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Shepley Spring Festival
The first thing that comes to mind whenever I return to Shepley is the clear memory of the previous festival, together with lingering memories of festivals prior to that. Then there's the steadily fading memory of the village cricket field, the former festival site just over the road from the present one. This weekend I thought of those things as the festival prepared to celebrate its tenth year, very much noticing also the things that tend not to change as well. The steady incline up Marsh Lane for instance, leading from the Black Bull pub at the bottom of the hill up to the Festival Village by way of St Paul's Parish Church and the neighbouring Village Hall, together with the uneven pavement at the corner of the cottage next to the Farmer's Boy pub, where last year I accidentally stumbled, effectively treating myself to a blue ankle and a limp to go with it - and I hadn't had a single drop, honest Guv. Then there's the ever impressive panoramic views of the verdant meadows of Denby Dale, with their familiar dry stone walls, the tireless work of such stonemasons as the Noble family, whose presence at this festival is just as reliable as the changing spells in the weather. This is the Shepley Spring Festival and no matter what the weather, the atmosphere can always be relied upon, together with the high standard of music and entertainment for festival goers of all ages.
Although the festival got under way mid-Friday afternoon in the Village Hall, the music apparently began the previous evening with a warm up concert in the festival bar with the Ale Marys, a relatively local band, entertaining a crowd of early arrivals and hard-working festival staff, relaxing after their mammoth task of erecting marquees, stalls and fairground rides in time for the official opening on Friday afternoon. Those fairground rides stood still, glistening with raindrops as I made my way across the field, enjoying the occasional hug and greeting which were conducted through brightly coloured shiny Kagools. In fairer weather, there's usually a buzz going around the festival site by Friday afternoon but this year the drizzle added a sort of melancholy air as early arrivals headed down to the much drier refuge of the Village Hall, just in time for the opening concert.
The concert opened with a few words from Dave Eyre, who presided over proceedings, introducing first of all the North East-based trio Night Fall, whose relaxed set featured some of the songs included on the trio's debut EP, including Radcliffe Highway, All Amongst the Barley and Robin Hood and the Peddler, each featuring the confident voice of Kate Locksley, previously seen on this stage with her regular a cappella quartet The Tea Cups a few years ago, together with Dave Wood on guitar and Kevin Lees on fiddle. The vibrant song and dance outfit Stepling followed with their own brand of percussive dance moves, showcasing the nifty footwork of Toby Bennett, whilst the concert prepared for the debut appearance (anywhere) by a band led by the Wiltshire-born, now Sheffield-based singer, Rosie Hood. Joining Rosie onstage were Ollie King on accordion and banjo, Emma Smith on double bass and Nicola Beazley on fiddle, whose delicate arrangements perfectly supported the traditional songs performed.
It wasn't the best attended opening Friday on record, which may have had something to do with the soggy weather, but by late afternoon it had cheered up sufficiently for people to mill around the bar area and conduct their annual catch-up. Rosie and her band concluded the afternoon concert in the Village Hall and then hot-footed it over to the main stage to kick off the evening concert, this time presided over by local folk hero and radio presenter Sam Hindley. Fourth Moon delighted the audience with an instrumental workout, the band's concertina maestro Mohsen Amini having played at the festival previously in his other outfit Talisk, this being Fourth Moon's first appearance in England. By way of contrast, Belinda O'Hooley and Heidi Tidow returned to the festival with an engaging set of self-penned songs, interspersed with thier own brand of gentle humour, whilst the Friday evening concert was dominated by the highly innovative Moulettes, who provided an energy-fuelled set of highly original material, fronted by the charismatic Hannah Miller on cello and the equally charismatic singer and guitarist Raevennan Husbandes.
Getting around to see everything at Shepley, as with most outdoor festivals with more than one stage, is nigh on impossible, even with a car, a nosey nature, an access all areas pass and no intention of spending more than ten minutes in the bar. It was still difficult to see everything, but quite easy to see everything I wanted to see. Returning to the village on Saturday morning after a good night's kip, I noticed the sun was shining down on the village from the top of the hillside above Shepley, suitable weather then for morning Café et Gateau in the company of Flossie Malavialle, who fielded questions from the incomparable Dave Eyre. With sunlight filtering through the stained-glass windows of the Church, Flossie talked about her early life in the South of France, her family life, her early musical influences, through to her eventual move to the UK and the pursuit of living a fairly simple life. Performing the old Lennon McCartney song Let It Be in a church at 10.30am on a Saturday morning seemed right somehow. Closing with Jacques Brel's Ne Me Quitte Pas, Flossie left us all feeling rather refreshed and relaxed for the remainder of the afternoon.
As the Horwich Prize Medal and Five Rivers Morris Teams brought some of their respective traditions to the Cliffe House car park, a small group of singers heralded in the afternoon with both traditional and contemporary songs, hosted by the traditional folk trio 3Jays in the Coach House. Saturday also saw several notable performances on the main stage with both Night Fall and Stepling appearing once again, together with the Teeside-born, now Cambridge-based duo Megson, who played their main stage set, followed by a family show in the bar, aimed at a much younger audience. By mid-afternoon, a fair crowd had gathered in the pews of the church for festival patron Roy Bailey's hour-long set, accompanied once again by regular collaborator and good pal, Marc Block. It has become something of a tradition to find Roy at the Festival during this time slot, where his infectious warmth and humility is always something very much to behold.
As Roy brought his set to a close, a set that included one or two songs for the younger members of the audience, local songwriter Roger Davies opened the afternoon concert in the Village Hall with a selection of self-penned songs on subjects quite familiar to this particular area of the country. The young Hertfordshire-based singer songwriter Kelly Oliver followed with a short set featuring a handful of her own self-penned songs, concluding with a fine version of Bob Dylan's Boots of Spanish Leather, reminding me once again to tell people who continue to dislike Dylan, to just listen to Boots of Spanish Leather again. Progressive Bluegrass trio Stillhouse made their festival debut with a fine set of intricate melodies and mature musicianship, featuing Jonny Neaves' highly personal songs, Polly Bolton's dexterous mandolin playing and Texan Matthew Mefford's driving double bass. Then to conclude, having started the day in church, Flossie Malavialle went on to headline the afternoon concert with a fine set, her song selections interspersed with plenty of her own indiosyncratic humour.
As the sun set on a fine Shepley Saturday evening, the main concert saw the Aldyn Duo kick off with a couple of tunes, followed by Nordic Fiddlers Bloc, whose blend of Norwegian, Swedish and Scots fiddle tunes brought with them some fine Scandinavian musicianship. Kelly Oliver returned for her second set of the weekend, this time on the main stage, making it look easy, especially for a young solo performer, who sang many of her own songs along with a fine interpretation of the Lakes of Ponchartrain. If only one band is remembered from Shepley 2017 it will probably be East Pointers, a trio of fine young musicians from Prince Edward Island, Canada, featuring banjo player Koady Chaisson, fiddle player Tim Chaisson and guitarist Jake Charron, whose highly charged set effectively made them the sweethearts of the festival. I would sympathise with any band that had to follow East Pointers, but Eliza Carthy and the Wayward Band are an exception, a band that dominate the stage wherever they perform, with their daring showmanship and tight musicality. Theatrical, almost acrobatic, thoroughly engaging, these otherwise mild-mannered musicians slap on the war paint and give the audience precisely what they want, a seventy-five minute full-on energy-driven extravaganza; if Bellowhead did what they did on real ale, then this band do it on Red Bull and caffeine, or at least that's how it seems.
On Sunday morning, festival organiser and familiar face to all Shepley visitors, Nikki Hampson, was up bright and early to introduce the three Nordic Fiddlers Bloc musicians for an informal 'meet the band' session in the Village Hall, where they discussed their music, whilst playing a selection of tunes and answering questions from the floor. I was fortunate to catch a little bit of the relaxed session, which drew a fair sized crowd before popping down to the Coach House, to find Pippa Noble singing one or two traditional songs with a voice that once heard, you have difficulty getting it out of your head, as if you would ever want to.
As the afternoon concert got underway, the audience settled into their seats for performances by singer songwriters Jack Patchett and later Nova Scotia's Mo Kenney, whose set concluded with a rather tastefully rendered Five Years from Bowie's classic Ziggy Stardust period. Duncan McFarlane was having none of it though, leaping from the stage towards the end of his band's set, literally dragging members of the audience up on their feet to dance along with dancing Dave, a regular festival face. Down the road in the church, a small audience gathered for the annual festival interview conducted once again by Dave Eyre, whose interviewees this year were Barry Coope, Jim Boyes and Lester Simpson, the well established a cappella trio who are currently in the process of dismantling their popular outfit, slightly jaded after twenty-five years together.
Having launched their new album earlier in the day, the trio Moirai headlined the afternoon concert in the Village Hall with Jo Freya on all manner of woodwind instruments, Melanie Biggs on accordion and Sarah Matthews on fiddle, with all three singing. Completing another excellent afternoon concert, which also saw performances by The Bromleys, Kelly Oliver and Mo Kenney, Moirai performed some of the songs from the album HERE AND NOW, including the opening song Dust If You Must.
When Sunday evening draws near at Shepley, the emphasis is focused solely on the main marquee as the final concert approaches. The Village Hall and Church close their doors as does the Coach House, with just a handful of people left in the bar, whilst everybody else fills the main marquee for the home run. This year the five-piece instrumental tour de force Ímar kicked off the closing concert with their own brand of traditional Celtic music mixing their respective Irish, Scots and Manx backgrounds to create something new and vibrant, based on much older material. Tim Edey followed with an astonishing set of songs and tunes accompanying himself on both guitar and melodeon and occasionally both at the same time by way of a loop pedal. Tim Edey also happens to be one of the nicest, most approachable people on this or any other music scene; a truly lovely man and a pleasure to be around.
Closing the concert, headliners Coope Boyes and Simpson brought to the party a set of a cappella songs that soon had everyone in the marquee singing along, before the traditional conclusion, which saw Nikki Hampson deliver her impassioned acknowledgements and thank you's. Concluding with Will Noble's reading of the traditional Pratty Flowers, sometimes referred to as the Holmfirth Anthem, complete with a clearly audible Coope, Boyes and Simpson accompaniment side stage, helped along by the backstage crew, the festival reached a fine conclusion.