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Barnsley Acoustic Roots Day

The second annual Barnsley Acoustic Roots Day widened its remit today, stretching its programme further to include two main concerts. Last year's event, which then featured just the two acts, Georgia's Larkin Poe and their friend and musical collaborator Blair Dunlop, was so successful that this time the event included no less than six popular acts on the folk and acoustic music scene. Choosing a handful of established musicians, including Sheffield's Melrose Quartet, Doncaster's Rita Payne, York's Blackbeard's Tea Party and Barnsley's Dave Burland, the programme also included two acts new to a lot of people in this area, Milwaukee's Peter Mulvey and one of the newest folk combos on the British folk scene, Dovetail Trio.

The Horizon Community College in Barnsley provided the venue for this all-day event, which not only featured the two main concerts in their impressive purpose-built theatre but also dance displays in the bar area and craft stalls in the expansive main foyer. One of the dance teams, the Horizon Hellbillies, who recently took part in the national Dancing England Rapper Tournament (DERT) in Leeds, opened the afternoon concert in the theatre, having only been asked moments earlier, in order to provide an entertaining start to the concert as the audience took their seats.

Organised in partnership with the College and the Barnsley Acoustic Roots Festival, with Dave Burland, one of the festival's two patrons in attendance, the fun day was unfortunately in direct competition with Mothering Sunday hence the half-full venue. You might notice that for the sake of positivity and optimism I chose the 'half-full' option rather than the submissive alternative. The Barnsley Acoustic Roots Fesival organisers have always strived for excellence in their programming over the years, bringing some of the most important names on the acoustic music scene to the town, including Eliza Carthy, Show of Hands, Lau, Martin Simpson, The Demon Barbers, Cara Dillon, Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman and Karine Polwart to name but a few, so it will always be a complete mystery why these music events are not selling out immediately. Maybe this time it was due to Mother's Day and was therefore unavoidable, but fortunately those who did attend had a very good day indeed, whether they were actually taking part in the foyer, the bar or the main auditorium or just relaxing to some good music and songs.

Doncaster's Rita Payne opened the concert after the surprise rapper dancers, with a set made up of new songs from their forthcoming second album as well as a couple of familiar ones from their established repertoire. With dozens (if not hundreds) of gigs under their belt so far, it became immediately apparent that the duo's stage craft has organically evolved into something quite engaging, with Pete and Rhiannon have no difficulty holding an audience's attention not only with their songs, but also with their relaxed between song patter.

The musician who probably travelled the furthest today was Milwaukee-based singer/songwriter Peter Mulvey, who delivered a fine set of self-penned songs, some of which were being introduced for the first time to UK audiences. Opening with You Don't Have To Tell Me, from his brand new Chuck Prophet-produced album Silver Ladder, the songwriter relaxed into an assured set of mature songs augmented by some well-travelled and anecdotal stories.

Headlining the afternoon concerts was Sheffield's Melrose Quartet, featuring the combined forces of two very well established duos, Nancy Kerr and James Fagan and Jess and Richard Arrowsmith. With some fine four-part harmonies and great musicianship, the quartet dazzled the audience with their fine four-part harmonies, with every word clearly audible thanks to the expertise of the sound crew at the theatre. The quartet, who were one of the four bands nominated for the award in the Best Band category at this year's BBC Folk Awards, delivered an impressive hour of skillfully arrranged traditional songs. 

After a break, the evening concert opened with one of the folk scene's newest outfits, Dovetail Trio featuring Sheffield's Rosie Hood, Barnsley's Jamie Roberts and Brighton's Matt Quinn. The trio played their own arrangements of both traditional and contemporary material, with some fine musicianship and accompanying harmony singing. Opening with the traditional When I Was a Young Maid, the three slightly nervous musicians soon settled into their set before an appreciative audience.

The name Dave Burland is synonymous with the town of Barnsley and once again the singer returned to his home turf to perform some of the songs he is best known for, such the traditional Banks of the Sweet Primroses, his own The King George Hunt, Cyril Tawney's The Grey Funnel Line and Richard Thompson's bleak The Poor Ditching Boy together with one or two music hall songs such as The Twenty Pound Dog. Paying a heartfelt tribute to his late mother in celebration of Mother's Day, Dave sang one of her favourite songs The Water is Wide before finishing with the old rock n roll Classic Don't Be Cruel

For a more than suitable conclusion to what turned out to be a great day of music, the York-based ceilidh band Blackbeard's Tea Party delivered a highly energetic performance, which would almost certainly had people up on the dance floor, had there been a dance floor to dance on. A great fun set from six energetic musicians who covered more ground during their set than most and that included the steps, the aisles and the backstage area.
 
Emerging from the Horizon Community College as darkness hovered over the sleepy town of Barnsley, the foyer now cleared of any trace of a bustling craft stalls that had taken up residence during the afternoon, all ready to return to normal business as usual on Monday morning, the urge to wind down the car window as I made my way home and tell the locals what they had just missed was thankfully resisted, but only just. Will there be another one next year? I sincerely hope so, but it will need to be better supported.
 
I mean, all this for just a tenner?
 
Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky