Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Maverick Festival - Easton Farm Park, Suffolk Friday 5th July to Sunday 7th July

With the usual ingredients of double bass, banjo, fiddle and a vast array of different guitars, plus the sunshine that materialises to order each year, the sixth Maverick Festival once again turned Easton Farm Park into a little piece of Americana nirvana. This fast expanding genre has seemingly found its home in the rural surroundings of deepest Suffolk and while there are other highly laudable festivals for this music, Maverick has perhaps the largest gathering in the UK of likeminded artists under a single ticket. From the opening bars of London band Mad Staring Eyes (or in its singular form on this occasion) launching the Clubhouse Records dominated Peacock Café on Friday evening to the delightful Carrivick Sisters closing proceedings in the mid Sunday afternoon heat, the procession of quality artists was relentless, rewarding and refreshing.

The downside of any festival is the yet to be discovered ability to have a simultaneous presence at more than one stage so apologies to any artist omitted from this review. A precision planned agenda was also strictly adhered to as there were so many artists who have raised their profile with me this year and this was a wonderful opportunity to see many live for the first time. So sit back for a highly structured and chronological journey of Maverick Festival 2013.

Paul McClure
Like most of the weekend, time was spent on Friday evening split between the Barn and the Peacock Café. This decision was based on the latter being almost the domain of artists signed to the evolving stable of talented acts known as Clubhouse Records. Prior to checking out the other stages, a trio of performances caught the eye and definitely raised their awareness as all were on my radar awaiting the opportunity to impress. The folk influenced style of Troubadour Rose was first out the blocks and they managed to overcome the sound distractions of a nearby stage to deliver a great set of roots- infused music. The more upbeat output from The Cedars was to follow and their exciting vibrant sound confirmed the admiration given to them by many trusted online sources. In between, Paul McClure completed this Clubhouse trio with a highly entertaining bout of competent and confident singer-songwriter material flavoured with a dry spontaneous wit which depicted exceptional, if unintended, comic timing. Hopefully all three will receive further coverage here in the future.

Redlands Palomino Company and Case Hardin were the other Clubhouse acts and while the former have long been firm favourites, it is hoped to catch up with the latter sometime in the future. Unfortunately they both missed out to the strong calling of finally catching, after a number of visits, a Police Dog Hogan set. Also there was the evening’s highlight of the UK return of the fabulous Eileen Rose. Now settled in Nashville after moving around for many years, the rejuvenated Eileen showed all the old sparkle that has endeared her to UK audiences. With a hot off the press new release proudly brandished (and is rather good), she impressed immensely throughout her set which also showed the Barn audience why the Legendary Rich Gilbert is known as such. His guitar playing was spellbinding whether on pedal steel or full on electric and will certainly remain in the memory bank for a long time.

Hannah Lou and Trevor Moss
The Saturday of Maverick, as in my previous four visits, was once again blessed with warm sunshine and there was no better launch of twelve-plus hours of music than ‘Lulu Walls’ by Porchlight Smoker. This Brighton-based four piece band has been continually acquiring new fans over the past year with a sound which straddles a multitude of sub genres, all true to the core of American roots music. Amongst the early Barn performers was a duo who gave a spine tingling demonstration of how to capture exquisite harmonies around a single mic. The latest album by Hannah Lou and Trevor Moss is good and many people have raved about their live shows. Quite frankly, for forty minutes on Saturday lunch time they blew me and many others away to fully justify these reviews. Just before indulging in some afternoon sun at the main outdoor stage on The Green, a self determined promise to watch the set of Scottish singer-songwriter David Latto was fulfilled. David, undertaking a rare venture south with his sidekick Gavin, produced a great self titled album at the end of last year and enough people hung around the Barn to hear some fine songs including the impressive ‘God I’m Drinking Tonight’. David is the sort of UK Americana talent that needs developing and supporting to enhance the home grown band of artists.

Carrivick Sisters
The first artist witnessed who was entertaining those basking in the welcome rays on The Green were the highly sought after Carrivick Sisters. Firm favourites of the festival scene, the siblings from Devon have a traditional sound that flirts between bluegrass and orthodox folk. Their talent and sincerity to this art form is self evident  when catching them live and this slot at the Maverick Festival saw a double bass added to provide more rhythmic support. Next up on the outside stage was Californian country outfit I See Hawks in LA and for a brief moment you could have been excused for letting your mind drift thousands of miles west to the Sunshine State. While it was hard to drag yourself away from this piece of west coast magic, the bonus was knowing you were going to one of their gigs a mere 24 hours later. Anyway, the added appeal was returning to the Barn to savour the set of Sussex’s finest exponents of Appalachian and folk fused roots music, Hatful of Rain. From the stable of Lewes based multi faceted music enthusiasts the Union Music Store, the beautiful tones of Chloe Overton supplemented by the versatile string playing of Fred Gregory and the driving beat of bass man Phil Jones set Hatful Rain apart from many other acts. Their last album was exceptional and there are high hopes for its eagerly awaited follow up.

Old Man Luedecke
A Canadian combination of blog favourites The Good Lovelies and Old Man Luedecke completed the outdoor stage line up as the afternoon turned the corner into evening which always seems a shame on such a beautiful day. These two artists never fail to deliver an enticing show whether wooing festival crowds or entertaining avid fans at their headline gigs. The Maverick Festival was the ideal setting for them to complete their 2013 UK trips and there is no doubt that there will be open invitations for them to return in the future. The strong links between Canada, the US and the UK are central to the ideals of the festival which by its stature will always seek value for money artists together with a consistent track record of not compromising on quality.

Danni Nicholls
A little bit of a truncated set by high quality Canadian roots star Ruth Moody and her band was eased by catching one of her own shows live 48 hours earlier but the joy of hearing her golden voice even for a couple of songs was unmissable. Inevitably there are going to be infuriating clashes when so many must see artists gather in one place and on this slightly cooling Saturday evening once again the Peacock Café proved a greater draw to me than the Barn. Danny George Wilson led off in the venue with the iconic backdrop and he was definitely preaching to the converted with a solo Champs-less set that was enthusiastically greeted by his faithful. Next up was a chance to hear tracks from one of the best albums to emerge from a UK Americana artist this year. Danni Nicholls didn’t disappoint with her set as she went about re-creating the powerful songs from A LITTLE REDEMPTION which received a highly favourable review here. Previously Danni had appeared solo at this festival but for 2013 her set had evolved with two supporting musicians. This highly recommended artist is one to look out for, both live and on record.

Anna Coogan
The final three acts to grace the Peacock Café stage each made a significant mark albeit in their differing styles. Anna Coogan impressed with a bunch of fine songs embracing a little bit of country and lot of folk. The Twitter request for the captivating song ‘Red Shoes, Black Dress’ demonstrated the great taste of the requester and her overall set, including the nine minute long ‘The Crucifixion,’ won many plaudits from those electing to sample the charms of this singer-songwriter haven. For the slot allocated to another Canadian, Dennis Ellsworth, a mini band including festival organiser Paul Spencer on drums and legendary UK pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole was assembled as the heat was turned up in the Peacock. The strength and crowd pleasing nature of this set thrilled a packed venue as Dennis flavoured his songs with a touch of country and led a sing along version of Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Heavenly Houseboat Blues’. The end of this set paved the way for festival’s major overseas booking to take to the Peacock Café Stage and show why they are still a fabulous talent on the US alt-country scene. It may have been nearly a decade since Mindy Smith shot to fame with her stunning version of ‘Jolene’ and the subsequent AMA award but this accomplished Nashville artist, once getting to grips with a few sound issues, displayed the talent that won her those accolades. Unfortunately the hour long performance started a little late and thus prevented catching the Leeroy Stagger late night Barn set but with opportunities to see him live later on the tour, there was no regret in savouring this rare UK performance by Mindy Smith.

Hatful of Rain
While in essence the soul of the Maverick Festival resides within the full Saturday programme, a fair number of punters turned out for the short finale comprising of the now established Sunday gospel brunch. As well as seeing second performances by Hatful of Rain and the Carrivick Sisters, this bonus day presented an opportunity to catch a set by a band which by all accounts had gone down a storm on Saturday. The energetic Rainbow Girls succeeded in engaging the audience in a high octane bout of roots music which echoed with an authentic and natural charm. A late addition to the festival saw a performance by the excellent Polly and the Billets Doux who with a combination of double bass, drums and electric guitar, delivered a string of infectious songs to those intent on putting the diversion of events from SW19 on hold and getting their fix of Americana music right to the sad eventual end.

From the perspective of an outside observer, Maverick 2013 was another unreserved success. Always at the end of such a relatively small scale operation, you hope the numbers add up and the books balance. With the launch of the American Music Association UK body at their inaugural conference on the Friday of the festival, the optimism surrounding this genre of music is growing. The Maverick Festival is a central focal point for this movement and its healthy future needs to be treasured, nurtured and encouraged to flourish.



2 comments:

  1. Whilst I agree with some of this review, and having been to all six Maverick Festivals, I feel that the quality of the artists is declining year on year.

    The festival seems to be drifting far more into folky terriory rather than Americana. Yes, there is a wide variety of differing genres each year, but in recent festivals, there has been far too much emphasis on pure folk. How many solo guitar acts do we need? If I wanted to attend a folk festival, I'd go to Cropedy - oh maybe not, as they're no longer considered to be "folk".

    Some of my favourite artists over the years have included Winter, The Storys, last years Alejandro Escovedo, Sam Baker, Redlands Palomino Company (who are there most years) and this years Case Hardin. Plus the masterclass by BJ Cole this year.

    Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed each year, (and have reviewed it for Americana UK on a couple of occasions) but when myself and my partner decide to leave at 7pm on a Saturday night, because the only band worth seeing is Leroy Stagger, and we couldn't be bothered hanging about for another four hours, then maybe it's time for Paul Spencer et al to review the music policy.

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  2. Sir, if you left at 7pm on Saturday then you missed the very best bits. Feral Mouth, Ruth Moody, Dennis Ellsworth (band), Leeroy Stagger, Ragged String Band, Cherry Lee Lewis - all of these ripped it up on Saturday night in band format and there was also a hilarious Americana spoof from Tina C. I work at the festival so maybe I'm naturally inclined to favour it...but I think you diddled yourself by going home early. Cheers, James.

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