Ely Folk Festival - A Review
Flavour Of Friday (by Johnny Glover)
Before you read this let me put my folk credentials on the table; I don't got none. I'd never heard of any of the acts but was prepared for anything. But then; wait a minute. I've had Fairport Covention compilation tapes knocked up for me before, watched Richard Thompson live, can sing a mean version of 'All around my hat' and have albums by 'almost folkies' such as Ezio (from Cambridge), Billy Bragg, Lyle Lovett and the slower stuff by Elvis Costello. At the risk of being smacked around the head with a Bodhran, I'd say, folk-wise, I was primed and ready to experience this 'real' slice of Folk.
The fact that the folk weekend took place at all is a tribute to the Committee and to the council. I was away for the two weeks leading up to the festival but followed the unfolding story of the pocket park occupation with interest (the power of EOL !!). However, everything came good in the end and as the message that accompanied my programme declared: 'We would like to say a big thanks to the Ely Outdoor Sports Association for stepping in at the last minute, allowing us to use the rugby club site and basically enabling this year's festival to go ahead'- and so say all of us.
The intrepid EOL team arrived in time to chat to Dave Wolfe, committee member, who looked visibly relieved that the festival had actually got under way. His comments that the facilities at The Rugby club could even be better than the pocket park will have to be answered by the campers- let us know what you thought. One thing the travellers couldn't alter was the view. Whether from river or field side, the 'Ship Of The Fens' (that's the Cathedral) was still afloat, presiding over proceedings and providing the perfect backdrop.
You're probably wondering if, after 300 words, I actually heard any music. Well, yes. But first we had to check out the sideshows as the first pint of Dragon Slayer slid down the throat. The Ely On-Line brief was to capture the 'flavour' of the festival. And flavour we got. Amongst the food stalls, circus tent and instrument sellers there was a curio in the shape of a joke shop and I had to laugh at oddities such as the 'body parts in slime' and the fantastically named 'stretch lizards'. One for the kids I think. We were drawn magnetically to the funny hat stall and as you can see, I look rather fetching.
First up was Dan McKinnon, a Canadian songwriter and interpreter of traditional songs. His gravely voice was a pleasure and he had a neat line in between song patter, bemoaning the lack of money involved in being a folk singer.
Another quick visit to the beer tent and a listen to the scratch band and it was back to catch Martin Simpson and wife Jessica Ruby Simpson. Now living in the States, 47 year old Simpson has played with such folk stalwarts as Richard Thompson and Steeleye Span. His reputation as a guitarist goes before him if the shouts and whoops and hollers were anything to go by as he came onstage. His slide guitar and technique was fantastic and songs such as 'Forgotten the blues' and the encore 'Sailing away' were stand out to go with songs by his wife such as 'The kindness of strangers'. As the set finished and the beer tent called a voice was heard to say, 'That Martin Simpson plays the guitar like he's got fifteen fingers'. In fact before the encore the compere came on and could see that the audience were jealous and said 'I'd better tell you about the fire regulations! When you start burning your guitars make sure it's away from the tent!'
The beer tent yielded more excellent fiddle dee dee and a laugh in the sign next to the bar- 'rules of the bar- 'don't ask for babycham'. By this time the real ale was sinking in and it was becoming like a serial slasher film...Dragon Slayer 4 ! If you were there, you probably heard me.
By this time, as darkness fell on the site and the smells from the Caribbean stall were beginning to inveigle their way into my senses a 'festival related conversation' sprang up with the back drop of more beer tent shenanigans. As Glastonbury veterans, with five tours under our belts the talk turned to festival atmoss. This is what Glasto USED to be like we agreed. Admittedly, we first went to Glasto in '83, but it was still in the days when Melanie (yes- that Melanie) could headline a Saturday night, before the shootings, stabbings and thieving that has gone on since. In the time span of our visits, it went from 30,00 hippies to 120,000 corporate fun-seekers and went downhill as a result. In all my visits to the Pilton Jazz and Blues festival the only violence was when a drunken druid stumbled over the wares of a hippy sandal seller. As the druid jay-walked across his display, dislodging the leatherware he rushed out of his deck chair in super slo-mo and slapped the druid on the back with the palm of his hand, 'Hey Man, watch the shoes !' he quivered indignantly. The druid turned round and slurred- 'ok'. He probably went back to his accountancy practice on the Monday following, of course. Anyway, as I say, the beer, the smells, the music - Hmmmm. For Ely 2000 read Glasto pre- commercialism. Bang On ! Mad for it ! All this meandering leaves me wondering how the EOL picture editor is going to insert the cunningly download digital images we took at the time...Time for there humorous mask shot mayhap ??? Or the sun going down over Little Downham ??
After Jerky Chicken and spicy rice (you would not believe JUST how good that was) we meandered back to the main tent for Bakka Beyond; the reggae, South African tinged outfit. I'll let the programme describe them; 'Upbeat acoustic dance music from six countries including West Africa and Celtic Europe...playing delightful harmonies and a rhythmic delicacy imported directly from the African rainforest'. The flaxen haired singer also wore the finest pair of trousers I've seen for a while. The Bakka's (as we now call them) had people dancing at the front and the festival was cooking on something rather hot.
As the music in the main tent wound down, it was time for a bop in the shape of the Ceilidh and the local Wide Glide Band featuring EOL contact, Dave Wolfe. As the band warmed up and muscles were flexed ready for the ensuing dance floor action, streams of people came over from the main tent; past the stalls, the circus and the tents. Now THIS is how to finish the day off- no cocoa for me granddad I'm off to throw some shapes. As the EOL contingent stood open mouthed as the caller bellowed out the logarithmically difficult dance steps we felt the urge to join in but the beer had taken control of my legs. We watch, enthralled as battle commenced...a whirlygig of legs, hair, denim, stale beer...and beards.
Ok...give me a break. It's taken me almost 1200 words before I've mentioned the B word. The first time I went to Glastonbury, Alexie Sayle was a compere. He strode onto the stage and yelled...'You're a bunch of bloody hippies. I bet you sit around all day knitting your own yoghurt !'
And that was Friday. I'm converted. I'll look beyond the Billy Bragg Woody Guthrie tributes and Lyle Lovett and investigate Martin Simpson and Dan McKinnon. Just like Arnie.......I'll be back. And so should you be.