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 2004.

Ely Folk Festival 2004 Review – By John Glover

Ely Folk Weekend 2004

Introduced by JW, our local Folk & Beer Buff, accompanied by his lovely daughter Holly and Cameraman Karlo De Bedingfield.

Friday Evening

This, the 19th Ely Folk Weekend, was the fourth to be held at the Outdoor Centre and was, quite literally, the biggest yet. The main tent was wider than in previous years after the problems of overcrowding on the Saturday night last year. Also, another performance Marquee was added for ‘meet the band’ sessions to free up the beer tent for drinkers and impromptu jams.

As ever, the Ely On-Line brief was to capture the spirit of the weekend through our non-folkie eyes, pens and Karl’s high-tech camera.

With a pint of Sparkling Wit in hand we traversed the site. Although having moved a touch further down the road onto the football club ground the set up was reassuringly familiar: 3 performance Marquees, kids area, traders stalls, a couple of excellent grub huts and, for the first time a coffee stall.

After spending some time listening to Little Johnny England in the ‘meet’ Marquee it was over to the main stage for Mooncoin, a 4 piece from Norwich. As well as playing English traditional folk, they also feature Irish, Swedish and eastern European songs – in particular a Bulgarian dance number, which had people up dancing at the back of the marquee. Excellent stuff. As well as displaying fine musical ability the ‘Coins have an excellent website ( and whilst doing a spot of research in the week leading up to the festival I spent an absorbing 10 minutes reading all about Uli’s bathroom renovation!

After taking some more ale on board from the well-stocked Beer Tent, it was back to the music and Sally Barker. As we approached the tent, Karl made the comment that Sally sounded more like a soul singer and her set bore out the fact that she covers a variety of styles: rock, blues, jazz, country as well as more traditional fayre. Strooth, she even did a Genesis song!

Sally has a new album out, ‘Maid In England’ and, finding myself drawn further into this music, I may well buy a copy. However, I won’t be getting out the credit card just yet as another piece of platter is currently hogging my CD player. Yup, after 4 years of attending the Folk Weekend with a cynically raised eyebrow, I bought my first ever Folk CD by the band that blew me away during the weekend: Last Night’s Fun. The 3 piece are a passionate mix of humour and musical excellence.

With Chris keeping us entertained during Denny’s extended tune up I was then unprepared for the musical onslaught. Their album, ‘Dubh’, which I bought, was described by Living Tradition as ‘stupendous, both a landmark release and a seriously important contribution to the modern presentation of Irish traditional music’. Well, I don’t know enough about Folk to comment on that but I do know that with 4 pints inside you that when Chris Sherburne gets into stride, riffing on his concertina and shouting ‘and again!’ I get the chills. Magnificent.

Having already seen a bit of Little Johnny England it was time for more beer, a beef chilli from one of the food stalls and a wander round the site to soak up the twilight atmosphere. With the band warming up for the ceilidh in the dance marquee, kids still out playing football, a jam session rockin’ away in the beer tent and the cathedral lit up in the distance the Ely Folk Weekend was off and running.

Saturday Morning

After a calorie-lite sausage and egg bap, 2 paracetemols and some industrial strength coffee I was ready for the Grand Procession in the City Centre. With 19 morris and molly dance sides descending on Ely the city was transformed into a riot of colour and noise.

When the Saor Patrol drummers came along the High Street I was glad I’d taken the pills. They were loud..!

The procession is an opportunity to take the festival out to the people of Ely and many of them dallied awhile to take in the performances before heading back into the shops and cafes.

Let’s hope some of them were intrigued enough to come down to the site next year. As the teams passed by in a whirl of hankies, sticks, drums, whoops and hollers it certainly livened up the city centre. This was definitely a highlight of the weekend.

Sunday Morning

After watching the procession on Saturday morning, my eldest (14 year old Holly) dragged me to a Morris Workshop in Marquee 2, where a willing band of volunteers were put through their paces by the Ely & Littleport Riot and The Witchmen. The Rioting ladies dance in a light border style, which I managed to reproduce in a heavy clumping style, frequently dancing in the wrong direction, stopping for sips of coffee and generally getting hot and bothered. The workshopees were patiently dealt with by the ladies and at the end of the hour-long session we gave a passable rendition of one of their dances.

As the sweat dripped and I feigned injury, the Witchmen appeared and Holly handed me a stick. ‘You’re joining in’, she said sternly. Things were about to become more aggressive. It was down with hankies and up with sticks. Gathered into groups of 8 we bashed, danced, span each other round and shouted something about monkeys sticking bananas up their bums. Two hours previously I’d been a reluctant left footed dancer but with the aid of these two fine teams I’d thoroughly enjoyed myself and added another string to my folk bow.

Sunday Evening

The highlight of Sunday evening, for me, was Adam Brown (of The Brown Family) and his Bodhran solo during the Family’s set in Marquee 2. Playing Celtic ballads and tunes the 4-piece have been playing since the children, Erin and Adam, were old enough to hold their instruments and the  experience has paid off. Adam is the current ‘All Ireland’ under 15 Bodhran champion and helped with the Bodhran workshop last year at the Ely folk weekend. With sister, Erin, treating us to a tap solo, this was a slot that should have been seen by more. Committee! Get them on the main stage next year.

Although trying to sample all the ales on offer, by this time on Sunday evening my choices had narrowed – someone had drunk nearly all the beer. So, I had to take on my old nemesis, Dragonslayer. Beer in hand it was back to the main stage for Vin Garbutt. Although having been gigging since 1969, I hadn’t heard of him before but I was soon engrossed in his witty story-telling and the quality of his songs. His thought provoking self-penned material coupled with the warmth of his vocals means that I’ll be shelling out some more money for CD’s.

Taking more Dragonslayer on board we came to the final session of the evening, The Mrs Ackroyd Band. The band, mainly a vehicle for Les Barker’s insane poetry is ably backed up by Chris Harvey on keyboards and the vocal skills of Alison Younger and Hilary Spencer. There were tales of lemming suicides, some excellent renditions of Les’s serious songs and a finale, which featured the whole audience swaying to the strains of ‘Here We Go’ with toilet roll above their heads. An appropriately triumphal ending to a fantastic weekend.

On a personal note, I’d like to thank Dave Wolfe and the rest of the committee for giving us non-folkies the chance to experience the festival. If the aim of the festival is promote Folk music to a wider audience then let me leave you with this:

…as I climbed the stairs on Monday evening, still jaded from the weekend, I could hear music coming from my daughter’s bedroom. Normally, it’d be Madonna or Miss Dynamite or any of that ilk but on Monday it was the sound of ‘The Innkeepers Daughter’ from Last Night’s Fun’s ‘Dubh’ CD that I bought…

by John Glover

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