Live Review | Shepley | Review by Allan Wilkinson
The most welcomed visitor to Shepley this year was without doubt the sun, the presence of which was felt throughout the entire weekend, arriving just about the time the first tent peg was being hammered in and hanging around until the very last one was pulled out. Poor inclement weather has plagued the Shepley Spring Festival over the last couple of years, so much so that special provisions were made this year, including a heating system for the main marquee, which as it turned out wasn’t required after all. Those familiar with Shepley will know that weather conditions never stop the smiles though and this year they were just that bit wider. Talking of smiles, festival organiser Nikki Hampson must have been grinning like a veritable Cheshire cat when she signed off the last artist contract, having put together a most agreeable festival line-up that would I imagine suit most tastes, from those familiar with the formidable duo combinations of Kris Drever and Tim O’Brien or Kevin Dempsey and Joe Broughton, to those with an insatiable appetite for a cappella singing, this year courtesy of the trios Coope Boyes Simpson and the Young ‘Uns, through to the mighty army that is the Seth Lakeman fan club, who descended on the festival site en masse to see the poster boy of folk as the sun went down on Saturday night. As festival goers arrived on Friday afternoon, the normally sleepy fields of Shepley, just south of Huddersfield in the shadow of the imposing Emley Moor transmission tower, drew a pleasant air of anticipation. It was the proverbial duck on water effect though that had festival visitors calmly setting up camp and relaxing by the bar as slightly worried organisers scurried around upon hearing of train delays from Manchester and Leeds, who soon had cars going off in all directions to ensure all the guests were on stage at the advertised times. Such is that sort of dedication and hard work familiar to anyone who has attempted to organise or help run a festival. By early evening after a few deep breaths, everything seemed to be set to go according to plan and no train delays, volcanic ash clouds nor a bolt of thunder was going to prevent the 4th Shepley Spring Festival from going ahead. Simultaneously opening this years festival were Midlands-based trio Cupola on the main stage, whilst Sarah Horn and James Cudworth began proceedings before the altar of St Paul’s Church down in the village. The neighbouring Village Hall was the venue for the Friday night ceilidh with regular Shepley ceilidh band Bedlam taking to the stage featuring Bryony Griffith, Will Hampson, together with brothers Ross and Drew McKinlay, all comfortably re-housed in the hall after previous festival experience proved that the close proximity of the dance tent to the main concert marquee suffered from a conflict of interest. Imagine Martin Simpson celestially emoting to the “Granemore Hare” whilst Edward II were pushing 11 on the sound system and you’ll have a better picture. The evolving ‘family’ band of Bedlam, together now for almost eighteen years, settled in nicely as the sun set down on Shepley village. Other acts appearing in the Church on the opening night were Moore Moss Rutter, Becci Senior and James Davies, Lucy Farrell and Jonny Kearney and the Shelley Music Centre Big Band. On the main festival site, after the opening trio, Scots traditional singer and guitarist Ewan McLennan brought a taste of his own unique guitar style and distinctive voice, once again garnering the attention that he thoroughly deserves as a rising folk artist. Slightly jet lagged, under-rehearsed and un-sound-checked, Tim O’Brien together with Lau’s Kris Drever delivered a superb set featuring songs from Drever’s Mark the Hard Earth album, which the two collaborated on last year, such as Phil Colclough’s “The Call and the Answer”, Sandy Wright’s “Wild Hurricane” and Boo Hewerdine’s jaunty “Sweet Honey in the Rock”. Introduced as ‘Shepley’s own Transatlantic Session, the two musicians demonstrated some astonishingly intuitive playing with O’Brien alternating between bouzouki-guitar, mandolin and fiddle, whilst Drever provided his own trademark guitar accompaniment, forming a musical transatlantic bridge between Orkney and Nashville. Previewing one or two songs from his new, as yet unreleased album Chicken and the Egg, the follow up to 2008’s Chameleon, Tim O’Brien introduced “My Girl’s Waiting for Me” and the infectious “You Ate the Apple” to a delighted Shepley audience, all of whom were given the opportunity to buy early pressings of the album not due for release until June. Finishing with “Get Out There and Dance”, Tim and Kris completed their memorable performance and left the audience definitely wanting more. The enigmatic Jim Causley fronted the band that he first met at this festival in 2007. Mawkin:Causley returned to headline the Friday night concert, which will probably be their final appearance at the festival and almost everywhere else as they once again go their separate ways. Kicking off their set in familiar camp style, the band surprised the audience with their rendition of the Carpenters’ “Close To You”, as the unusually seated guitarist Dave Delarre nursed his own war wounds having recently undergone surgery for a hernia. Despite the guitarist’s slightly incapacitated state, the band was just as exciting and vibrant as ever, running through some of the finest songs in the band’s repertoire such as the mediaeval call to arms “L’Homme Arme”, “The Saucy Sailor” and “Cropper Lads”. Causley’s playfulness was no better demonstrated than in his bedtime story of Snow White, inviting the audience to join in ‘Pantomime/Butlins style’. Finishing off in unsurpassed Causley campness, the fields of Shepley vibrated to Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff”, with Jim Causley flaunting his wares, pink t shirt and brightly coloured underpants as if he was in a Soho bar rather than a folk festival. Needless to say, the audience relished in every minute of it. If the sun was universally welcomed throughout the weekend, especially by the many visitors gleefully participating in the several outdoor pursuits such as the giant Orb hamster balls, the traditional fairground Speedway ride or the climbing wall or just having a cold beverage whilst watching the array of dance displays in the main festival arena, the downside of good weather may be the fact that the concert marquees don’t attract quite the same numbers during the afternoons. I must point out that my absence during Saturday was due to a prior engagement and not an opportunity to take advantage of a sunny afternoon at the seaside, nevertheless I am therefore not qualified to report on Saturday’s proceedings. I hear it all went swimmingly. The red tunics of the Frumptarn Guggenband are now as familiar to Shepley visitors as the green grass beneath them as they sweated it out in the open field, delighting the audience with the odd Samba tune and Deep Purple classic. The blistering sun beat down on the many families who arrived during both Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Even if the numbers were down in the concerts whilst the sun was out, the sight of so many people of all ages experiencing a folk festival is a delight in itself. In the Festival Hub, Kevin Dempsey and Joe Broughton played an exceptional set to a smaller audience than they would possibly have preferred but it made absolutely no difference to the standard of the music. Other artists playing at this concert included Sarah Horn and James Cudworth, Craig, Morgan and Robson, Ewan McLennan and Lucy Farrell and Jonny Kearney. Sunday afternoon saw the return of Sarah Horn and James Cudworth, this time in the Festival Club, featuring Sarah’s younger brother Andrew on Cajon, once again an indication to Shepley’s stringent commitment to providing a platform for young performers. The afternoon concert also saw performances by Lydia Noble, Anthony Battersby, Jiggawatt and Becci and James. Over in the Cricket Club, three stalwarts of the British folk scene Coope Boyes Simpson were cracking open bottles of champagne to celebrate the launch of their new CD As If on the No Masters label. A large crowd gathered in the oven-like clubhouse eager to get their hands on the new product and also to have a word with singers Barry Coope, Jim Boyes and Lester Simpson. Barry Coope joked that they were just here for the Champagne, as the room filled to capacity to share in the celebration. Producer Neil Ferguson and fellow Chumbawamba member Jude Abbott were also on hand to lend additional support to their label mates. One of the most pleasant revelations at this year’s festival was the newly formed trio of Tom Moore, Archie Churchill-Moss and Shepley’s own Jack Rutter, who kicked off the final main concert in the Festival Hub on Sunday evening. Formed at a music summer school, the trio Moore Moss Rutter demonstrated a mature approach to playing traditional English, French and contemporary tunes with the odd song thrown in. Starting with a set of tunes “The Drummer/Mount Hills” the trio were enthusiastically welcomed, especially by the many young friends and supporters congregated at the front of the stage. Devon’s own Jackie Oates returned to the festival after last year’s successful appearance in the folk opera The Navvy’s Wife as well as running a fiddle workshop in the nearby Cliffe House. Songs from Jackie’s latest album Hyperboreans made up most of the set, excellently performed by her band featuring Karen Tweed on accordion, standing in for regular accordion player Mike Cosgrave, new guitarist Tristan Seume, who also played bouzouki and James Budden on double bass. Starting with “The Miller and his Three Sons”, Jackie’s maturity as an artist in her own right became more apparent throughout the set, which included the reworking of traditional songs such as “Young Leonard” and the “Pleasant Month of May” to Bjork’s “Birthday” and her brother Jim Moray’s “Wishfulness Waltz” culminating in the title song from her last album Hyperboreans. With a final encore of the timely parting song “May the Kindness” Jackie Oates and her band left the stage having made more friends and fans in Shepley. Coope Boyes Simpson’s eagerly anticipated set, featuring the bulk of songs from their newly launched album, drew a large crowd in the Festival Hub. With three distinctively strong voices, the entirely a cappella set featured familiar songs such as Jim Boyes’ “Unison in Harmony” and Robert Burns’ “The Slave’s Lament” as well as a selection from the new record, Richard Thompson’s “Keep Your Distance”, “Silence” and the heartbreaking Clive James/Pete Atkin song “A Hill of Little Shoes”. Lester Simpson also revealed a shared love for The Who, with an alternative look at things with a new song “We Got Fooled Again”. Before the marquee was vacated to allow for some adjustment in the seating plan in order for the finale of the festival, which would include dancing, MC Mick Peat joined Coope Boyes and Simpson and Will Noble for the traditional singing of “The Holmfirth Anthem”, always a significant moment in this area of Yorkshire. Cornwall’s 3 Daft Monkeys made a welcome return to Shepley this year with a diverse repertoire of songs encompassing such influences as Klesmer, Celtic, Balkan, Gypsy, Latino, Ska, Reggae and Traditional Folk. Tim Ashton, Athene Roberts and Jamie Waters’ world-influenced acoustic sound and driving rhythms soon had the specially cleared dance floor full as Athene mesmerised her audience with a highly animated performance. Drawing from a ten year repertoire, many favourites came out such as “Social Vertigo”, “Astral Eyes”, “Eyes of Gaia” and “Human Nature” with a choice of encore finishers to which “Paranoid Big Brother” won hands down. Finishing off the festival this year and keeping to Mac McKinlay’s tradition of going out on bagpipes, previously seen with the Red Hot Chilli Pipers and Peatbog Faeries, Scotland’s Isle of Tiree band Skerryvore’s mix of traditional music and songs with the urban sounds of rock and funk. Shepley Spring Festival continues to grow as an important fixture on the festival calendar and is becoming a major word-of-mouth player. The organisers continue to listen to their public, take on board ideas, change things each year for the better and strive to help the community through their endeavors. It came as little surprise to me then when Mac McKinlay’s parting words as I left the festival were “I’ve got some good ideas for next year”. We therefore look forward to Shepley’s fifth Spring Festival with much anticipation.