And so it begins. Gate To Southwell got off to a fantastic friendly start by welcoming back some of last year’s favourite Americans. Rootsy rock & roller Joshua Cook christened the Big Top and then Truckstop Honeymoon won over the audience with typically-brilliant songs about strained relationships and hard living, hard loving everyday people; definitely less Tammy & George and more Johnny & June. (They’re performing again over the weekend so make sure you catch them when you can.)
Young Californians Blue Summit are one of the best new bluegrass acts to appear in the UK for many years. Led by the sweet-voiced AJ Lee with great supporting guitarwork and crooning swing vocals from the charismatic Sullivan Tuttle, these cool guys will be major festival fixtures for years to come. On the main stage they deliver brilliant covers such as Gram Parson’s ‘Hickory Wind’ and Dolly’s ‘Jolene’. Later on the Barleycorn they make Gillian Welch’s ‘Tear My Stillhouse Down’ their own and also highlight their own bittersweet songwriting skills with AJ’s ‘Lemons & Tangerines’.
Elsewhere at the festival, a host of East Midlands artists cooked up a storm on the Frontier Stage, organized by the Eternal Youth Club, with a notably thought-provoking performance from the Matthew Moore Band. And back on the Barleycorn, Katie Spencer continues to develop into a quietly bright star with lovely, often fragile songs from her new ‘Weather Beaten’ collection. Inevitably, given her name and East Riding origins, her take on the trad Yorkshire ballad ‘Spencer The Rover’ was sweetly powerful and her voice at times had ghostly echoes of Sandy Denny.
Of course, tonight’s headliners rode hard into Southwell for the first time, all stetsoned and ponchoed up, tall in the saddle and tongues firmly in cheeks. Apparently hailing from Santapulco (near St Albans) Los Pacaminos - featuring vocal legend Paul Young - warmed up the Big Top with a cracking set of tequila-shot-fuelled Mexican border music such as ‘Woolly Bully’, ‘Saved’, ‘Girl From Tennessee’, ‘Belle’ and ‘A Little Bit Is Better Than Nada’ Non-stop top-notch Tex Mex Americana entertainment from the band who brought us ‘A Fistful of Statins’. Oh yes, it’s Spag West at its very best.
Friday brings us Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, Leicester “woke folk” protest singer Grace Petrie, punk veterans Otway & Barrett, Hotel Palindrone from Austria and many more international artists.
Len Brown 2019