Top of the Fests

Categories: Features | Festivals

Colin Irwin

THE HIGHLY UNOFFICIAL TOP 10 MOST POPULAR FESTIVAL ACTS Here we go then…the festival season. A time for conversing with nature, shaking off the worries of the big, bad world, quaffing a few ciders and getting in touch with your alternative side. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy, but spare a thought for the poor, beleagured festival organizer. Who’d want to run a festival? All the odds mount up against you. The weather, the fickleness of public taste, financial constraints, ever-increasing competition, the eternal risk of embarrassment and failure, the diminishing rota of affordable acts guaranteed to pull the punters in…and the horrible, nasty press which constantly berates you for a safety first booking policy that is strangling the wider scene while exciting new acts from a multitude of different cultures wander round with an unfilled begging bowl.

But hey, a quick count-up of those listed in the current issue of fROOTS reveals (very) approximately 560 festivals, ranging from the Knockengorroch World Ceilidh in Scotland (which sadly clashes with Orkney Folk festival) to Ethno Estonia. The weekend of May 28-31 alone provides a tricky choice between Morland Scottish Country Dancing Week; Druga Godba at Ljubijana in Slovenia; Pig’s Ear Folk Ale at Edenbridge in Kent; Blowout Bagpipe Festival in Tamworth; Coquet Creek Country Music Festival in Northumberland; Fire In The Mountain in Aberystwyth; Eigse Carlow Arts Festival in Ireland; the Kirtlington Lamb Ale Morris Festival in Oxfordshire and the International Gipsy Festival in Tilburg, Netherlands. Choices, choices. I was thinking of taking in a bit of Pig’s Ear Folk Ale before skipping up to Northumberland, popping in for some bagpipes in Tamworth, getting set on fire up a mountain in Aberystwyth, swimming across to Carlow for a bit of arts and then doing the Slovenia run via the gipsy festival in the Netherlands. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Given that little lot you imagine someone somewhere must be doing something right. So I then I began to ponder (always dodgy) and undertook a mission to discover if these 560 festivals (approximately) were all booking the same acts and, if so, who are they? Who are these festival icons who clean up every year! So I got the copy of fROOTS, made a couple of cocoa, laid on the floor and started counting up.

And that’s how I ended up in the asylum.

After about 364 hours of triple vision and extreme dizziness with hundreds of names and assorted ticks scrambled on random bits of paper, I suddenly had a better idea and decided to consult the websites of those artists whose names most frequently appeared on the lists. It’s a hopelessly inexact science, of course, which doesn’t really allow for author meltdown but a list I was determined to compile and so a list you now have.

I’ve probably missed out a few and I’m fully expecting the manager of some nu folk electro outfit to take to twitter berating me for not including them despite guest appearances at both Druga Godba in Ljubijana and the Knockengorroch World Ceilidh. Hey ho, I’ll just tell him I did it DELIBERATELY.

It turned out to be a very intense and close battle for that top spot with a couple of Anglos, a bunch of Canadians and a gaggle of Scots on the podium.

So…with great pride and exhaustion I give you the Top 10 Festival Acts of 2015 (In Some Parts Of Europe).

1. Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar –    17 festivals
2. Gordie McKeeman & His Rhythm Boys –  16
3. Peatbog Faeries        – 15
4. Mischa Macpherson Trio – 12
5= Show Of Hands –    11
5= The Unthanks —        11
5= Bob Fox            11
8 = Billy Bragg        10
8= Keston Cobblers Club    10
10= Young ‘Uns        9
10= Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra    9

I was immediately on to Ciaran Algar to bring him the good news that he and Greg are kings of the festivals.

Ciaran was delighted if somewhat bemused by news of the triumph. Fondly imagining him sipping champagne (is he old enough yet?) I asked to what he attributed this great achievement. Is it because they’re cheap?

“I wouldn’t say we’re cheap, although we may have to bump up our fees now! We absolutely love playing festivals and we always seem to go down well. I think organisers like us because we’re fairly adaptable to most environments, whether it’s a concert in front of 2,000 people or a bar stage in front of 20. We tend to have really enjoyable gigs whatever we’re doing and that’s fantastic for us.”

Catch ‘em at a festival near you soon. But sadly not Lubijana.

So any conclusions to be drawn here? Probably not. Greg and Ciaran are a superb young act who won the BBC Young Folk Award two years ago and, with last year’s Young Folk Award winner Mischa Macpherson claiming fourth spot, it suggests a healthy influx of youth is getting the chance to make its mark. Gordie McKeeman and Peatbog Faeries are guaranteed raise-the-roofers and the appearance on the list of Rob Heron & the Tea Pad Orchestra suggests they are heading in the same direction.

Seasoned acts like Show Of Hands, The Unthanks, Bob Fox and Billy Bragg are assured of delivering both big crowds and big performances, the Young ‘Uns are a vibrant act who merit every accolade accorded them and Keston Cobblers Club are an exciting band on the march doing something a little bit different. Put that lot on together at a festival and a good time will be had by all.

As for me, there’s a Pig’s Ear Folk Ale festival ticket with my name on it.

Colin Irwin