All’s well at Whitwell..
We had a really busy weekend just gone – with events on Friday and Sunday we wouldn’t have missed for the world, combined with the possibility of me finally getting completed on a new house we thought Whitwell might’ve been a step too far. Luckily the house move was delayed by a week – some hasty arrangements involving somewhere for us to park Ludo meant that we could at least make the Saturday. And it was sure worth it!
The festival nestles in the Whitwell Community Centre – what I’m presuming is a former school building eerily reminiscent of my old Primary school (which has long since been torn down and replaced by an old folks home!) – with a stage and stalls outside, and a couple more inside functioning as the second stage and an open mic performance area. Stalls ranged from food, clothing and of course a bar.
Upon advice of people who’d been there on the Friday I was pointed towards the cider bar to sample the Mango cider – it had sold out the night before, hasty new provisions had been sourced – and I took heed and made sure I got a few pints in before it had gone. My gosh, what a delicious drink… keep an eye out for Lilley’s Mango Cider – it really is a thing of beauty (not quite up there with Rockstock Pineapple cider for my money, but bloody nice!).
Musically the first act on were Morris and Watson on the indoor stage – Dan and Lizzie are a great combination, they started with a instrumental jig arrangement full of clever stops and pace changes, both keeping time wonderfully. All the more impressive considering Lizzie had been (potentially over-) celebrating her birthday the night before. Next up was The Path of Life – a track from their EP with Lizzie on main vocals with Dan harmonising for the chorus.
America provided the next couple of tracks – Three Thin Dimes and Devil’s Dream had the feet tapping and the potential to open up a whole new seam of music I’m largely unaware of at present! Next up was ‘the political song’ (I still don’t know what it’s called), but certainly as Dan strikes up his guitar it’s very reminiscent of Gaz Brookfield’s style of playing, the lyrical refrain of the poor staying poor is pretty succinct in these times of austerity.
It was back over the Atlantic to Ireland for a trio of jigs mashed together – The Kesh, Tenpenny bit and Morrison’s – wonderfully delivered. A love song was up next, dedicated to Tim who was the only one soppy enough to ‘fess up to being in Love before Northern Mining Town – Dan’s tribute to his home town. We criss-crossed the Atlantic again – Arkansas Traveller was followed by another Irish tune I missed the name of.
Back to their own tunes, Convict’s Child was next, then back to the traditional with The Cuckoo’s Nest and Tobin’s Favourite – the final track was a re-arrangement of a Dubliners song about travellers – I must confess to being unfamiliar with the original so it’s hard to say whether it’s as much of a rip-off of it as Dan suggested! A cracking set – I really must get me an EP when they get some more pressed.
The outdoor stage was yet to spring into action, so we waited indoors for The Porch Lizards to get their not inconsiderable numbers lined up. A double-bass, mandolin, two guitars, slide guitar – no percussion, but plenty of rhythm provided with instruments and voices! A combination of bluegrass, folk and barbershop is the best way I can think to sum them up – Little Sadie was early in the set, a cover of The Eagles’ Seven Bridges set the pace for some eclectic song selections.
An original number (I’ve noted Caylan Boys but with some question marks after it). A cracking version of Wagon Wheel led into the final track a melodic cover of John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads. A really enjoyable set – I can’t help but think they’d be a nice accompaniment to The DH Lawrence Vaudeville Skiffle Show or Hagg Farm Conspiracy, maybe that’s something to consider in the future for a folk/Americana jamboree!
People had been arriving in earnest during this time – Dave had bought some Tippex especially to erase the superfluous ‘e’ that somebody had included on a menu including potatoes, meanwhile we were getting ready for the main stage to open. Bell Hagg Orchestra were a massive collective putting out a romany/baltic sounding folk cacophony. Think 3 Daft Monkeys without the fiddle and with a lot of extra stuff going on, and well, you’d have a rough approximation!
Indeed, the first couple of songs didn’t have any vocals beyond shouts and ‘heya’s – it was good energetic stuff though. A song about a hippy followed, then a folk ballad where size apparently matters. The crowd were coaxed into forming circles for the next song with quite a degree of success, I must say – I certainly joined in. The highlight for me was What The Papers Say though, a tongue-in-cheek song blaming all the world’s ills on Jeremy Corbyn (my favourite part including it being his fault someone had stepped on a piece of Lego).
We popped inside for a drink to stumble on Isaac playing on the open mic stage – we stayed to hear him playing Gaz Brookfield’s Bigger Man and then Ferocious Dog’s Too Late (with Kev stepping up to sing the vocals) – impressive stuff from the young ‘un, he’s getting really good! We stuck around for some spoken word from Jethro – who had an interesting method for applying the sponge bit to his microphone before bringing the laughs with a poem about his ‘future aunty’ Irene.
Next up was a very pensive looking Scott Doonican – I’m not sure why, he’s very eloquent – he chose to describe then play three Doonicans songs. One about Alan #1 losing his wig in America on Route 66, Frisky in the Jar might be hilarious but was obviously born of more serious matters – it was amusing though when Bart noted whilst Scott was telling us the back story the band on the main stage was playing Whiskey in the Jar at the same time!
On the indoor stage we caught a fleeting glimpse of Schrödinger’s Strings which I’m sad not to have seen more of – mainly because they had two harps and a guitar, a most original arrangement to deliver rock music! Alas they were pretty much finished so we headed outside for Nobody’s Heroes – ostensibly a Stiff Little Fingers tribute band, but they threw a few other punk classics into the mix, Silver Lining, I Fought The Law and Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t) were the stand-out tracks for me.
Next up were The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican – more familiar territory for Scott so he was looking a lot more comfortable. Their intro recording was triggered by Faith, the grand daughter of the chap introducing the bands and, well, regular readers will know what to expect from a BSVD set by now! They started up with Massage In A Brothel, then Nando’s – glancing around the crowd there were a lot of local folk who might not have been as familiar as us with the songs, so there was that delightful first time realisation of what was happening to witness.
Walking in Man-piss brought more laughs – and then an introduction to one of Barnsley’s finer areas was introduced through the medium of She’s From Dodworth. (If I Could Punch a Face) It’d be Justin Bieber’s brought more laughter, as did Lady in Greggs. It was time for Rachel – clad in her womble costume, which I discovered isn’t her womble costume, briliantly she hires it every time she’s needed in her guise of wimble – to lead the conga line for Kanye West is a Cockwomble. And a magnificent conga-line it was too!
The Devil Went Down to Barnsley loses a bit of its theatre without Tom cavorting behorned around the stage, but it certainly works to get the crowd livened up. The set finished up with a house rendition of Jump Arahnd – great crowd participation including surfing Scott over to the outside bar and back with his pint intact. A cracking set. With Alan Doonican involved in organising the festival it was fun seeing folk who clearly knew him but perhaps had not seen his alter-ego before perhaps beyond social media!
Indoors we caught a bit of the set from Blue Sunshine (sorry, I couldn’t find a link!) – soulful solo acoustic, sung from a ridiculous distance from the microphone, does that make for a powerful voice? I guess so! It was impressive! We caught original songs Devil Moon and Blue Sunshine before a really nice cover of The Mamas and the Papas’ California Dreaming. I didn’t manage to catch the title of the song she finished up with – another new artist that’s worth keeping an eye out for on your musical travels.
Then it was on to the ‘leather section’ of the evening – starting with The Leathernecks who played an energetic set of indie and rock covers. Song 2, I Predict A Riot, A Town Called Malice, Chelsea Dagger and even a brief interlude of La Bamba went down very well indeed with the crowd – they finished up with their own song Bunny Boiler (which has an amusing video that accompanies it should you want to check it out!).
Next up were Leatherat – a properly exciting prospect, I’ve not seen them in ages – and boy they didn’t let me down in my anticipation of them. I missed the name of the opening track, second they launched into Whisky in the Jar – the third time we’d heard the song in the day! Old Dog was followed by High Friends (in Low Places). A frenetic cover of The Rocky Road to Dublin and even a song about Banbury, much to the delight of Maty!
They finished up what seemed like an all-too-short set to me with Stop and Large One – I hope this portends more gigging from Leatherat in the near future, I’m well up for getting more acquainted with them again! Over in the open-mic area a chap called Morgan was teaching Isaac some loop pedal tricks, Kev got up to play Good Riddance and Slow Motion Suicide before Morgan took to the stage to play Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud.
But then it was time for Funke and the Two Tone Baby, we’d had a nice chat with Dan earlier in the day, it’s always exciting seeing him perform. Feeling de-energised I found a handy seat by the stage – plus I wanted to actually watch him perform instead of being lured into dancing. He kicked in with Never Used to Dance and then Bella’s Kiss (more on that song later – I’ve a mind to do a ‘what’s that song about’ piece on this one).
Cannonball and If You’re Nice To Me slowly saw the bindi Lizzie had planted on him moving half-way across his forehead – he did better than me, adorned at the same time mine had long since disappeared! The Office Song (as I’ve dubbed it) feels very familiar now, and then it was time for The Great Storm. By this point Brian had also appeared on a chair near me, it clearly confused Dan as we’re normally amongst his more active crowd members – he dedicated I’m Not Well to us – bless him!
By this point the frenetic nature of his set and the rammed room has rendered him literally dripping with sweat – it’d be interesting to strap a calorie counter to Funke and Gaz and see who burns more in an hour’s playing! Next up was a new song, it was more overtly dancy with Indian sounding guitar picky interludes and chanted/rapped vocals – it sounded bloody ace. It was called The Signal Is Cut – looking forward to hearing it some more!
The final track was of course Not Enough Bonobo – in the absence of Tom or Andy to provide a hairy dancing accompaniment eventually Scott and Maty tumbled on to the stage instead. There was an alarming stage revelation about where Scott might’ve put his hands too – but I shall say no more about that! An encore was very loudly demanded – and duly obliged with a raucous rendition of 54-46 That’s My Number. A superb set.
As if that wasn’t enough (it probably was, I was shattered!) outside Jungle Lion were limbering up to deliver a wonderful set of ska and two-tone – initially we’d started on the peripheries seeking out folk to start to say goodbye to, but with a soundtrack including the likes of Too Much Pressure, On My Radio, Gangsters, One Step Beyond, Night Boat to Cairo and A Message to You Rudy we were drawn inexorably into the eye of the mosh pit.
They finished up with a cracking rendition of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds – by which point we’d found most people to part company with, heading back to where we’d parked the van to get some sleep. Whitwell Festival was a superb event – I’m sad to have not been able to commit to the whole line-up, if Saturday was anything to go by it was certain to be a real treat. Brilliantly organised, a great feeling from the crowd – I shall be keeping an eye out for next year!