Towersey-goers are a loyal lot. By and large, we return year after year, and when we arrive at the festival, we already know how it's going to end. They will be lanterns, hugs and singing. There will be speeches and fond farewells. We've a fairly good idea how the journey will go too. Bellowhead will do bad things to the floor in Venue 65, The Chipolatas and their antics will have everyone chuckling, and Roy Bailey will be at his heart-warming best in The Big Club. The stewards will smile, the Wombles will womble free and the Bog Squad will brave the worst of what our collective digestive tracts can throw at them. These are all familiar waypoints of the yearly journey from Thursday to Monday at Towersey Festival. But as for the journey itself, the paths you can take are as myriad and diverse as the faces you see around you. Towersey is one of those festivals that you can make your own, whilst sharing in an experience that is common to all who are there.
Style wise, there's plenty on offer from the dance scene. Kerry and her crew offer Scandinavian, Breton, Appalachian clogging and much more. Towersey Morris are also running a series of workshops, pulling off the neat trick of taking a bunch of beginners at the beginning of the festival, and training them to a level at which they can dance out at the Three Horseshoes on Monday. They're in the company of such mighty Morris legends as Armaleggan, Cuckoo's Nest and Foxwhelp and they acquit themselves admirably.
Take the musician's workshops, for instance. Kirsty Cotter is the fiddler's answer to Kerry Fletcher, and she's running a range of Scottish themed workshops. They're aimed at improving technique and are pitched at various levels from improving beginners to advanced players. Elsewhere, Gavin Davenport is doing his guitar thing and Whapweasel offer Whapping it up, a tunes workshop for all instruments and levels. The icing on the cake must be Nancy Kerr & James Fagan's tune workshop on Monday, which will be a festival highlight for many.
For singers, the spookymeister is back. Stephen Taberner is running the Big Sing in the mornings, in addition to appearing alongside Roy Bailey at his very memorable Monday Concert. Again, non singing beginners are catered for. Jess Arrowsmith runs Can't Sing, Won't Sing on Sunday. Unfortunately, many who show up can sing and do, loudly. They're seemingly there just to fawn over Jess and they ruin the confidence of the many beginners present, spoiling the outcome of a well intentioned workshop. It leaves me wondering if there shouldn't be some sort of anti-audition for things like this; to verify the beginner credentials of the participants, and to weed out the irritating fawners.
Sometimes, perhaps after a night spent with Old Rosie, you might just want to lie there and let the fun come to you. Just for those moments, there's walkabout entertainment in the showground, from the likes of Uncle Tacko's Flea Circus and madcap Jason Maverick. For those that can move a bit, there's the Market Square and the Rope Circle, featuring Morris sides and a variety of outdoor acts. My favourite is Junk, whose caveman fooling and groovy tunes, played on pipes, bins and other such discarded paraphernalia, draws in a huge crowd on Saturday evening.
Gig wise, you need to employ a bit of thought. There's a diverse range of acts on the bill; from the established and revered, such as John Kirkpatrick, Roy Bailey, and Nic Jones; to the inspired and modern, such as Spiro and Bev Lee Harling. There's plenty of Americana too; from actual Americans Larkin Poe, from young, Canadian, Old Man Luedecke, and from quintessentially English, Walsh and Pound. Venue wise, there's also a bit of a choice, and it's here that you find out what sort of a music lover you are, because the choice you make very much depends on how you like to enjoy your gigs.
In the day time, Venue 65 takes on an altogether more chilled demeanour. People sit on the floor, or lie, or loll and just listen. Larkin Poe rock out to a recumbent crowd here on Saturday; then on Sunday its music of many moods from Walsh and Pound. They are soon to go their separate ways, and we'll miss them.
The Martin Simpson Trio is on fine, intricate form when they play The Big Club on Friday night, soothing our tinnitus traumatised ears after Bellowhead. Jamie Smith's Mabon charm everyone with their tunes on Saturday, and later, Pilgrims Way are stunning. Elsewhere on the bill, Nancy Kerr & James Fagan provide another highlight when they support national living treasure, John Kirkpatrick on Sunday.
For those who like their folk club atmosphere more intimate, the Village Hall fits the bill finely. There is a folk club running here throughout the festival, where folk can go and join in with the singing and with the tunes. At other times, the venue plays host to some big names. John Kirkpatrick does his Victorian Farmer's Year in Song concert here on Sunday, and the lucky few who get in are treated to a memorable evening. John is on fine form, unencumbered by lighting, amplification or a stage. What really makes the performance so special though, is an audience who knows what they're about when it comes to joining in. The singing is hearty and the harmonies are right on the button. It's like giving your ears a warm bath in a soothing sea of sound.
I nearly didn't see John because he was clashing with a couple of my favourite acts, The Melrose Quartet and Old Man Luedecke. This problem is always going to crop up when there are several things on offer at the same time at a festival. Sometimes a bit of rushing about is necessary, like when the brilliant Spiro threaten to clash with the not-to-be-missed Roy Bailey on Monday. Thankfully though, many of the artists appear more than once, so not only can you plan carefully so as not to miss anyone; you can also, in the best of bespoke tradition, choose a venue which best suits your taste in musical surroundings, and the context in which you would like to experience your favourite acts. Old Man Luedecke appears pretty much everywhere, collecting quite a following with his stories within songs, stories between songs, and all-round-nice-guy manner.
It's these qualities, I feel, that ensure that Towersey-goers return, year after year. The fact that we generally return to the same spot on the campsite, sit in the same place in the venues and favour the same workshops and ceilidhs, makes it effortless to rekindle festival friendships with folks that we only see once a year, but look forward to reconnecting with in the intervening 360 days. When the time comes, and we arrive here once more, we know what we're going to get. And we wouldn't have it any other way. Apart from the tokens, that is.
review by: James Creaser
photos by: Ian Wright
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