Smoke Fairies are the highlight of Acosutica 2010

Acoustica 2010 review

published: Tue 21st Sep 2010

Smoke Fairies

Friday 17th to Sunday 19th September 2010
Exeter Phoenix, and Cavern Club, Exeter, Devon, England MAP
£12 Saturday, or £8 Sunday or Friday
last updated: Fri 17th Sep 2010

Following on from the success of last year's inaugural event in Exeter, this year's event offers another great weekend of quality music from international, national and local acts. Organised by the Exeter Phoenix, Acoustica offered alt-folk, folktronica and Americana music with 50+ artists appearing across 4 stages. The festival also offered DJ's, films and an alt-art fair.

The festival is still in it's infancy but organisers have big plans for the event, and whilst it doesn't offer camping there are plenty of B&Bs and hotels in the area and with the venue situated right in the middle of Exeter getting to it is a doddle.

Luckily the weather held all weekend, although three of the stages are indoors there are also acts playing out on the terrace and this despite having a canvas sail roof is open to the elements, the fact the evenings were warm meant this area remained busy all weekend.

Nathaniel Rateliff
Numbers were low on the first night, which was a shame as the line-up boasted some great acts. The first act we saw was the deep vocals of American Nathaniel Rateliff. Despite being under the weather the trio pull off a wonderful set, to introduce us to the weekend. Breton/Welsh singer Katell Keinig offers us a different slant with her French and English rambling lyrics making her tunes less immediate. 'The Arsehole Song', "Assholes of the world/Won't you learn to love a woman?" perfectly encapsulates her lyrical style, with wandering vocals and a carefree, surfer-esque playing style that suits her summer dress and flip flops.

Magpahi
Magpahi offer a more gentle soothing slant upstairs in the Voodoo Lounge, which has tables and lampshades and an even more intimate feel. Magpahi deliver some fairytale folk songs and their music has an Elizabethan feel with singer Alison Cooper's voice, also appearing tonight with Sam and The Plants, captivating and olde worlde to listen to.

Straight back downstairs to the main auditorium we get a chance to enjoy the Smoke Fairies, who for me are the band of the weekend. The duo of Katherine Blamire and Jessica Davies are underpinned by bass and drums but it's their intertwining vocal harmonies and guitar work that shines, despite dealing with the sound issues, and some interesting light programming.

Smoke Fairies
Their music is fantastic and an intimate mix of English folk and American blues perfectly delivered in a venue which illicits a chance to see them delivering songs from debut album 'Through Low Light and Trees' up close. Fantastically accomplished interwoven slide guitar and finger picking, with a gentle bass, and added depth from the mood enhancing percussion this is a gig that the few who were lucky enough to watch are sure to remember, a band that's bound to be well known this time next year.

The timings tonight are rather different to those in the programme and even to the handy printouts on the walls of the Phoenix, so we miss the rather lively Wickes upstairs (luckily they perform a few songs the next day in the incarnation of Sweet Baboo) instead listening to some DJ playing pounding beats on the terrace. The choice of music seems to be out of place with an 'acoustic' themed festival.

Cate Le Bon
I guess Welsh songstress Cate Le Bon's sound is like marmite, a heavy influence of Velvet Underground's Nico, audiences either love it or hate it. I'm in the former camp but both here - and at last week's End Of The Road - by the end of the set much of the audience have left. Stephen Black joins her in one of his many appearances over the weekend, having already fronted the aforementioned Wickes minutes earlier.

The corridor space between the bar and the auditorium is utilized to provide another stage, with us seeing local acts Mozura, and Harry Mundy to round off the evening for us. The laid back rhythms are offset by some upbeat funky soul with the smoking terrace DJs.

On Saturday bar area offers diners able to sample the hearty food of the Phoenix a chance to listen to more acts. During the day the auditorium houses an alt-arts fair on trestle tables, followed by a film, whilst the bands have the chance to wander around the city enjoying Exeter's tourist trail.

Sweet Baboo
The first act we see is the first in the auditorium, Stephen Black returns with Sweet Baboo, and tonight his band mates are members of Wickes leading to a chance to hear a couple of entertaining Wickes numbers, witty songwriting and some off the wall ideas encapsulating love of balloons, and brain transplants soon make us feel at home. The band have also wandered about the city this morning and there's a few anecdotes from Stephen thrown into the mix.

The Roots Union
The festival is well attended today with all four stages hosting a decent sized crowd, and after running out of ale the previous night it's good to see there's a full compliment of three ales on sale again today. After yesterday when Birds, Orphans & Fools programmed the Voodoo Lounge, tonight it's the turn of Boothill Records who bring local acts like Count To Fire, My Two Toms, The R.G.Morrison, and The Roots Union to the stage. The latter proving to be my favourite act of the bunch, playing a musical mix that would suit any festival's line-up.

Texan Rodney Branigan plays the guitar like Newton Faulkner, working his fingers all over the fretboard and body to create rhythms and delivers a great version of 'Come Together', and plays two acoustic guitars at once with amazing ability.

H Hawkline
Outside City Of Funzville have decorated the walls with silhouettes of crows and trophy heads. The DJ appears to have a bull's head on and there's a robot dancing outside. There's even a bizarre French waiter providing the laughs, and a familiar looking French artist, it's good to see a few performance acts about. The music is much more my cup of tea from the DJs today, and I particularly enjoy 'I Don't Like Reggae'. There's also live performances out on the terrace with Stephen Black appearing again on bass duties for the lively H.Hawkline. The terrace also has black and white film projected onto the wall, which reminds me constantly to check out the hidden cinema, but I never get around to it.

The Mountains And The Trees
Jim Jones from North Devon delivers a set of coastal inspired well crafted tunes including new song 'Waves', and 'Hey' about proposing on Lundy Island, and others from his brace of albums 'Daylight & Stars' and 'Monochrome' joined by Peter Bruntnell for percussive duties towards the end of this intimate, upbeat set. He also has a new guitar, as do a lot of the acts this weekend, sounds like local guitar shop Mansons might have been making a roaring trade this weekend. The Mountains & The Trees is Canadian Jon Janes who plays a host of instruments including a suitcase. He's one of my highlights of the weekend. His last song has him mix using a loop pedal his guitar playing to create a fantastic finale.

Erinn Williams
American Erinn Williams offers gentle warbling melodies and her delicate delivery suffers sound issues. She's showcasing songs from 'Digging in the Dirt' and the audience are sat on the floor captivated, I really struggle to hear it clearly, hampered by the sound bleed each time the venue's door opens, so I make my escape upstairs to see local act Count To Fire who mix fiddle and slide guitar with a country band set up to great effect. Enjoying their tunes I miss Ruarri Joseph, but do see Scott Matthews.

Scott Matthews
Scott Matthews has, it says in the programme, supported the likes of Robert Plant, and with guitar skills like his, and a voice that reminds listeners of Jeff Buckley or Nick Drake, it's clear to see why. He delivers us a mix of songs like 'City Heache' from debut album 'Passing Strangers' and also showcases his second album 'Elsehwere'. It's during 'Up On The Hill' from the latter that someone entering the auditorium laughs, breaking the moment. It's not until this moment I realise how quiet it has been, you could have heard a pin drop in the packed room. Scott makes a joke, cracks a beer open (spilling it over his guitar) and starts again. Clearly there are fans in the audience, as the broken spell means the crowd become more vocal, and they yell out 'Erol, Erol' which Scott explains is the name of his chocolate coloured guitar.

The crowd over the weekend are a decent mix of ages, there's even a few kids around into the early hours, and the atmosphere is laid back and friendly, there's no problems with anti-social behavior and the audiences are respectfully quiet, giving us a chance to hear the artists on offer.

around the festival site
Acoustica on Sunday comes to a climax with The Lonely Tourist, Adam Donen, Poppy and Friends, Polly & The Billets Doux, All The Fires, Mae and the Midnight Fairground, Alasdair Roberts, The Keeps Music, Rosa Rebecka, Urusen, Ellie Williams, and more. But due to some personal issues we're unfortunately unable to attend.

The festival offers great value for money with so many well known and breaking artists over four stages for £20 for the weekend. Plus with beer prices at a sensible £3 a pint of ale, and lunchtime food available for around a fiver, it made for a cheap event. Even with hotel accommodation for those coming from further a field it works out as a value for money festival.

My only complaint is the fact the the published times didn't quite correspond to the performance times on Friday, although it was much better on Saturday, and we missed a few of the acts we hoped to see. I also think the festival could do with some better advertising (most of my friends I spoke to living locally were unaware it was on), and perhaps somewhere on site to get late night snacks would be nice. It's worth mentioning that the toilets give this event an authentic festival feel, hopefully they will be in better condition next year!

But these are minor gripes for what was a nicely organised event, and one I would recommend to anyone. The organisers have interesting plans to expand the event in the future, and we will be back for more next year.

around the festival site

review by: Scott Williams

photos by: Karen Williams / Scott Williams

Friday 17th to Sunday 19th September 2010
Exeter Phoenix, and Cavern Club, Exeter, Devon, England MAP
£12 Saturday, or £8 Sunday or Friday
last updated: Fri 17th Sep 2010


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