a perfect day at Folk by the Oak

Folk by the Oak 2011 review

By Ian Wright | Published: Wed 27th Jul 2011

Folk by the Oak 2011 - around the festival site
Photo credit: Andy Pitt

Folk by the Oak 2011

Sunday 24th July 2011
Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, England MAP
£33 for adults, £15 for children

Folk by the Oak is a pleasant one day festival in the beautiful grounds of Hatfield House. A line-up featuring some of the best-loved acts in the Folk scene, an ideal site and superb weather you don't need much more to make a great one day festival. Although a Beer tent which can't be drunk dry in half a day would be good.

Tyde
The setting is easily accessible for anyone living in or around the northern half of the M25. By car a stone's throw from the A1, by train just across the road from Hatfield's mainline railway station. Once inside the grounds driving along avenues flanked by well-tended Lime tress, past some distinctly historic looking Oaks where once our old Queen Bess strolled it feels like you've turned out of suburbia and into an upper class arcadia. Parking is ample and right next to the site so Festivalgoers have no problems carting their kit, caboodle and kids into a spacious gently sloping arena. Opening act Tyde's sumptuously mellow instrumental tunes provide a relaxed soundtrack to what they describe as the "a game of musical chairs for four thousand people" taking place in front of them. The ubiquitous folding chairs accompanied often by beach shelters, rugs and tables being the props in this family festival game.

Kathryn Roberts And Sean Lakeman
As Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman take the stage the day is at its warmest. Royal blue skies decorated here and there with strands of wispy clouds and the spreading aircraft con trails allow the warm July sunshine to reach us at a delicious temperature. The suns heat is tempered by an exceptionally satisfying breeze which wafts through the trees and across the rolling open parkland. As the audience sit transfixed by Kathryn's voice, part haunting and part rejuvenating the effect is wholly magical. Their song's subject matter is not at all summery – murdered girls, dying soldiers and Scandinavian sprites – but somehow it seems to suit the sunshine just right, that voice and Sean's understated guitar accompaniment leaving us basking in the sunshine of folk love.

The crowd awake from the rapture and queues lengthen outside both beer tent and ice cream van in the short intermission before the day's first big name act Adrian Edmonson and The Bad Shepherds take to the stage. Many are still queuing in nice straight lines as the strains from Troy Donockley's pipe introduce 'Anarchy in the UK' the first of a now rather familiar set of punk and new wave covers played skilfully on traditional instruments which the band have made their idiom. A fair number of the forty something male's who aren't in a orderly queue waiting for a beer or one of Beechdean's delicious ice cream cones can be seen busting their dad/uncle dance moves in front of stage. For me the novelty has worn off and it leaves the feeling of something missing – perhaps it's a rhythm section.

around the festival site
The Festival donates a share of proceeds to Willow Foundation, a local charity founded by former England goalie Bob Wilson which has arranged over seven thousand special days out for people with life threatening illnesses. Whilst the stage was set for the next act Anna from folk band Uiscedwr spoke of her sufferings with a chronic bone marrow condition and of the morale boost she felt when the charity granted her wish to sit in on a broadcast of Chris Evans Radio 2 breakfast show. Anna's moving and sincere appeal touched many hearts and collection buckets were soon heavy with coins, hopefully many people will benefit.

Next up is Bella Hardy, resplendent in her eye catching red dress and dangerous looking heels this attractive young woman has great presence and readily connects with her audience enjoying conversational banter between songs. Although most of her songs' subject matter is pretty grim and the tunes fairly downbeat, Bella's delivery is lively enough to keep the set moving along and is a fine accompaniment for those still picnicking most of whom by this time are well into their second or third courses.

Show Of Hands
Show of Hands kick off their six o'clock set with the most site specific song of the day 'The Oak' after which Steve Knightley asks the obvious question - which of the many oaks in the park is "the Oak", but if anyone knows they don't shout out loud enough to hear. The humour continues with jokes and comments about teenage arson and other such rural pastimes. Although the set is peppered with all the songs familiar from their many years of festivals and gigs it feels fresh as ever. The band seemed to be enjoying the show as much as the audience. Phil Beer in his shirtsleeves and smiling broadly and Steve Knightley with locks blowing in the cool evening breeze "like Beyonce" at Glastonbury.

The set was so enjoyable I was at last tempted to take a pint of real ale form the beer tent. To my astonishment the flaps were fastened shut with no sign of life within. It seems at some point before 6pm they had run out of beer and shortly after sold out of cider, leaving the politely queuing punters somewhat frustrated. Talk about missing an open goal, four thousand thirsty folkies on a sunny day willing to line up time and time again for a £4.50 pint and they didn't bring enough beer! It was as if the bar was run by a one of those teams from the BBC's 'Apprentice', I don't think Sir Alan Sugar would be impressed.

around the festival site
Fortunately there were alternative sources of alcohol for those of us who hadn't packed a tinnie or two in our picnics. Casillero del Diablo set up a smart looking wine bar with wine being sold by the bottle at reasonable £10. At the very back of the field the innocuous looking Licensed Bar kept the Carling, Tetley and Stowford Press flowing and even had managed to fetch a barrel of Ale up from Southhampton. A task too much for the Apprentices to manage.

So beer in hand as the sun set behind the stage and an exquisite mackerel sky with occasional mare's tails overhead it was delightful to sit back and take in the day's penultimate act, folk supergroup McCusker/Drever/Woomble with special guests including Heidi Talbot. All hailing from various parts of the Celtic Fringe for them the site was not so easy to get to, "fourteen hours travelling without windows or water" was the description – National Express perhaps? Still all are accomplished musicians and the set was well done, if short on highlights. Kris Drever's 'Shady Grove' was the terrific and he raised a chuckle commenting on the drama caused by breaking a string and asking the audience not to join in as it "really puts them off". Following on from Show of Hands the band made a good job of keeping the audience warm ready for the headline act.

Seth Lakeman
So as darkness fell Seth Lakeman received a rather high pitched response to his opening line "Hey Guys", I think a fair few of those guys were actually gals. Regardless he set about rocking the audience from the get go and didn't let up until his encore was done leaving the fireworks to wow the crowd. It was a blistering set with customary crowd stirrers like 'Blood Red Sky', 'King and Country' and 'Riflemen of War'. Cormac Byrne of Uiscedwr on percussion was a real treat, at one point he produced the biggest bodhran I've seen to accompany Seth in a fiddle and drum number. 'Kitty Jay' performed solo was just knockout. There was an interesting new song 'Blacksmith's Prayer' which had a dark menace and strangely reminded me of the Velvet Underground's 'Venus in Furs' – an interesting new direction for Folk? The set was brilliant but not to everyone's taste. Car headlights could be seen streaming away behind the stage, rather odd as even after the encore was done and the last fireworks had been let off it was still quite early – only half past ten or so, the heat of the day only just subsiding. Still a nine hour picnic is a bit of a marathon and perhaps people didn't want to get too excited and spoil their digestion.

To keep the Velvet Underground thing going it was a pretty much perfect day, although they ran out of booze.

around the festival site
review by: Ian Wright

photos by: Andy Pitt


Latest Updates

Folk by the Oak 2024
festival details
last updated: Mon 1st Jul 2024
Folk by the Oak 2024
line-ups & rumours
last updated: Mon 1st Jul 2024
Folk by the Oak 2023
festival details
last updated: Tue 11th Apr 2023
Folk by the Oak 2023
line-ups & rumours
last updated: Tue 11th Apr 2023
Folk by the Oak
festival home page
last updated: Fri 20th Jan 2023