When the sun shone, Sunday at the Gate rewarded festival-goers with a perfect blend of English, European and Celtic music. Celebrating the many rich cultures of our Continental friends, we welcomed the irresistibly upbeat and danceable ska of Mallorca’s Dinamo and also the almost classical, balletic and poetic folk dance music of Korrontzi from the Basque country; two very different but equally entertaining aspects of Spanish culture. Plus there was the familiar French-with-a-twist-of-Geordie songs of Flossie Malavialle, who also performed with Keith Donnelly in Dark Horses, and delivered a delicious “French” concert on the Frontier Stage including memorable covers of the Mexican ‘La Bamba’ and the Belgian Brel’s ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ and ‘Le Port D’Amsterdam’. (When questioned about the “Frenchness” of these choices, Flossie explained the French claim certain great artists as their own in the same way that England “only embraces Andy Murray when he’s winning”.)
The Frontier Stage welcomed the highly-entertaining, banana-eating, Paris-based Queen of Cajun Sarah Savoy, the Eastern folk-meets-ska-meets-World music of Silk Roots (who performed alongside the colourful Black Peacock Belly dancing troupe), the equally eclectic and eco-friendly sounds of 3 Daft Monkeys, as well as hosting the bizarre Tune’n’Verse’n’Ditty Quiz comically hosted by Keith Donnelly. Arguably the funniest round focused on obscure folk music from Denmark, mainly for the benefit of Jutland singer-songwriter Ida Wenoe. However, her teammates including members of Ireland’s JigJam definitely seemed to struggle with the subject matter, mainly because of Donnelly’s deviant Danish pronunciation.
With many more families on site in fine weather, with over 20 Morris Dancing sides hot-footing it on the outside dancefloor (on Saturday and Sunday) and with children’s dance displays as well as kids entertainment from hilarious juggler Dan The Hat, rock & rollers Johnny & The Raindrops and storyteller Mark Frazer’s Walk The Lines, Gate To Southwell headed for peak festival with the mid-afternoon Big Parade. Better conditions and warmer spirits also brought smiles and benefits to festival traders, craft tents, the Barleycorn beer tent, the Filly & Folk Inn and the Hoofers dance hall and bar (scene of lively gatherings such as the multi-generational Folk Camps Party Band, the Minster Family Ceilidh and 3 Sticks with star caller Patrick Rose).
Elsewhere, Sunday brought us the exotic sounds of Mishra - with mesmerizing, almost transcendental tracks such as ‘Morphology’ combining double bass, banjo and flute – and the traditional moving folksong poetry of South Westerner Jim Causley, plus the top quality Scouse-meets-Americana folk blues of Rosenblume; they definitely deserve to rise up through fire and rain. Special mention also for the Josh & Sunjay Sing The Blues session on the folk stage, spontaneously starring the hugely talented Anglo-American combo Joshua Cook and Sunjay Brain, again testifying to the huge variety of musics on offer at Gate To Southwell, travelling from ‘One Scotch One Bourbon One Beer’ and ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ through to Sunjay’s sole hit (so far) ‘Love You Like A Man’.
Unsurprisingly, the returning Truckstop Honeymoon proved to be one of the great successes of Southwell. Touting their excellent ‘Big Things & Little Things’ album, Mike and Katie West delivered several great sets across the weekend (including visits to nearby Rolleston Church and the Hearty Goodfellow pub) and won many new fans with fine, 21st Century punk/folk/Americana songs such as ‘She Wants To Be French’, ‘Home Is Not A Hotel’ and ‘Bad Attitude’. Having relocated to Wales, mainly because of the rise in school shootings in their former home states of Kansas and Louisiana, their song ‘Got No Use’ is one of the most powerful, homespun, protest songs against gun crime: “I gotta lot of use for a lotta things, but I got no use for a gun”. Hilarious, visual, memorable, original performers.
And then came the Celts. Eabhal from the Outer Hebrides delivered two memorable sets of traditional Scottish and Gaelic tunes that were in youthful, acoustic contrast to Sunday’s powerful headliners Skipinnish. Led by Norrie MacIver, formerly of Manran, and fuelled by dueling bagpipers, Skipinnish closed the Big Top with sterling (or Stirling) performance, featuring tracks from their brand new ‘Steer By The Stars’ collection. The term “West Coast” often refers to that rich old tradition of Californian soft rock but Skipinnish continue to establish a 21st Century Highland brand with classic outward-looking Romantic albums such as ‘The Seventh Wave’ and ‘Atlantic Roar’, breathing the whisky of life into modern Scottish roots music.
Thankfully, Blue Rose Code finally made it to Southwell after missing out last year due to a family tragedy. Ross Wilson was well worth the wait. He’s in the great Scottish tradition of soulful country blues (and even jazz) singer-songwriters stretching from Dick Gaughan through Edwyn Collins and Roddy Frame to The Proclaimers, Blue Nile and beyond. Solo on the Folk Stage he declared himself “as Scottish as heart disease” and told the story of how an early demo had been returned by an unnamed Midlands club with a red-ink declaration that “this is not folk music!” (Inevitably, one of the standout tracks on his 2013 ‘North Ten’ debut album, ‘This Is Not A Love Song’ is reworked here as ‘This Is Not A Folk Song’.) A charismatic performer from a troubled Edinburgh background with an emotional voice that echoes John Martyn, and with lyrics as Scottish as Glasgow rain, Blue Rose Code manages to create new folk songs that instantly sound like classics. Later in the Big Top, backed by his four piece band, tracks like ‘Sandaig’, ‘Ebb & Flow’ and ‘Over The Fields’ stood out. And Wilson himself seemed genuinely surprised and deeply moved when, during his rendition of ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’, the rapt Gate To Southwell audience joined in with him. “That was absolutely beautiful Southwell,” he whispered afterwards. Perhaps the perfect verdict on this four day festival of Peace Love & Music.
Len Brown 2019