Voices for Nature Concert

Live Review | Old Moor, Dearne Valley | Review by Allan Wilkinson

Once again the RSPB Old Moor bird sanctuary in conjunction with the Dearne Valley Green Heart partnership invited a handful of singers and musicians from around the country as well as further a field in order to support an afternoon of fun and music and to raise funds for the nature reserve.  The first concert was so successful last year that it only seemed right to continue with a second concert this year and it looks likely that it will become an annual event, certainly if today was anything to go by.  Whilst people came from all around and settled themselves in and a round the specially erected marquees, some in the sun, some in the shade, MC Ray Hearne got things off to a great start with the apt “Now I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, one of the songs from his remarkable album The Wrong Sunshine.  Fortunately we were granted the right sunshine this afternoon as each of the guest acts took to the stage, presided over by Ray, event organiser Marie, who looked after everybody superbly well, and Hedley of course, who looked after the sound for the afternoon, together with a whole bunch of volunteers from the sanctuary providing a warm welcome and excellent catering facilities.  Returning once again to support the concert was WW.Combo, a local trio featuring this reviewer, flanked by two giants, Liam Wilkinson who provided two self-penned rights of passage songs, from childhood to adulthood with “Crocodile Island” and “The Land That Never Comes”, whilst bassist/pal Gary Wells took care of the bottom end, all three of us endeavoring not to scare the birds away.  Fresh from her successful appearance at the Wombwell Wheelhouse the previous night, and suitably refreshed after being reunited with all her worldly belongings that had unfortunately been missing in transit for almost a week, Seattle-based singer-songwriter Anna Coogan delighted the audience this afternoon with a selection of songs from her current album The Nocturnal Among Us, such as “Back to the World”, “Crooked Sea” and “Coins on Your eyes”.  With a clear and distinctive vocal delivery and sensitive guitar accompaniment, Anna also provided a couple of well chosen covers to complete her set.  Local musicians Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts provided a sneak preview of what’s to come on their new album, the follow up to the excellent Shadows and Half Light due out in autumn, with complex arrangements of the traditional “The Shepherd and his Fife” and Jamie’s “All I’ve Known”, to the more familiar material from their existing repertoire, Katriona’s heartfelt ode to failing memory “Travelling in Time”, the updated take on one of Stephen Foster’s songs “Susannah” and Jamie’s notes on chronic procrastination in “So Long”.  After a short break where real ale and sandwiches was being served by the Old Moor staff, together with the usual mingling of friends, Ray Hearne kicked off the second half with another song from The Wrong Sunshine, the anthemic “Things to Say” going on to introduce each of the final few acts in turn in his usual charismatic and light-hearted fashion.  Originally Phil Beer had generously offered his services but was unable to make it to the concert due to unexpected illness.  So at short notice the Teeside husband and wife team Megson stepped in to help out.  Stu and Debbie Hannah are no strangers to these parts having appeared at the Barnsley Acoustic Roots Festival earlier this year and once again the couple woo’d their audience with a set of thoroughly engaging songs from their steadily expanding repertoire.  Performing songs from their new album The Long Shot, including “The Last Man in the Factory”, “Two Match Lads”, “The Cabman” and the title song, with it’s humorous take on something close to this couple’s heart, football, the duo delighted the audience, if not only with their superb musicianship, their good looks or their song writing credentials, then certainly with their beautiful harmonies.  Stu and Debbie, in standing in for Phil Beer, not only experienced a warm and receptive audience in the heart of the Dearne Valley, but also took the opportunity to take their pooch Moog for a walk in the beautiful surroundings.  Staying with the North East, Jez Lowe was up next to deliver some of the stuff the singer-songwriter is known for; good well-crafted songs for and about the everyman.  With “Will of the People”, “The Judas Bus” and “Jack Common’s Anthem”, Jez soon had the audience in the palm of his hand.  Like Megson before him, Jez also provided a couple of snapshots of this sporting life with a couple of related songs “It’s a Champion Life” and the “Ex-Pitman’s Pot Holing Club Quiz Team” bringing a smile to the Old Moor audience.  Completing an excellent afternoon of fun and music came the dual forces of fiddle maestro Anna Esslemont and percussion genius Cormac Byrne, augmented by Nick Waldock on bass and guitar.  It’s virtually impossible to categorise Uiscedwr other than to put them in that box marked ‘special’, a trio whose chief responsibility is to dazzle with their dextrous playing, particularly during one of Cormac’s breath taking bodhran solos.  With a set of songs and tunes, although the term ‘tunes’ is fantastically inadequate, the band stopped everyone in their tracks, even the birds, for an hour of deeply intuitive playing.  Despite Anna’s Welsh and Cormac’s Irish background, it was lovely to hear Anna praise her newfound home on the outskirts of Holmfirth paying homage to the county she has fallen in love with, with her favourite song “Yorkshire Tea”.  The second Voices for Nature concert was once again a success, not only in terms of the musical content and the welcoming attitude of the staff but also in the fact that since last year’s memorable concert, new members from the folk community have added themselves to the Old Moor membership and have found a delightful place to visit, which they would otherwise probably have never known about.