As this year’s Ely Folk Festival has been cancelled, like all other festivals, because of the currently ongoing Coronavirus pandemic let’s take a look back at a previous one from 2009.
The Ely Online team ventured once again to The Ely Folk Festival to, hopefully, capture the spirit of the event. With myself (John Glover – pictured above) on pencil and paper and Karl Bedingfield (the camera) we hope to give you a slice of the festival from a non-folkie perspective. Holly and Mike were our ears and eyes on site and completed the Ely Online team. This, the 24th Festival, had a great line-up and the prospect of some decent weather. For my take of the Festival, read on:
The Week Before
As per, my Folk Festival week began on the Monday with a diligent trawl through the Artist list and some googling. Ely Online once more were given the opportunity to see the festival from a non-folkie perspective. Luckily for the uninformed (me), Myspace is information HQ for most bands and some of their best choons. With headphones clamped on and downloading like a dervish I delved into this years selection.
Shortly, without moving an inch I was enjoying The Dog Roses (winners of the Band competition and first act on Friday), While & Matthews, Hot Lips and Chilli Fingers and, as they say, many many more. Yup, as usual the Ely Folk Festival was shaping up to be the varied line up of traditional and contemporary that we have come to expect. The Folk World must agree because this year the whole weekend was sold out before a note was played.
One of the nice things about the Ely Folk Festival is that you see a lot of the same faces every year and a thought occurred to me when I was travelling home on the train after work. A few Folkies with rucksacks were running down the platform to get their connection and I wondered if they knew what to expect if it was their first visit. Ely must be one of the prettiest places to arrive at on a train from either direction.
The music I was researching? This week’s earworm was “A Little Bit More Blue” by The Dog Roses, one of the most over the top, singable and downright uplifting songs I’ve ever heard. I eagerly awaited the live rendition when they opened the festival. As Band Competition winners they only had twenty minutes in which to showcase their talents and after introducing a song with the line, “Here’s a song about suicide” I knew I’d like them. I patiently waited for the big finish which would undoubtedly be my favouritist new song. Guess what? They didn’t play the bugger! When I spoke to them later in the beer tent they didn’t even recognise the song I was slurring about. I had to sing the chorus to remind them. The Ely Online team all agreed that The Dogs (as we now call them) should be given a slot in next year’s festival.
Strangefolk sounded suspiciously like Jefferson Airplane and even did a cover of “Somebody to Love”. The band has been around since 2002 and I have to agree with the programme blurb, that they played with total commitment.
Next up, after some Whitby Cod and Chips, was Something Nasty In the Woodshed. My scribbled notes said “Bagpipes with heavy metal guitar”. Not too far wrong as it turned out but there was much more to them. I loved their Shoogleniftyish grooves and reggae tinged instrumentals. They went down a treat.
I found a quiet seat at the back for Allan Taylor. Living in the States for years has influenced his troubadour tales which he’s gathered over the years from talking to strangers in bars which he says has cost him a lot of money. “The Veteran” was a particularly hairy tale of an encounter with a gun-toting Vietnam Vet. “Leaving at Dawn” is Allan’s reflection on the travails of earning your living as a musician. Other stand-out songs, “New York in the Seventies” and “Frenchtown” were expertly performed in his distinctive mellow tones.
It was during Allan Taylor’s set that I realised Ely On Line’s self-confessed Geek, Karl, was meddling about with his new phone. Little did I know that he was “Tweeting” from the festival. For those who’ve never heard of Twitter “don’t bother, it’s rubbish. I’m sticking to my Oxfam diary and scribbling notes.
Baka Beyond were the Friday headliners and are no strangers to Ely. They got the crowd dancing at the front and gave everyone a chance to throw some shapes as a warm up before the Ceilidh.
Then I wobbled home on my bike.
After a breakfast of paracetamol and a fry-up for brunch I made my way back down to the festival site in time to catch the excellent “The QP”. With new bassist Tim playing his first gig you might have expected a few wobbles here and there but they’d obviously blooded him well and a tight set of tunes and songs delighted the (for a Saturday afternoon) fullish marquee. This was a band that had more wind-power than me after a curry, at the top of a hill, on a windy day. At one point during the fabulous “Mexican Catharsis Set” they had a four-man front line of harmonica, flute, soprano saxophone and whistle blowing away at full throttle. Hexham Farmer featured the muscular harp playing of Will Pound and I’d have to say that The QP were my “Eureka Moment” of this year’s Festival. I always drone on about being a non-folkie but there is usually an act every year that really crowbars open my eyes to the thrill of Folk music. I suspect I’m not the only one who will name The QP as their favourite act from this years list.
Next up were Toy Hearts, a 5 piece Bluegrass band from Birmingham. They were the real deal and I wasn’t surprised to hear that they are off on a 5-week tour of the States quite soon. They played a captivating set full of blues, Western swing, bluegrass and some Sun-era Elvis Presley. I liked them – I liked them a lot. “The Captain” and “Stronger” were my faves.
A duo new to me was next on stage – While & Matthews. They said they were last at Ely when they could smell the sewerage plant. Hmm – that’d be the Pocket Park then! Chris quipped that they were covered in mosquito bites for days after playing on the old site. I can confirm that the Pocket Park still has a goodly population of mozzies just waiting to prey on bare flesh after the wife and I went down that way for a stroll on a warm evening recently. No problems with that kind of thing at the Footy Club.
Several times nominated for various Radio 2 Folk Awards, they have won the best duo at the 2009 folk awards – and I can see why. “Single Act of Kindness” and the incredibly sad “Comfort Women” were the stand out songs and they received an enormous cheer at the end of their set.
With a large black cloud hovering with malice aforethought above the Isle of Ely, festivalgoers headed for canvas. As Ely On Line traversed the site clutching pints of Dragon Slayer the “Sell Out” signs on the gate definitely spoke the truth.
My You Tube search for Flossie Malavialle had produced a few results and to be honest I had considered giving her a miss and going to watch Strange Folk for a second time. I’m glad I didn’t though because she was excellent. Despite having only lived in the UK for seven years she’s developed a rich Geordie accent which has produced a glorious Anglo-French brogue. She sang beautifully; “La Vie En Rose”, “The Road’s My Middle Name” and generally charmed the socks off the audience. And if that made you smile it means you were there.
Following Flossie was Edward II. Again, my Googling had led me to make notes such as “Folk/UB40”, which proved to be reasonably accurate with one huge difference – I’ve always been put off by Ali Campbell’s cod-Jamaican singing voice. Without an annoying vocal to put me off I was free to enjoy Edward II’s dance tunes of old England, sunny sexy grooves of reggae and lover’s rock. They certainly are a “crossover” act and they had Marquee 1 rocking.
And then – the rain began to fall. The Peatbog Faeries came on and it’s fair to say the audience were divided. I suspect that after all the dancing during Edward II’s set that it was like being asked if you want another slice of chocolate cake – more Folk than you can eat. Anyway, as The Faeries ripped up a storm to match the one outside, a large crowd formed at the front to bop the evening away while a portion of the more Traditional folkers slid away to the more gentle homes of the Beer Tent session or While & Matthews in Marquee 2. Personally I love the The Boggers after buying “Faerie Stories” but I can see why they split the crowd. I would imagine at a less “intimate” festival they would have had the Tent bursting at the seams. In fact they would have gone down well at Dance Island that was held last week just up the road.
The clouds parted and the sun shone. Sunday is traditionally chillin’ out day – take the sides off the marquees and sit outside.
Got down to the site for the tail end of Strangeworld’s set. Plenty of people had decided to keep out of the sun and they got a good reception. Next up was Adrian Nation. I remembered him from a couple of years ago and he did “Where the Lions Are”, “Brightest Star” and a song that, apparently, gets sung at his lad’s school called, “Set the Course”. In my review of Adrian’s last visit to EFF I mentioned he does a good line in Van Morrison sounding songs and I’ll stick by that.
Adam Brown and Alan MacLeod filled Marquee 2 and I was pleased that my on-going folk education led me to think, “Hmm..that one sounds like a song off Lau’s first album” as they squeezed and strummed their way through another funky folk tune. Yep – I’m into this folk stuff enough to recognise influences now. When Adam (3 time bodhran champ) started his finger-snapping solo, musos began to walk speedily from all directions of the site to the marquee to watch. Perfect entertainment for a sunny Sunday methinks.
More beer was taken on board while listening to The QP’s set in Marquee 2 but then I had to go to the Main Tent for Eric Bogle and John Munro. A couple of years ago I wrote how he won me over and in this, his last UK tour, he did it again. His between song anecdotes about leaving Scotland for Australia when he was 19 had the audience enthralled and his rendition of “And the band played Waltzing Matilda” was particularly poignant this week in view the events in Afghanistan. He received a standing ovation and the crowd demanded an encore. My backstage informant reports that Eric was reluctant to go back on stage but he did. I must confess, I’ve never been a big fan of encores – shows are paced to fit a mood, whether celebratory or dramatic. I always think it’s a bit anti-climatic to do another song after a tearjerker like “And the band”. However, the public are always right and Eric came back for well deserved thunderous applause.
Hot Lips and Chilli Fingers are usually a duo of Steve Lockwood and Chris Newman but they were augmented by Mark Russell from the Ceilidh Allstars on Bodhran and a bass player for this gig. Steve Lockwood is a true star and kept his powder dry for the first few songs by sitting down. After 15 minutes he was up dancing, running around the Marquee and whipping up a storm with his Harmonica. He changed the mood for a moving version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, which was fantastic. My version of the song, “While My Catarrh Gently Seeps” will soon be available on a Sinus Aid compilation CD.
Another band playing for the final time in the UK were Tanglefoot. They were introduced as old friends of the Ely Festival and Al Parrish was even wearing a spectacular green shirt apparently made by Ruth Bramley – is that true? The band energetically romped and stomped out favourites such as “Seven a side” and “Vimy” and Terry Young gave an impassioned speech on the dangers of Global Warming which turned out to be a sneaky attempt to sell some CD’s. Excellent stuff – and I have to admit that I loved them by the end of the set whereas when they came on stage I thought they were a “Spinal Tap” folk band – those curly perms must still be popular in Canada.
And Finally – along with increased signage at this year’s festival all the dogs had individual tags to identify them and over the 3 days I was enchanted by a little dog that was fussed over by its owners and anyone that saw her. I never discovered the mutts name but anyway, stand up (on yer hind legs) and take a bow (wow) – EFF Dog of The Year 2009 – Dog 20!
Ely Folk Festival Bar Manager Fil Utting-Brown with 2 lovely folk ladies.
Top 10 Songs From the Weekend (in no particular order)
- A Little Bit More Blue – The Dog Roses
- The Captain – Toy Hearts
- Mexican Catharsis Set – The QP
- Leaving Nancy – Eric Bogle and John Munro
- Comfort Women – While and Matthews
- While My Guitar Gently Weeps – Hot Lips and Chilli Fingers
- Vimy – Tanglefoot
- Where The Lions Are – Adrian Nation
- Seven a Side – Tanglefoot
- Stronger – Toy Hearts
The Peatbog Faeries live at the festival.
The Toy Hearts live at the festival.
Eric Bogle live at the festival.
Baka Beyond live at the festival.