Can’t stand the rain…but it didn’t deter the foul-weather friends of Gate To Southwell 2019 turning up in their droves and their waterproofs to welcome the Cockney Rebel. Bulging with hits over a 45 year career – ‘Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)’, ‘Mr Raffles’ and ‘Mr Soft’, ‘Best Years Of Our Lives’ – Steve Harley’s distinctive theatrical delivery and the sheer quality of his songwriting still make him a charismatic performer. Seated like a medieval king in the middle of his five piece band, tracks like ‘A Friend For Life’ (covered by Rod Stewart), ‘The Coast of Amalfi’ and ‘Sebastian’ seem to grow more powerful and moving with age. A fine Friday night festival performance.
Elsewhere Austrian triumvirate Hotel Palindrone delivered a madly brilliant set featuring rude German songs, bizarre instruments and fantastic yodeling on the Folk Stage and later in their extraordinary Euro Bal. Katie Spencer’s Jansch-inspired guitar-playing and personal songwriting seems to grow stronger by the hour, and her covers of Bridget St John’s ‘Ask Me No Questions’ and John Martyn’s ‘Hurt In Your Heart’ were both excellent. Meanwhile Denmark’s Ida Wenoe delivered a fascinating set of Jutland indie folk songs while Kim Edgar showcased her peaceful and angry albums (‘Stories Untold’, ‘The Ornate Lie’ and ‘Butterflies & Broken Glass’) and reminded us of her great work with Karine Polwart and The Burns Unit on the wonderful murder ballad ‘Blood Ice & Ashes’.
Regardless of political persuasions in these divisive times, Grace Petrie remains a defiant and positive protest singer. With “woke folk” echoes of both Phranc and Michelle Shocked, distilled with Billy Bragg and Bob Dylan, she reveals that since she’s turned 30 she’s been enjoying the freedom and confidence to simply be her lovable outspoken self. ‘Black Tie’ – “the closest thing I’ve ever had to a hit” – is a celebration of masculine women, and the a capella ‘A Young Woman’s Tale’ reveals her commitment to improve the world in any way she can. Strongest of all is her topical attack on Trump and Farrage and their use of the derogatory phrase ‘Snowflakes’ to criticize sensitive young people. “You’ll see how much a snowflake matters,” she sings, “when we become an avalanche”. ‘You Build A Wall’ confirms this bridge-building “snowflake” definitely won’t melt in the spotlight.
Also thrown into Friday’s pot were diverse moments of musical magic such as Bristol’s Cut Throat Francis, excellent folk roots from Honey & The Bear, Kent’s sweet singer-songwriter Phoebe Warden, the extra-entertaining World folk roots of The Activators, the country pop of Leicester’s Hardy Band, the brilliant blues of Sunjay, the versatile musicianship and fine harmonies of SYA from Holland; there definitely seemed to be something for everyone. Last but not least, special mention for The Hunch – four West Yorkshire veterans who definitely still cut the mustard on the Folk Stage - and of course John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett who remain as entertainingly fractious as ever. They even did ‘Geneve’, the ill-fated follow up single to their massive punk hit ‘Really Free’, which originally caused Otway and Barrett to go their separate ways. Barrett remains as musically inventive and comically grumpy as ever, while the topless Otway wins over the Big Top with his daft lyrics and crazily charismatic presence. Really odd.
Today Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys headline with great international support from Canadians Gordie MacKeeman & His Rhythm Boys, Welsh stars Calan, former BBC Folk Singer of the Year Nancy Kerr and acclaimed dance band Blackbeard’s Tea Party. After past successes marking the Summer of Love and Dylan@75, the festival celebrates 50 years since Woodstock in 1969; a specially created 'house' band plus guests will perform iconic songs from the ground-breaking “peace love and music” festival.
Len Brown 2019