Frome Folk Festival: Saturday
Eyebrows may have been raised when another West country folk festival was scheduled for the start of the year. Could another event, sandwiched between the already established and popular, Cheltenham and Bournemouth festivals, really take off? The short answer is, yes. The Frome venues, and the town, are buzzing with multi-generational crowds, who certainly don't have hibernation on their minds this winter.
The Cheese & Grain
is the main hub of activity, with more acts performing only moments away at the Westway Cinema and the Masonic Hall. Coupled with a bill of BBC Folk Award winners and nominees past and present, as well a sprinkling of special festival finds and local talent, it's an ideal set up.
are the wake-up call for an already healthy crowd. Comprised of two sets of siblings, their brand of ceilidh driven jigs were met with a warm welcome. And, yes, Ned the donkey
Cara Dillon, patron for the festival, took a moment to introduce a fascinating duo, Winter Mountain
. A chance meeting on a train in the United States brought them together; an Englishman and an Irishman who share the same vision. They certainly stole some hearts with their sonorous vocal harmonies, which recall Simon & Garfunkel and Crosby & Nash.
Over at The Westway Cinema Beth Porter's
delicate odysseys are a fitting soundtrack to the cosy surroundings. Backed by piano and fiddle, her soaring vocals are admirable for such an early hour. Later, it's the turn of Belshazzar's Feast
: steeped in folk and mirth, their back to back sets are populated with the customary one liners - 'I come from Calne, just near here, some of you might know it, it's got a big film festival' - and some great musical hand-me-downs from the Edith Sartin songbook.
begins the afternoon with a band who are more than capable of recreating every nuance of her evergreen 'Saturnine' album. It's a tranquil moment before the main hall is cleared for a Spiers and Boden
fuelled Ceilidh. The pair work furiously to keep the fires stoked as the dancing goes on, interspersed with plenty of colour from the Morris teams - particular mention must go to Rag Morris
, the Bristol troupe on hand all day with bags of energy and imagination.
In the Masonic Hall, Barbara J Hunt
coaxes hot jazz mixed with contemporary songs from her vintage Martin guitar to back her powerfully clear voice. And, a sing-a-long to 'The House Of The Rising Sun' is always going to work for an encore. Buoyed up on the festival's specially brewed local 'Folklore'
ale, we take to the town to find more displays of Morris, instrument stalls, and open mic spots in pubs. It's a folk invasion, topped off with workshops and storytelling at The Round Tower.
has a cold. Surrounded by remedies, she battles the symptoms, to bring us a dazzling show. Backed by Ewan MacPherson, the atmosphere which meets the BBC folk Award winning song, 'The Herring Girl', is tangible. And, when the cold did get the better of her, Ewan took over with a soporific beauty, 'The Beltane', from an Australian song collection.
Back at the Cheese & Grain, Devonshire singer/songwriter, Cole Stacey
, achieves new levels of audience participation and proves why Steve Knightley has labelled him 'an impassioned and ambitious young songwriter'.
brings his usual commanding performance to Frome. Quietly vitriolic he glides through his politic blues ('Caesar') , celebrates the sanctity of marriage ('Tally Of Salt'), and enjoys a spell of Mr. Trad and Mr. Anon (Messer’s Randall and Barleycorn are mentioned). But how many foresaw a reworking of 'Jerusalem'? The faded denims remain the same, but everything else changes.
Jamie Smith's Mabon
are quickly earning themselves headline status. Tonight's stirring display of taut musical theatrics overflowed with showmanship and warmth. Only fitting, seeing as it was Jamie's birthday.
Spiral Earth had to make an early exit and leave behind this feast of fun but the day will leave a lasting impression. To assemble a bill made up of the cream of the folk world, for its inaugural event, is a testament to the team behind Frome.
The West country wins again.