Moonbeams Festival 2017

Live Review | Wold Top Brewery, Hunmanby | Review by Allan Wilkinson

There are one or two events on the summer festival calendar that just seem to go above and beyond the call of duty, not only staging excellent programmes of concerts over the course of a couple of days, together with providing comfortable surroundings and first class amenities – the toilets here play classical music and there’s nothing quite like doing your business and performing your ablutions to the strains of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major of a morning – but also go that one step further by welcoming you along as a member of their extended family.  Moonbeams is one such festival, which is very much a family affair, where everyone is given the opportunity to share something very special whilst in isolation from the rest of the world high upon the rolling meadows of the Yorkshire Wolds.  Driving along these narrow winding lanes, I feel a sense of escape; maybe the escape from the dreary day job, or the escape from the concerns of everyday life, or possibly just the timely escape from the dreadful ongoing conveyor belt of one bad world news story after another.  Moonbeams provides this annual weekend sanctuary and organiser Leila Cooper and her dedicated team work tirelessly to ensure that your escape is very much worth your while.  The sun was slothfully dithering by the time I immersed myself in the midst of the Yorkshire countryside on Friday afternoon, which showed evidence of recent rainfall, and one or two clouds overhead threatening an imminent return, but for the most part it was a pleasant Moonbeams day.  There’s no obvious sign of the festival site until you’re actually moments away from the gates, as you climb the hill following a series of hand-painted Moonbeams signs.  Once the familiar multi-coloured flags come into view, the striped hues of which contrast starkly with the miles of verdant landscape spreading out in all directions, then you instinctively know that the fun is about to begin.  If the Yorkshire Wolds were not quite ‘rocking’ by the time I arrived at the Brewery on Friday afternoon, then they were certainly ‘rolling’, and for as far as the eye can see.  Moments later, the familiar power chords of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” could be heard coming from the vicinity of the main Big Top marquee, as Gary Stewart’s Band sound checked, hinting at what was about to follow an hour or so later, with the band’s delivery of another iconic moment in the history of popular music, Paul Simon’s Graceland.  Picking up the familiar Moonbeams golden microphone in order to introduce the Nick Rooke Band on the Garden Stage, whose rogue folk foot-tappers suitably warmed up those who had gathered early, Leila opened the festival.  “Let’s Pirate it up” suggested the Barnsley Bard as he regaled the audience once again with the story of Jericho Wales, one of two pirates clearly evident around the festival village over the weekend. Shortly afterwards, the remainder of the opening night belonged to the main stage concerts, with acts including Blair Dunlop along with his band, who opened proceedings with an assured set, effectively raising the bar for the rest of the weekend’s artists that followed.  

Closing the main stage concert on Friday night was the Celtic wizardry of Skippinish, whose prominent bagpipes and accordion rang out across the Wolds well into the Summer night, but sandwiched in between was the eagerly anticipated set by the Gary Stewart Band, who once again paid homage to Paul Simon’s ground-breaking 1986 album Graceland with all the panache and dedication of seasoned world musicians.  Introduced by the main stage compere Andy Atkinson, whose engaging personality makes him a very much established part of the Moonbeams family, the seven-piece band worked their way through the album with detailed precision.  After the opening song, “The Boy in the Bubble”, promptly followed by the title song, I thought it was high time I put down my camera and picked up my dancing shoes (both left feet I hasten to add).  First though, a visit to the bar.  Whilst waiting in the small queue at Peter’s Bar, I casually scanned the immediate surroundings and noticed that everybody, whether they were standing alone, chatting in pairs or revelling in larger groups, were mouthing along in unison to the opening lyrics of “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” as Gary Stewart confidently delivered them from the stage.  The first magical moment of this year’s Moonbeams Festival.  

Towards the end of the set, “You Can Call Me Al” brought the crowd to their feet, everyone momentarily hooked into the delusion that we were listening to the real thing, which on the basis of this performance, was actually as close as it gets.  Finishing with a couple of earlier Paul Simon songs, “Duncan” and “Mrs Robinson”, Gary and the band could rest easy, that they came, they saw and they very much delivered.  On Saturday morning, the weather was infinitely kinder than Friday as it formed a blanket of sunlight over the Wolds, serving to embellish the relaxed atmosphere of the Yoga session in the picturesque English Country Garden adjacent to the Garden Stage marquee, as well as providing perfect conditions for those who had gathered for the annual ramble.  If any voice could provide a suitable soundtrack for these pastoral pursuits, then it would be that of Edwina Hayes, whose bedside manner and gentle warmth was greeted with communal smiles from those gathered for the first concert of the day.  I imagine it must be fantastically rewarding for any festival promoter to see a finely-tuned programme of events unfold with such ease and Saturday must have been seen as something of a roaring success. 

With such a diverse line up, Saturday seeing first rate performances by the excellent trio Stillhouse, the enduring musical partnership of Chris While and Julie Matthews, who provided two of the most moving songs of the weekend with Julie’s refugee crisis song “Are We Human?” together with a song from last year’s Songs of Child Migration project, “Pinjarra Dreams”, their empathetic voices dovetailed in close harmony throughout the set.  Then there was the hugely entertaining poems and rhymes of Les Barker and the confident musicianship of the Damien O’Kane Band, who between the three musicians, brought in both songs and tunes the distinct sound of Ireland to the sleepy Wolds of Yorkshire.  “Yorkshire people are almost as nice as Irish people” declared the singer, guitarist and banjo player, who should know, being married to one of Yorkshire’s best loved daughters.  Talisk continued to demonstrate that they too, along with Blair Dunlop, Stillhouse and Damien O’Kane, were ready to prove that the trio format is all you really need to fill a marquee with a complete and vibrant sound.  As Karin Grandal-Park and Karl Robins entertained the Garden Stage audience, their set became the last seated concert in that particular marquee, as chairs were removed to make room for the much anticipated performance by the truly remarkable Holy Moly and the Crackers, who brought the house down with their highly enjoyable set.  Conrad Bird and Ruth Patterson’s charismatic stage presence, along with their individual vocal talents and confident musicianship, were matched measure for measure by their highly watchable onstage chemistry.  In fact, such was their appeal that a return to the main stage at Moonbeams 2018 is very definitely on the cards. 

As the rich flavours and aromas of several food options hovered in the air on Saturday night, illuminated by a rich golden glow upon the horizon, festival headliner Seth Lakeman prepared for his hour-long main stage solo appearance.  Seth’s instantly recognisable voice and fiddle style, augmented by a no-nonsense pulsating kick drum beat, seemed to suggest a one man band in action as the Devon-born musician performed both new material and old favourites alike.  Meanwhile, things were about to round up on the Garden Stage as another trio took to the stage in the form of a slightly more mature outfit.  The Alligators, whose hard rocking blues created a steamy atmosphere in the marquee, highlighted the great sound that had been maintained throughout the weekend, courtesy of Gerry and Ani’s ever reliable Wee Dog Sound system. 

Concluding the main stage concert was an appearance by Hope and Social, featuring three musicians who had already previously dazzled the audience during Friday night’s successful Graceland performance, Gary Stewart this time leaving the spotlight in order to occupy the drummer’s seat once again.  The band’s trademark blue holiday camp blazers were worn by each member of the popular Leeds-based band as well as at least one younger fan in the audience, as little Lottie, who was perched upon the safety barrier at the front of the stage, was lifted into the spotlight by singer Simon Wainwright, providing us with another magical Moonbeams moment, not only for Lottie herself, but for everyone who were there to witness.  For those with an insatiable appetite for music – or those afflicted with chronic insomnia – the music continued well into the night with informal acoustic performances from one or two guests who had already performed on the main stages, together with a handful of other performers, such as Iona Lane and Dogfinger Steve.  Sadly, as in the case of most family reunions, the Moonbeams Festival had to come to an end, concluding on a note of sadness, with an eulogy for one very much absent member of the Moonbeams family, Tim Wall, delivered by an almost tearful Leila Cooper, the only note of sadness in an otherwise joyous weekend of fun, music and friendship.