|The Great British Folk Festival 2019|
29th Nov - 2nd Dec 2019
Butlins Resort, Skegness, Lincolnshire, PE25 1NJ, United Kingdom
Once again, The Great British Folk Festival established itself as arguably THE winter festival for lovers of Folk Music, in all its many guises. This old reviewer is becoming even more evangelical about the wonders of Butlins Festival Weekends with every visit. They really are fabulous. The folk bash attracts top artists, the audience warm and appreciative, and Butlins Resorts (This one is held in Skegness) are absolutely ideal locations for a musical winter break. Great facilities, oodles of accommodation and dining options to suit most tastes and pockets, large auditoria, and a genuine festival feel. The Butlins Skegness Resort is massive and provides a whole host of bars, restaurants, and non-music activities to deliver a fun-packed weekend. There are Water Parks, Spa & Gyms, Bowling Alleys, the obligatory Crazy Golf… and FFA even happened across a large Snooker Hall with a dozen tables! The list goes on. For a great location to get your winter music fix – there really is nowhere better. Throw in a warm bed, your own facilities, and around forty quality acts over a packed weekend, and events like GBFF really are festivals without the hassle.
Whilst GBFF rightly covers all the wonderfully diverse aspects of the Folk, Roots, and Acoustic scenes in all their glory – there was definitely a ‘theme’ to GBFF 2019… The SCOTS were in town! With Saltires flying and the good-times rolling – no one would have guessed it was St Andrews weekend. The schedule was laced with the Scottish contingent, and all the better for it. This Reviewer has never really experienced a full-on Gaelic sing-along before … and it was wonderful.
Some fabulous artists appeared over the multiple stages across the weekend, but be warned, although large auditoria, some Butlins weekends like GBFF operate a dual main-stage policy, so band clashes are inevitable, and sometimes demand outstrips supply and access may be denied to stages once capacity is reached. It pays to get in early to watch the acts you really want to see. Your intrepid Reviewers were gutted to miss Barbara Dixon as the lovely lady had filled Centre Stage to the gunnels. Normally things are fine and acts are staggered by 15 minutes or so – plus the stages are only a minute apart – so it’s easy to hop between the stages at will and catch elements of competing sets if that’s your bag. GBFF offers more of a Musical Cabaret experience as all stages offer tabled seating. Demand for this again sometimes outstrips supply and admission does not guarantee you a seat, or a view! Please remember you have not paid for a formal concert theatre numbered seat – the only difference between the seated and someone standing in front of them is that one is lucky enough to have a chair!
Now here is a rundown of what worked for FFA Reviewers; it’s not a list of every band – logistics, copy space, (and drink), saw to that. If you were lucky enough to attend and we’ve missed some of your favourites, then sorry. So it goes.
Reg Meuross – what a card! Storyteller, Joker, fine singer-songwriter, and all-round good guy. The excellent ‘Phil Ochs and Elvis Eating Lunch in Morrisons Café’ perhaps the finest song of a fine bunch. A great start to proceedings for FFA. Cara Dillon was absolutely stunning, and surrounded by some excellent musicians, not least husband and talented Lakeman family member, Sam. The woman is blessed with a beautiful voice of pure clarity; when singing Acapella the spine tingled, and when the full band kicked in for songs like ‘Hill of Thieves’ you just knew that Friday was going to be A. Good. Day.
So it proved with GBFF favourites and headliners Merry Hell. This was a stunning set and one of the highlights of the entire festival. A fabulous outfit right at the top of their game. There is a new maturity and stage dynamic to this band in recent years; with laughter and tears, comedy and tragedy, expressed in equal measure. There is also an honesty and humanity about Merry Hell which makes them a pleasure to watch. From the rollicking sing-along of ‘The Baker’s Daughter’ to the poignant ‘We Need Each Other Now’, these guys swing effortlessly through the full range of human emotions. As our divided country drifts towards insanity and self-harm, their powerful lyrics of compassion, understanding, tolerance, and community have never been more welcome. A social conscience with its dancing clogs on, this is one hell of a band. It was one hell of a night. Excellent.
Loved Banter! Following his guest spot with Merry Hell, melodeonist Simon Care and compatriots Nina Zella and Tim Walker excelled with some lovely tunes. Banter by name – banter by nature… some of the interplay between Walker and Care was excellent and the voice of Zella at times reminded this reviewer of Florence Welsh at her best. Any outfit that can seamlessly integrate Mongolian Throat Singing into their set deserves all the accolades! A hugely entertaining trio.
Martyn Joseph and his percussive guitar style was outstanding. Not only were the crowd understandably in full voice for a stunning version of ‘I Searched For You’, but his eloquent tribute to Nye Bevan and the NHS rightly went down a storm. The best artists never berate an audience to emphasise a point, rather they gently lead them towards a viewpoint through their words and music. His homage to the ethos driving the NHS’s founder brought a tear to this wizened, cynical Reviewers eye. Never has a standing ovation been more justified.
“For no society can call itself civilised / If the sick are denied through lack of means / And if you don’t believe me take a plane my friend / Go break your arm, see what it costs in New Orleans…
… And the purpose of power is to give it away / This is my truth tell me yours / And freedom won’t be freedom until poverty is gone / So Nye, your dream’s alive and strong”
Blimey, Tom Robinson can still cut the mustard. As much Raconteur as musician these days, Robinson had the crowd enthralled with life tales and observations. The reception for ‘Glad To Be Gay’ was as heart-warming as the lyrics of ‘Up Against The Wall’ remain as cutting and relevant today as forty years ago. Cracking set. The Peatbog Faeries did for FFA. This Reviewer found their psychedelic Croft/House Folk an absolute delight. Perhaps unsuited for a predominantly seated gig, nonetheless, the guys rocked the joint. One of the sets of the day.
Fellow Scots, The Red Hot Chilli Pipers blend of pop-rock and bagpipes had the sing-along crowd in fine voice over in a packed Reds. A great good-time show and a worthy Saturday Headliner.
A fun-packed day. 2018 Introducing Stage Winners The Shackleton Trio rightly returned for a lovely early doors appearance with some neat vocal harmonies, whilst old stager Charlie Dore, surrounded by some excellent musicians, excelled.
Some great acts appeared on the Introducing Stage over the weekend, but FFA's tip for the top has to be Gabriel Moreno & The Quivering Poet. This was Beat Poet meets Pop Star stuff. One to watch. A Winter Union delivered a really lovely seasonal feel to proceedings with gentle yuletide folk melodies and some excellent slide guitar. Steeleye Span delivered a fine set, laced with newer material, but it was the reformatted old classics like ‘Thomas The Rhymer’ that brought the house down. Prior listed some of the all-time great folk musicians who have been part of the Span family through the years, but make no mistake, this latest incarnation is top drawer. It was left to Skipinnish to close the show for FFA with a great set of Highlands fuelled Celtic mayhem. With a number of songs in Gaelic, including an excellent ‘Alba’ cover, the band got a tremendous crowd reaction. St Andrew would have been proud to walk those hallowed halls of the Skyline that weekend.
The Great British Folk Festival 2019 proved once again to be one of the highlights of the winter folk calendar. It really is a cracking weekend.
Article & Snaps by Barrie Dimond