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 2006.

Ely Folk Festival 2006 Review – By John Glover

Image: John Glover

Once again the Ely Online Folk Boy Three got our annual dose of Folk at the 21st Ely Folk Festival. I was there to provide the words, Karl the pictures and Holly the spangly jumpers.

Held over three days and three nights Ely Folk Festival has steadily grown (in size and stature) since its demure beginnings at Ely’s Pocket Park. This year sees the event undergo a slight change in name from “Ely Folk Weekend” to “Ely Folk Festival” and the publicity has a more polished appearance and what better time to do this with the sudden resurgence of Folk music.

Friday – Evening

It was fitting that the first act up on stage at the 21st Ely Folk Festival should be ex-committee member and Ely Folk Club stalwart, Andy Wall, who paid tribute to the committee’s “re-badging” of the festival. As Andy explained, things have changed but have also stayed, comfortingly, the same. The festival logo has been updated and, cunningly, the “Weekend” has transmogrified into a “Festival”. As for myself, I stepped into the weekend like I would a trusty pair of old Y-fronts.

As in previous years, it was Ely Online’s job to provide a non-folkie view of the festival. We knew we would be well catered for as committee chairman, John Adams, said prior to the weekend, there would be “a rich and varied line-up of blues, folk-rock, acoustic sets and African music”. We weren’t to be disappointed.

Andy began the weekend’s music with a gorgeous version of the old Dobie Gray classic, “Drift Away” and we were off and running. This year we also received some interest from the media as a camera crew from Look East were cruising the site and Radio Cambridgeshire collected some vox-pop (or should that be vox-folk?) for later broadcast. They picked Shambolica for a spot on Friday evenings show and they couldn’t have picked a better act to publicise the festival. Kerry Bloom’s fantastic hairdo and voice took over the main marquee as they played an excellent set of acoustic folk. Alongside traditional tunes such as “Matty Groves” they also played a corking version of Richard Thompson’s “Galway to Graceland” and an original song written by Andy from the band about Joan of Arc.

Image: Shambolica

Adrian Nation followed Shambolica and he played a set which included a scorching version of Richard Thompson’s “Vincent Black Lightning 1952”. He also played “Comin of The Day” – his “Marmite Song” as he called it. The reason for the yeast extract spread reference is that Adrian has received praise and scorn for the song in equal measure and admits to being unsure as to whether he should play it or not. Having listened closely to his performance I reckon it’s Van Morrison’s “Coney Island” transported to Clacton. And I love Van the Man, so Adrian, keep playing it.

The Cambridge based Hedgepig were up next, featuring Rosie Eade on vocals. They blasted their way energetically through a set of fast fingered fiddle tunes and Irish ballads.

Image: Chez Nous

Readers of my previous reviews will know of my devotion to the Chez Nous food stall. Me and Holly ate our way through a mountain of fantastic veggie curry which called loudly after about four pints of Summer Ale from the generously stocked beer tent.

The Bushbury Mountain Devils concluded proceedings in the main marquee on Friday with their unique blend of folk, country and blues. Founder member, Eric Bartlow, was missing from the line-up due to illness but they still provided a fitting end to the first day.

Saturday – Early

Saturday morning is when the locals who don’t come down to the festival get to experience a slice of the atmosphere. The Morris procession was as colourful and noisy as usual. There were 14 dance sides this year including the distinctive Witchmen and the black and white Pig Dyke Molly. It was rather scary walking into the Prince Albert at lunchtime and being confronted with what appeared to be the Kiss Fan-Club at the bar.

Saturday – Afternoon

After the afore-mentioned whistle-whetting in The Albert it was back down to the festival site for the afternoon sessions. Charlie Barker was just finishing her set with a fine version of Big Yellow Taxi and I wish we’d been there earlier. Definitely one to check out again.

Image: Cave

I suspect some traditional folkies may have questioned the inclusion of Cave on the bill. I’d done my research by listening to the MP3s on their web-site and they didn’t sound particularly folk to me. So what? They are an excellent young band. “Chasing The Moonlight” with its nod to Coldplay’s “Politik” in the opening bars is a fantastic song. Actually, it’s not a “nod” – it’s more of a Zidane headbutt. Lead singer, Gregg Cave has a good line in self deprecating banter: “This isn’t on the CD so if you don’t like it you can still buy the CD”. He also said that their merchandising manager (“What shall we call him?…er…dad?”) told him to push the new CD because they needed to raise enough money to buy the petrol to get home. I was surprised to find that violin whizz, Guy Fletcher, was on stage with the band. Two years ago he was fiddling for Little Johnny England, last year he leapt on stage to help out Steve Tilston and this year he appeared as a Caveman. Guy seems to be getting thinner each year and needs to visit the Chez Nous wagon as often as Karl.
Excellent stuff and you can catch them again at the Ely Folk Club on October 18th.

We then wandered in an easterly direction (via the beer tent) to dip into the world of Pamela Wyn Shannon. I have to be honest and admit that Pam’s music isn’t to my tastes. A childhood spent listening to Rod, Jane and Freddie wearing dungarees with rainbows on the front trying to sing away the Vietnam war has left me with a mental block on pastoral feyness (if that’s what it is). Don’t listen to me though, the rest of the audience in the marquee loved it. Pamela did, however, furnish me with my new favourite word, “Vespertine”.

Saturday afternoon concluded (musically) with Eric Bogle and John Munro. Now, anyone who has trawled through my previous reviews will know that, in the past, my exposure to folk music has been limited to the Ely Folk Festival. My function as Ely On Line’s “wordsman” is to provide a “flavour” of the weekend. I’d done my research: had a look at Eric’s web-site, noted that he wrote “And the Band played Waltzing Matilda” that I’ve heard by The Pogues and I’m ashamed to admit, I wasn’t looking forward to it. I expected a fat old bloke to sing about Fair Maidens and ask, “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” Well – Eric and John Munro were fantastic. His voice is as smooth as drinking Guinness on a velvet carpet with Michael Portillo and Des Lynam. He finished his set to a well-deserved standing ovation.

It was during the lull between the afternoon and evening sessions that one third of the Folk Person Three, Karl, sent me a text. He wanted a ride home after the Oysterband set. However, his predictive text let him down and resulted in possibly the saddest typo I’ve ever seen. “Any chance of a life?” it read. Tears rolled down my cheeks onto the phone display as I replied, “Yes, mate. Any time”.

Saturday – Vespertine

Saturday evening began with a second chance to see Shambolica in a packed Marquee Two. They played Dylan’s “Can’t Buy A Thrill”, and finished another stormer of a set with “Honk Tonk Woman”. All good stuff. Shambolica were a big presence at the year’s festival. They were around the town and at the site all weekend. I look forward to seeing them again.

Image: RTB

Next up was Ron Truman Border who played an excellent set of ballads, bluegrass, rock and folk. I’m definitely going to buy one of RTB’s albums…and he’s made a lot, judging from his web-site. He got Alan MacLeod from No Id up to play Bodran on “Diamonds In My Own Back Yard” which, if I heard the lyrics correctly, is “Lady In Red” for cool people. Ron really deserves a much wider audience. His songs are instantly memorable and his voice is a cross between Bryan Adams and Bruce Springsteen at their best. “Covered In Blood” has been playing in our house non-stop since we downloaded it from his site.

It was during Ron’s set that another mobile phone incident occurred. I can smugly admit to being a good boy and switching mine off before going in a marquee to listen to music. Unlike the…insert insult of your choice here.. that left his on and failed to recognise his own ring-tone as Ron battled manfully to keep his ballad, “Romeo and Juliet” together. “That spoilt the mood” grumbled Ron, quite correctly. What annoyed me was that the chap didn’t rush out of the marquee to answer the phone (once he’d eventually heard the bugger ringing). Oh no. He stood ten feet away from RTB and answered his call. “Yes, mum. I’m at a folk festival. Yes, I’m really enjoying myself”. Someone should have wrapped some uillean pipes round his neck. There are always some to hand at the Ely Folk Festival.

Image: Ely Folk Festival

After Ron we nipped across to catch the start of Johnny Dickinson’s set. He’d already played at a festival in Somerset that afternoon and had driven 250 miles to get to Ely. Dedication awoaho! Dedication! Unfortunately, food called more loudly than the blues and, rather like the style of Johnny’s playing,…slid out of the marquee.

Now, as I’ve mentioned, I’m no aficionado of Folk (but I’m getting there!) so I was unaware that if the Oysterband are on the bill you need to camp out and queue for seats for almost as long as those purple haired women who queue for the Last Night Of The Proms for a month. So, after we’d watched the Young Soul Rebels, No Id, a’banging and a’whistling and a’fiddling and a’hollering for half an hour we couldn’t get into the marquee to watch the O’Band. It was fuller than a Darts player after an “all you can eat for a tenner” Chinese buffet.
So we sort hung around outside the tent and grooved to the robust folk-rock as the dancers frugged a rug at the front. The marquee was bulging at the seams. It was like Dawn French and Fern Britton had gone camping and, hilariously, only taken a one-man tent with them. Are these comparisons getting on your wick now?

And that was Saturday.

Sunday – Morning

Lighting Jack were the Sunday morning wake-up call to bleary-eyed festival goers. Local band LJ ripped through a set of fiddle-based folk rock. My favourite “Leroy Lita” was a highlight as well as the old Pogues song, “Boys From The County Hell”. Fil Utting-Brown played bass but was just as likely to be serving behind the bar. Fil can be seen at virtually any event in Cambridgeshire that involves beer or music. Sadly, LJ had no CDs to sell as they’d forgotten them – a nice touch I thought.

With time to spare we meandered over to the fiddle workshop. Johnny Dipper was ringed by some attentive students hanging onto his every word as he was said things like, “It’s quite simple really” as they were busy un-knotting their fingers after trying to follow him through a frantic jig n reel.

Sunday – Vespertine

…and so to the last sessions of the Festival.

Black Rat play songs of death and mayhem. It was after a couple of songs that I began to feel a bit depressed and tearful and after “Bog Fire”, a story about a Pit disaster, that I wandered outside searching for the Samaritans Tent. They weren’t there! Wot no Samaritans? In previous years the Samaritans have had a tent and been bored out of their brains as the people at the Ely Folk Festival have had such a good time and felt no need of their services.

Image: Zambula

To finish off the weekend we were served up a slice of Zambula, an African dance band from, exotically, The Congo, Uganda and Cornwall. They provided a fitting finale to the festival. It’s unfortunate that people have to leave early as Sunday evening tends to be a bit quieter but Zambula didn’t care. Eschewing the usual banter they just concentrated to getting everyone to dance. No five minute rambling introductions about how they’d been handed down the song in a will from a dead Scotsman, they just turned up the bass, put on their dancing trousers and went “Brrrrrrrrrrrrrr!” into the mic. The marquee was shaking and Jackie had everyone up dancing and shaking their collective bottoms until they couldn’t shake no more.

So, a big ol’ thank you to the committee for putting on yet another fantastic festival and to everyone who went for being so nice. See you all again next year.

Original comments made to this article when it was first published:

Karl Bedingfield said on Saturday 22 Jul, 2006 at 11:35 pm

Mike, I agree wholeheartedly with you ‘Zambula were simply fantastic from start to finish’. I was strongly of the opinion that they should have headlined either Friday or Saturday night.

Mike Holt said on Saturday 22 Jul, 2006 at 9:22 pm

I read with interest your review of the Festival and I have to say that I found Blackrat and Zambula a refreshing oasis to reach at the end of a rather ‘dry’ afternoon of Traditional music and singer/songwriters! I love both these genre’s and indeed I play Guitar myself, but I was ready for more upbeat music.
Blackrat played some lively tunes and gave us some thought provoking songs as well. Zambula were simply fantastic from start to finish.

The trouble with reviews is they tend to express a personal view of events rather than being an unbiased account of the music. It’s a pity that more people were not around on the Sunday to hear these two great Bands!

John Glover said:

You’ve caught me out, Lizzie. I’ve been trying to shoe-horn my weak Samaritans gag in for ages. It just happened to be Black Rat that got the ‘blame’. I’d actually listened to ‘Bog Fire’ about 4 times on your web-site before going to the Festival, that’s why it sprang to mind as a reason for running to the non-existent tent. For the record, I strongly suspect that I went to the Beer Tent after I’d heard a few of your songs. Anyway, who needs happy songs? I was watching Boo Hewerdine recently and he introduced a song with, ‘Here’s another song about death’.

Black Rat said:

Cheers for the review. Good to know we managed to depress you and sorry there was no Samaritans tent – interesting point though. Sold a good few CD’s so there are some manics out there ? If every band played covers we’d fall asleep!

Love to all-especially the old man at the front who insisted on videoing my assets for the entire set (there’s always one).

Looking forward to next years tour showcasing our happy tracks.

Love Lizzie Black Rat xx

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