Bromyard is a fitting end to a summer's-worth of Folk Festivals

Bromyard Folk Festival 2010 review

By Ian Wright | Published: Mon 20th Sep 2010

Bromyard Folk Festival 2010 - around the festival site (2)
Photo credit: James Creaser

Bromyard Folk Festival 2010

Friday 10th to Sunday 12th September 2010
around the town of Bromyard, Herefordshire, HR7 4NT , England MAP
early bird adult weekend £60

Bromyard Folk Festival, a weekend where the jokes are about time signatures and singers wonder out loud if they can get to the toilet and back before their song's introduction is done. Where the jingling of Morris Men's bells becomes part of the background noise, enough gutsy Shantymen can be found to raise even the heftiest anchor and there are more caravans than on the A303 on an August weekend. This is a Festival whose Beer Tent has more than fifty Real Ales and Ciders from over two dozen breweries. The choice of choice of hops and finishes is so mindboggling a menu more at home in a Dutch coffee house is required to help guide tankard to tap. At Bromyard a Bodger works her lathe yards from a charcoal grill wafting the pungent scent of Jamaican jerk chicken over a Festival Showground resplendent in the clear September sunshine. Festivalgoers wending their way between Dave Jones' Bar and the Wye Valley Concert Tent, or bimbling back from a Fringe event in the town, stop to cheer on another dance display, take in the scene and chat.

around the festival site (3)

Of course it wasn't all bright sunshine, smiles and smoke from the barbie. Friday's mix of drizzle and downpours drove many of the three thousand ticket-holders to seek shelter in the Wye Valley Concert tent. Here they were treated to a display of young talent from Birmingham Conservatoire graduates The Old Dance School whose virtuosity was strained by the distinctly arrhythmic accompaniment of rain battering upon the marquee's roof. Fortunately with humour and some gusto they overcame.

Fay Hield
Soon after there was standing room only for a grand show from Fay Hield, Rob Harbron and Sam Sweeney which featured the weekend's first appearance of a Nykelharpa, the strange instrument of which more later. In the audience many beards were knowingly stroked, but more feet tapped along as choruses were sung with great enjoyment. In particular the last number 'The Grey Goose and Gander' got a fantastic response as a packed tent did indeed sing together all mostly in the same tune.

around the festival site (3)
Friday night's headliners Show of Hands gave a honed performance to an appreciative audience packed into the Concert Tent like pilchards. Perhaps wary that all the excitement and heat might trouble Phil Beer, still recuperating from his "near life experience", Steve Knightley half jokingly checked his old friend's pulse, but if his steady and strong fiddle playing is an indicator of the heart's health then Steve needed not worry. Their extraordinary set included a version of Jimmy Cliff's 'Sitting in Limbo' in tribute to the aforementioned jerk chicken and a touch of Country Music with a version of Hoyt Axton's 'Blind Fiddler'. Seldom short on social commentary Steve introduced their Folk Award winning song 'Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed' observing politicians attempts to rein in banker's avarice was like leaving King Herod in charge of a crèche. His wry comments were not just limited to the super-rich; he pithily describes Sidmouth going feral at the grounding of the Napoli in 2007 with four words "Lyme Bay to Ebay". As this famous three piece 'duo' left the stage the audience gave them a rousing show of hands, applauding loudly and whooping this "Great Wurzels tribute band".

The Waterson Family
With the boisterous intensity of Friday night's performances spent, the Festival became more placid but there were still many, many good shows to come. Saturday night was a rare, and perhaps historic, opportunity to glide along the 'Mighty River of Song' which is The Waterson Family. Brother and sister Norma and Mike Waterson lead the vocal harmonies accompanied by Martin and Eliza Carthy and five other relatives. Some of the older bones in the family are have lost their sprightliness. The family's entry onto the stage is laboured and at show's end there is no hope of them coming back for an encore. This makes the gig feel even more like a special occasion, once it's done, it's done. Songs like 'Some Old Salty' are delivered with great passion and verve, rough music burnished by repeated use over a five-decade career.

Saturday's support in the Concert Tent Belshazzar's Feast gave a amusing, entertaining set of tunes and songs. Paul Sartin on fiddle and oboe with Paul Hutchinson playing accordion come across like the 'Hairy Bikers' of Folk music as with constant banter, wordplay and clowning they serve up nutty tunes like 'Rondo a la Turkey', 'Beethoven's 1st Concerto for Piano Accordion' and 'Delicious Ice Cream from Caerphilly'. It seems each joke had some esoteric reference to meter, key or tuning which tickles enough of the audience to make the remainder feel they should have got it. The guys managed to crack different jokes and were even more enjoyable in their slot earlier in the afternoon at the grandiosely titled Arts Centre, in fact just a small marquee set up on Bromyard Town's football pitch. The more confined space inside the tent allowed the Pauls to engage with an audience of a hundred or so, pulling faces for snapshots, improvising and changing tack halfway through songs in a what felt like a front room cabaret act. Sadly the cheeky Benjamin Hill compositions were not enough to lure out any semi-clad traffic wardens, policewomen, nurses or nuns from their hiding places, but hope surely remains for the audience at their next show.

Belshazzars Feast

Playing acoustically in the Falcon Mews venue on Saturday night Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer demonstrated their reputation for quality musicianship was richly deserved, captivating the dozen or so in their audience.

around the festival site (3)
The little venue's aromatic oak flooring, ashlar stone walls and a vaulted ceiling brought out the subtleties in the couple's complex sound. Jonnny sang and strummed accompanied by Vicki variously on pipes, flute and Nykelharpa, the strange medieval Swedish instrument which is a combination of guitar, hurdy-gurdy and fiddle. It drones and resonates, clicks and clacks producing a piercing but melodic, unworldly sound a great counterpoint to Jonny's warm, humorous voice. Along with their own material the pair perform many traditional compositions, a nineteenth century Swedish murder ballad stood out, the Nykelharpa's strains infusing the song with a feeling as raw and clear as Swedish spring air.

In the Arts Centre Keith Donnelly took us into the small hours of Sunday morning with a hilarious set of comedy sketches and parodies full of great heckling and comebacks. Featuring a penguin bodhran, rhetorical answers, magmaloo curry, brown bears dipped in talcum powder, a chap called John and a mystery curly haired man saying Mort it was no wonder Keith claimed the show as the most surreal of his life. There was no let up, even when the lights went out after he’d overrun by an hour. The audience became a comedy committee trying in vain to decide what the last number should be. Eventually agreeing on a combination of 'Everyone wants to be a Bear' and 'Custard'. Once sung the crowd finally spilled out of the marquee at after even the singing in the Football Club had subsided.

around the festival site (3)
The Final Song is Sunday evening’s traditional conclusion to Festival proceedings in the Arts Centre. Regular 'Traditional' artists like Dave Webber & Anni Fentiman, Jim Mageean, and Graeme Knights take turns raising their characterful voices to fill the tent with poetry, song and banter. Fresh from their appearance in the concert tent Damien Barber & Mike Wilson's shanties and songs are somewhat catchier and less concerned with "avoiding the stigma of commercial success". In the showcase slot indomitable Samuel Walter gave a breathtaking performance. Sam is known to many from his stewarding work and incorporated a quick wristband check of the audience before leaving them, and his fellow singers, awestruck by a voice fierce as a lion then gentle as a lamb. All singers joined together to bring the Sing to close with Manfred Mann's mystical 'Eyes of Nostradamus' and the more traditional 'Miners Lifeguard'.

Samuel Walter
Singarounds abound at Bromyard. On site the Football Club's Bar heaves with shanty singers calling and responding, bawling and occasionally catching a tune. In the town's Pubs the Bay Horse and Falcon seem particularly well frequented by players and singers sharing songs and supping pints through the day and into the night, some even continuing early into the morning in session at Dave Jone's Bar. It's the same story with Morris dance teams who have a busy weekend commuting between the Fringe of pubs, the square and the main site in a constant flow of striking costumes, jangling bells and stomping clogs. Blacked faced Border Morris and bright white Cotswold teams give athletic shows in the town square outside the Hop Pole. Sadly the pub is shut up tight but a temporary bar set up under a gazebo keeps the ale flowing. During the days North-western sides, particularly the "intergalactically famous" Earlsdon Morris, dominate the streets banging their drums and waving jangly sticks. By night however the local youths roam the town, unfortunate for merry singers and gaily dressed Morris men, as they are at least unappreciative and more likely to be rude and aggressive to their weekend guests.

around the festival site (3)

The hectic schedule of concerts, singing and dancing soon builds a healthy thirst and appetite. Over ninety barrels of beer were consumed in beer tent, in the pubs still more.

around the festival site (3)
Food-wise for a small festival there is fantastic choice of on site caterers; Nepalese and Thai curries from Yak Mobile and veggie stuff from No Bones Jones are popular as are the Jacket Spuds. For many the favourite is M&E’s Authentic Caribbean for their succulent jerk chicken, rice and peas or just dumpling, mutton curry and homemade hot sauce. The familiar end products of feeding and drinking were well dealt with by half a dozen temporary toilet blocks, which were kept clean throughout the weekend.

around the festival site (1)
Bromyard's craft tent was a wonderland of intricate, shiny and artful products representing the full gambit of folkie favourites with leatherworkers, potters, confectionaries and even a hobbyhorse maker. A stall selling refurbished pewter tankards was set up next to another selling delightful Fimo cartoon animal fridge magnets and brooches. Four different instruments stalls sold an impressive range of stringed instruments, squeezeboxes and drums, some with breathtaking prices. The CD stall stocked thousands of Folk CDs covering much of the last fifty years, small wonder it was always busy. Sadly for some though, there is no old tat, no fairy wings or silly wigs for sale at Bromyard.

around the festival site (3)
Sadly for many more, the notion of recycling seems to have missed Bromyard festival. There is no facility to separate waste on site, all rubbish is into the skip and apparently taken away for landfill unsorted. A quid deposit on pint cups and the popularity of tankards goes someway to reducing the amount of plastic ending up in these skips, but it's not really enough. LEDs are yet to replace the filament bulbs, and these were left to burn throughout the day. This area would benefit from more thought by the organisers. Security also needs further thought, Friday night's raid by organised thieves stealing cash and phones brazenly from peoples tents was regrettable, but all too easily gotten away with.

So there were problems, but this is a Festival run 99% by volunteers who are clearly doing most things right to make Bromyard a fitting end to a summer's-worth of Folk Festivals. Again this year there was a strong, interesting line up with plenty going on in a myriad of locations across the site and in the town, even Tai Chi on Bromyard Town's cold, wet sacred turf. Maybe next year we might make it inside the Ceilidh tent, this year we chose a quick drink in Dave Jone's Bar and it was just too good to leave.

around the festival site (dance sides)
review by: Ian Wright

photos by: James Creaser

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