Shrewsbury Folk Festival, Saturday 26th February 2017

After a somewhat fitful night’s sleep for me at least, Rob and I were treated to a lovely breakfast by Peter and Geoff before setting off back to the Shrewsbury Folk Festival site on Saturday morning. Once there, we checked on CD sales (which were very decent) and had a coffee before getting our gear together and walking the ten minutes off site to the Bird in Hand pub where we were to begin the lunchtime programme at midday.

We arrived in good time in the lounge bar of The Bird in Hand which was reasonably intimate in size and had the familiar air of a folk club about it. There were a few people already there when we arrived but numbers quickly swelled and by the time we started the room was virtually full. As people met up with old friends, the atmosphere in the room was warm.

We were introduced to the audience by MC Derek Droscher who, with his wife Mary, will be well known to all those familiar with the famous Banbury Folk Club and Festival.

Despite the early hour, it wasn’t long before the audience were picking up the choruses and singing along with gusto. By the time we had finished, it was pretty much standing room only and we were more than happy to give an encore before ceding the floor to Jamie Huddleston who was coming on after us.

Having finished and chatted with a few audience members, we then left the pub (and what looked like an excellent selection of beers - which we don’t drink before performing) to head back to the festival site. It was nearly nine hours until our next listed performance, so we had plenty of time to go for lunch on site, do some admin and see some great music. We had also been invited by BBC Radio Shropshire’s Folk Programme organiser, Genevieve Tudor, to perform a live internet session for her from her radio yurt just near the main stage area.

So, after an excellent and spicy chilli con carne for lunch, we headed to Artists’ Reception for a cuppa. While there, we took the opportunity to complete our PRS forms. By this time, the first performance of a revival of Peter Bellamy’s Folk Opera, ‘The Transports’, featuring the cream of the modern English folk scene, was starting up on the festival main stage in the Bellstone Marquee. This performance, over the course of nearly three hours with a break, was deservedly cheered to the rafters by the huge audience packed into the Marquee.

Indeed, such was the applause, there was little point trying to do a live internet recording in Genevieve’s neighbouring canvas yurt. So, after the show was finished we made our way to the yurt and, along with a nice chat with Genevieve, performed first our new song ‘Sisters and Brothers’ and, second, our translation of a Wallonian folk song which we have called ‘If I had but one true love’. I have looked for the broadcast since the event but have not yet been able to find it. I guess it might just have gone out into the ether and that was that but, on the basis that Rob and I felt we’d given good renditions of both songs, if I find it I’ll publish it on Facebook for others to View.

Having completed the broadcast, we had a modest evening meal back at Artists’ Reception and then made our way, first, to see our near neighbours and fellow performers at Cambridge Folk Festival Club Tent, The Boxwood Chessmen. As at Cambridge, Brian Causton, Penny McLaren Walker and their colleagues were excellent and provided a well appreciated set on the Purity Village Stage.
After that, we made our way across to the Sabrina Marquee to watch John Kirkpatrick and then Greg Russell play.

As we entered the Sabrina Marquee it became immediately obvious that John Kirkpatrick was performing to a very full house, acoustically. This turned out to be as a result of an electrical fault that had affected part of the site. What a trouper he turned out to be! Even without the aid of a p.a. system, John Kirkpatrick was still able to hold a very sizeable audience in the palm of his hand in a major auditorium for a good 25 minutes solely through his wit and virtuosity, until the problem was eventually resolved.

John was followed by newly emergent young folk star, Greg Russell who proceeded to deliver a punchy 45 minute solo set punctuated by some excellent repartee and interaction with an audience that clearly (and rightly) loved him. It was great to finally see him in action and we very much enjoyed our brief interaction with him back stage later that evening.

We then wandered back to the car to pick up our gear and return for our next stint at the Sabrina Marquee where we were closing proceedings there for the second night running. Again we changed, tuned up and got ourselves ready backstage, listening to the joyous thrilling music of TwoManTing. The weather through the Saturday had been glorious, with no cloud cover. As such, the hot day was being followed by a distinctly chilly night. As such, in my case my show shirt was covered by a comfy cardy until it was time to go on.

Bob Bignell was again MC and we thank him for his kind words when introducing us to the audience. Given we had finished the evening in the same tent the previous night and were worried that any audience members who’d been there the night before might think we were going to perform the same set, we consciously changed the set pretty dramatically. Again, up against two mighty competing attractions like Eric Bibb and Cara, we were very pleased that retained a healthy sized audience for our 60-minute set.

As we peered through the spotlight glare, we could see some good friends from Baldock Folk Club in the front row which was nice and, after the show, we had some lovely feedback from people coming up to the front of the stage to speak to us. It was nice to be told that “you are our ‘let’s pop in here and see what’s happy, blimey that was good’ act of the festival” by one and to be complimented on contributing to keeping the social commentary aspect of folk music alive, by another.

By the time we’d gathered up the gear and slipped back outside the marquee a heavy dew had formed on the grass outside; it was going to be a frosty night. Feeling very satisfied with four good performances over two pretty full days, we were determined to find a pint somewhere. As we left the site to return to our accommodation, we could hear sounds coming from inside The Bird in Hand pub – so we quickly popped in for an excellent pint of local delicacy, Butty Bach, which went down a complete treat. A great find at quarter past midnight...

Relaxed, fatigued and with the benefit of a little beer, Saturday night, proved to be a much better night’s sleep for me at least.

The next morning we were treated to a memorable full English breakfast and some really stimulating chat with Peter and Geoff. As we said our thanks and goodbyes to our hosts and made our way back to the festival site to head for home, we were engaged in conversation on the way five or six times by festival goers saying how much they had enjoyed the various sets we had performed. Knowing that we had really engaged with audience members certainly put a spring in our step that morning.

After saying our brief goodbyes to the staff in the Artists’ Reception area, we ‘fired up the Quattro’ as the saying goes, and headed for home. Apart from the deep mysteries of how one actually gets from the M54 to the M6 Toll, the roads (including the M6 proper – as we missed the Toll) proved fine and we were home in time for Sunday lunch.... and, in my case, a cold beer.

Very many thanks to Sandra Surtees for the invitation to perform at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival. It is a great, friendly, festival of music held on a lovely spacious site where the people seemed almost universally friendly and everything appears to be run efficiently and effectively. Similarly, many thanks again to Genevieve Tudor for propelling our music across the airwaves. Thanks to Neville, Derek and Bob for their excellent MC-ing and to all of the sound technicians that did such a great job ‘front-of-house’ and o the monitors for us. Finally, very many thanks to the very best of hosts, Peter and Geoff. If we are ever lucky enough to be invited back to the lovely Shrewsbury Folk Festival, we will make a special plea to take pleasure in your hospitality again.