During his set, Steve was joined by established musician, bassist Dave Bowie, who between them performed a set of relatively new songs such as “The Road When I Was Young”, “The New Weeping Willow Blues” and “Madam Muse”. South Devon’s enormously talented twins Laura and Charlotte Carrivick, better known as The Carrivick Sisters once again brought a taste of bluegrass to South Yorkshire with a set of songs showcasing their dexterity on fiddle, mandolin, Dobro and guitar. Songs such as “Darling Corey”, “The William and Emma” from their current album Jupiter’s Corner sat well alongside the jazz inflected “I Can’t Believe” from their previous record Better Than Six Cakes, which of course they are. Ella Edmondson’s debut album Hold Your Horses has only been around for just over a year but in that time the songs have been played at many gigs and festivals and have gained a reputation for being highly memorable in melodic structure; remarkable to say that most of them were written when she was just fifteen. On Sunday afternoon, Ella, daughter of Adrian Edmondson and Jennifer Saunders, was joined by her regular band of bassist Buddy Valentine and drummer Si Paul and once again demonstrated a marked maturity in her stage delivery with songs such as “Run and Hide”, “Sing For You” and the stunning “Fold”. Whilst the afternoon concert brought many of the weekend ticket holders to the main hall, other artists were appearing in the Marquee behind the Parish Church, where Charlie Barker and Harriet Bartlett, Tom Palmer, Gilmore and Roberts and Isambarde could be seen, together with an afternoon set by visiting Americans Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart. The evening concert began with the presentation of the Richard Moody Trophy to its proud recipient Niamh Boadle, winner of the Young Acoustic Music Competition during the afternoon. The competition founder Pete Thornton-Smith presented the award to the young singer before she went on to play a short set in front of the sell out Montgomery hall audience. The performance was welcomed by the Wath audience who clearly agreed with the judges decision, demonstrating an appreciatitive warmth during her short set, despite some technical hitches at the beginning. The young musician handled it professionally and probably won even more fans with her gentle ‘these things happen’ attitude, smiling throughout. Tom Bliss played his farewell concert exactly a year to the day ago, when he hung up his array of acoustic instruments in order to concentrate on a real day job. Accepting an offer to return to the festival as a guest was too good an opportunity to miss and he got together a couple of friends Dave Bowie and Phil Cockerham who helped him out during this return visit. Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart are one of the most engaging acts you are likely to see on the acoustic music circuit. Sister of Country Rock legend Steve Earle, Stacey has an easy approach to her music and with the help of husband Mark Stuart, their blissful harmonies and intuitive playing could once again be heard in South Yorkshire, having last been heard back in 2008 at the Wombwell House Concerts. With tight harmonies and intuitive guitar playing, the couple brought a taste of Texas to Wath, with a set of delightful songs such as “Spread Your Wings” and “Curly Headed Baby”. Headlining the Festival on Sunday night was Ade Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds, who have cornered the market for playing folked-up versions of 1980s punk classics such as The Clash’s “London Calling”, The Smiths’ “Panic” and The Stranglers’ “No More Heroes” as well as a nod towards Talking Heads with “Once in a Lifetime”. If the performance was too much for the older folk community, it certainly got the thumbs up from the misbehaving back row up in the rafters of the Montgomery Hall, who loved every (three) minute. Festivals are like the proverbial duck on water and every festival has moments of panic when things like an accident on the M1 makes it difficult for artists to arrive on time, or more time is needed for artists to get a proper sound check to ensure customer satisfaction, which may mean a slightly longer wait in the queue outside, or maybe just the change of a beer barrel might be slightly inconvenient. The trick is to make it look like it’s running as smoothly as possible. One thing’s for certain; the quality of the artists appearing at the Wath Festival 2010 over the weekend, both on the main stage and out in the Marquee, was once again first rate.