Live Review | Shepley | Review by Allan Wilkinson
Once again as cheerful festival stewards greeted the equally cheerful festival goers descending upon this sleepy West Yorkshire village for the fifth annual Shepley Spring Festival, the seasonal elements made tent erecting an ‘interesting’ prospect to say the least. At the same time, it helped create a mood of camaraderie amongst the familiar faces, most of whom reacquainted themselves with each other in a spirit of neighbourly community, just as they did last year and the year before that and so on. As each tent peg was driven into the soft farmland ground, the tower of the lofty Emley Moor transmitting station looked on with informed amusement. There were no giant balls this year on the showground, which was probably wise in view of the fact that the wind would almost certainly have sent them hurtling down the valley towards the mast and in skittle-like fashion, knocking the smile off its smug little face. The weather wasn’t going to put anyone off though as more and more people arrived on Friday afternoon. The weekend would see its fair share of wind and rain for sure, but there would also be spells of sunshine and refreshing evening breezes to make it all very much worthwhile. It would be brass instruments not brass monkeys that concerned the Frumptarn Guggenband for instance, as they gathered cow-like around the showground, confusing other cows in the process. The weekend would see a whole variety of colourful dance displays, mummer’s plays and an assortment of musical combos congregating on the showground, bearing equally colourful names such as the Silkstone Greens, White Rose and Black Swan and the like, providing showcase performances for all. The festival actually started on Thursday night with an opening concert in the Beer Tent, featuring performances from the Jon Strong Band and the Tea Room Preservation Society, especially for the early arrivals; a gentle easing-in to the festival so to speak. The first event on Friday evening however, was staged at St Paul’s Church just down the lane from the main festival site, where a handful of young performers gathered for a Shepley Springboard concert. Shepley takes pride in encouraging and supporting young performers of all ages and Friday’s Strings and Things Youth Concert saw acoustic performances by a host of young musicians and singers such as festival regulars Sarah Horn and James Cudworth, as well as a classical recital by the Shelley Guitar Ensemble, some fine singing courtesy of award winning traditional singer Kirsty Bromley, an energetic performance from award winning trio Moore Moss Rutter and finally a debut appearance from nine-piece Folkworks Summer School orchestra Raj Raj Raj led by the charismatic David Gray. Simultaneous events took place around the village with a ceilidh in the Village Hall featuring Random, a folk club at the Coach House with guests that included Lucy Ward, Lydia Noble, Life and Times and Gavin Davenport and on the main stage, performances by Tyde and Pilgrims’ Way. The choices are seemingly endless at Shepley prompting the annual perusal of the programme. You can either sit down on the benches beside the Beer Tent, with pen in hand and carefully circle each of the events you wish to attend, hoping that two or more personal favourites don’t clash, which at times they inevitably do, or you can take your chances and just go where the music takes you; either way, there’s always lots to see. After the Youth Concert in the church, the Festival Hub beckoned and I found myself drawn to the mountain dulcimer, bouzouki, banjo and melodeon playing of Pete Coe, who with Cyril Tawny’s “On A Monday Morning”, the traditional “Byker Hill” and finishing with a rousing chorus of “Shine On Me”, brought a taste of his own brand of music and song to the Friday night concert, from a seasoned performer. Following Pete Coe, the nine-piece Scottish ‘supergroup’ Session A9 played a superb set on the main stage, featuring some highly entertaining songs and tunes, together with a memorable rendition of Jackson Browne’s beautiful “These Days”. Made up of players from such familiar outfits as Capercaillie, Peatbog Faeries, Fiddlers Bid and Blazin’ Fiddles, Session A9 brought a wealth of experience and a rich musical heritage to the fields of Shepley, providing one of the highlights of the opening night. Whilst the Beer Tent filled to bursting point with thirsty festival patrons, each enjoying at the same time the Little Chicken Band’s frenzied feel-good jazz approach to music, featuring the seemingly authentic Dixieland singing of the surprisingly young Becky Wolff, Scotland’s Skerryvore made a welcome return to the festival on the main stage after their show-stopping performance last year. Taking to the stage slightly later than advertised, which may unfortunately have prompted the overflow in the Beer Tent, the band went on to perform songs from their current self-titled album, including “Simple Life” and the anthemic “Path to Home”, with a final encore of Dougie MacLean’s sublime “Caledonia”. On Saturday morning a well-deserved lie-in was pleasantly interrupted by the sound of brass, courtesy of Barnsley’s Frumptarn Guggenband on the festival showground, thumping out their ‘hits’, whilst several other events took place around the village. With dance workshops, big band workshops and a ‘big sing’ taking place over in the Coach House, a number of local schools congregated in the main Festival Hub for a school’s showcase featuring dozens of young performers, completely up to speed with their respective traditions. In quick succession, each of the schools took their turn on the big stage, a stage made much bigger when inhabited by such little folk. During the afternoon over in the Beer Tent, Lancashire-based singer-songwriter and 2010 new Roots finalist Marianne Neary was in full voice with her young trio, performing some of her unique songs including “Blackberry Wine” and “Making Daisy Chains” together with a spellbinding version of the traditional “My Lagen Love”. There’s always lots of workshops taking place throughout the village and on Saturday lunchtime it was the turn of Pilgrims’ Way singer Lucy Wright, who conducted her Jew’s harp workshop in Cliffe House. Attracting around fifteen potential Jew’s harp players, one can only imagine the expression on the face of a passing caretaker or festival steward, as they pondered upon what on earth that strange noise could be, coming from the room within this listed Victorian building in the heart of Shepley Village. Just over the road a little way down the lane, the singing continued in the Village Hall during the afternoon with the Teeside trio The Young’uns, bringing once again a taste of their unique northern humour and rich vocal prowess to the festival. The afternoon also included performances by Tyde, the Fay Hield Trio, and concluded with a performance by the unique Belshazzar’s Feast. One of the highlights of Saturday afternoon was the eagerly anticipated launch of Bryony Griffith and Will Hampson’s long awaited debut album Lady Diamond. As the Cricket Club House filled to bursting point with family, friends, Demon Barbers and fans alike, cheese and cider was served up as several CD sleeves were simultaneously signed by the duo, during which the entire CD was played over the house sound system. There was an air of excitement leading up to the Saturday night concert on the main stage, where award winning trio Moore Moss Rutter made a welcome return after their success at the 2010 Young Folk Awards. The trio includes Tom Moore on fiddle, Archie Churchill-Moss on melodeon and local musician Jack Rutter on guitar, who lives ‘just one field away’. With a set of tunes that included everything from jigs, reels, hornpipes and bourees, with a bit of Handel thrown in, the trio once again won over the Shepley audience, who claimed the trio as their own. Fresh from their album launch during the afternoon, Bryony Griffith and Will Hampson demonstrated that the songs on Lady Diamond can be performed equally as well live as they performed a selection of songs and tunes from the album, ‘giving it some pastie’ with “Martinmas Time”, “The Ringers of Egloshayle” as well as the album’s title song. One of the pleasant surprises at this year’s festival was the Québécois quartet Le Vent du Nord, who performed a blistering set midway through Saturday evening in the Festival Hub. The audience were soon on their feet rejoicing in the party atmosphere created by four charming musicians from the French Canadian province of Quebec, which included a show-stopping piano duet by Nicolas Boulerice and Rejean Brunet. Headlining Saturday night was award winning Bellowhead who really had their work cut out following such an engaging act as Le Vent du Nord. Once again Jon Boden’s strange theatrical stage antics and the band’s adrenaline-fuelled performance guaranteed a full and sweaty mosh pit. A suitably energetic conclusion to Saturday night. On Sunday morning Oysterband’s John Jones met up with a handful of not so reluctant ramblers to take part in a morning walk from Holmfirth to Shepley across the moors. The five-mile walk saw every kind of weather, from bright sunshine, to cold winds and heavy rainfall, all in the space of just two hours. A few familiar musicians turned out to join the enthusiastic rambler during this stage of his ‘Spine of England’ tour including Uiscedwr’s Anna Esslemont and Cormac Byrne, together with Gavin Davenport and members of John’s current band the Reluctant Ramblers, all of whom later performed during the same concert. On Sunday afternoon, the young traditional singer Kirsty Bromley took to the main stage with clarinet player Ollie Matthews, who together performed a handful of songs including Utah Phillips’ “Singing Through the Hard Times” and the traditional “Sweet Nightingale”, demonstrating Kirsty’s command over conveying traditional songs. Singer-songwriter and interpreter of traditional folk songs Louise Jordan went on next to delight the Shepley audience with a handful of graceful songs including the “Lowlands of Holland”, “Silver Dagger” and her own composition “Born to Wander”. Concluding the afternoon concert was Cheshire’s Pilgrims’ Way, playing their second main stage performance of the weekend. Once again choosing songs from their soon to be released debut album Wayside Courtesies. With great musicianship and a distinctive new voice, Pilgrims’ Way won new friends at the festival who in turn lapped up the performance. Sheffield’s Gavin Davenport opened the late afternoon concert on the main stage with a few songs from his current album Brief Lives, sung in a strong and determined voice accompanying himself on concertina and guitar. Anna Esslemont and Cormac Byrne were the special guests of John Jones and the Reluctant Ramblers during their main stage set on Sunday afternoon. The band, whose members had walked to the festival earlier in the morning, were all refreshed and fighting fit for a quality set, which attracted some equally quality dancing from one or two members of the audience. Concluding the set by leaving the stage from the front, mingling amongst the audience and exiting through the public entrance whilst still playing acoustically, John Jones and his Reluctant Ramblers in effect embarked on the next stage of their peregrinations leaving a lasting mark on their audience in Shepley. The second album launch of the weekend came with the arrival of the new Lucy Ward CD Adelphi Has to Fly. Joined by Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow in the Club House, the charismatic Derbyshire singer signed copies of her album, whilst cheese and wine was served up, courtesy of the festival. There was also a couple of songs thrown in for good measure. Directly after the album launch, Lucy hot-footed it over to the main stage for one of the most delightful sets of the festival. Joined once again by Belinda and Heidi, together with bassist Sam Pegg, Lucy performed a wonderful set of songs as the sun descended over Shepley Village for the final time of the weekend. With songs such as “Alice in the Bacon Box”, “Adelphi” and Mike Waterson’s “A Stitch in Time”, Lucy appeared to come of age both as a performer and potentially one of the future big names in music before our very eyes. Husband and wife team Nancy Kerr and James Fagan concluded the Sunday night concert following a fine set by one of Ottawa’s favourite vocal groups Finest Kind, who performed an engaging set of songs both familiar and not so familiar in their own inimitable and gentle manner. Heavily pregnant with the couple’s second child, a seated Nancy Kerr along with husband James Fagan was in fine form throughout the set, performing familiar songs such as “Dolerite Skies”, “Dance To Your Daddy” and “Queen of Waters”. Towards the end of the concert and the festival, local builder, drystone waller and stone mason Will Noble took to the stage for what has become the traditional finale at Shepley Spring Festival, with the unaccompanied singing of the “Holmfirth Anthem”, which soon had the entire audience enthusiastically singing along in unison. As the last refrain of the “Holmfirth Anthem” dispensed into the night air and the last remaining festival goers prepared for the final fling on the dance floor, I peered down at my well-thumbed programme slightly saddened at some of the events I had to miss, such as patron Roy Bailey’s afternoon tea in the church or Fay Hield’s Saturday afternoon performance or even trying my hand (or feet) at Angela Fawcett’s Irish Dance Workshop. On the other hand, I could only rejoice in the things I did manage to see and with that in mind, I joined the party that followed. No festival should go out without a party and this year it was provided by Blackbeard’s Tree Party, a pirate-clad combo, who set out to have the audience dancing in the aisles before the end of the night, achieving just that, bringing another memorable festival to a fun-filled climax. Well done Shepley and roll on next year.