Saturday, 12 December 2015

Top 10 Favourite Festival Sets of 2015

During the summer months of 2015 nine days were spent at festivals ranging from Southern Fried in its entirety to the single evening format of Tingestock. As usual a wave of talented artists from around the world shared their wares usually in the forty-five minute set format. This year a host of acts were witnessed for the first time and left a positive imprint on the memory. Here is a brief rundown of sets which had the most impact with an excerpt from the festival review. The full version is available via the link. 

1  Dawes - Shrewsbury Folk Festival Friday 28 August

'What the main stage had just witnessed was a sublime exhibition of classic American folk rock, bristling with spellbinding musicianship providing a magnificent backdrop for Goldsmith to wrap his unequivocal vocal style around a deluge of top rate songs. The booking may have been a left field choice and a desire to unleash a dose of West Coast folk rock on festival goers, but the sheer class of Dawes paid off the decision tenfold.'

'The term class is just one of a landslide of superlatives to label Rhiannon Giddens who opened the main proceedings with a twin billed show in the hall alongside those icons of modern classical bluegrass, the Chris Thile-led Punch Brothers. Rhiannon elevated her status tenfold with the debut solo album TOMORROW IS MY TURN released earlier this year and this aspect of her career is set to spiral in a vertical direction.'

'While the songs from the new record such as ‘Banks of the Mississippi’, ‘Carousel’, ‘North Dakota Blues’ and ‘Diamonds and Gold’ are sealed in the vaults of excellence, it was listening to older tunes like ‘Memphis Train’, ‘Burgundy Wine’ and ‘Hey Julia’ which took the appreciation of Don to a greater level. This is a guy steeped in the country music song writing and performing tradition of Kristofferson, Nelson and Helm, with the added panache of being able to connect with audiences through an affable charm.'

'C is for Chastity Brown who was the pick of artists lined up to play the Barn on Saturday evening. Chastity came to my attention a couple of years ago with an advance copy of her album and it was an honour to finally get the opportunity to see her live. She encapsulates all that is diverse in Americana music and finely weaves her mixed heritage into a musical style rich in country, blues, soul and folk. The three highlights from her set were ‘Solely’, ‘Colorado’ (which gave her most exposure in the UK via a TV airing on Jools Holland) and an exquisite cover of Van Morrison’s ‘The Sweetest Thing’. In these quarters Chastity transferred all the strength from her record to the stage leaving a legacy of a desire to catch one of her full live shows the next time she visits the UK.'

'From the streets of Nashville to superstardom in Sweden has been a barnstorming journey for sixty two year old Doug whose talent has finally been recognised to the extent that he has just been bestowed an Emerging Artist nomination at the upcoming AMA awards. Doug’s outstanding new album GOING DOWN TO THE RIVER with its stellar title track formed the centrepiece of his set which was supported by a three piece backing band led by the magical fiddle playing of Barbara Lamb. If anything Doug’s model country voice was even more fetching when bridged by just a microphone and there was a common consent that a top notch country performer was in our midst.'

'The Unthanks are one of the most highly acclaimed performers on the folk scene and their spectacularly moving ten piece show made the Sunday headline tea time slot a sheer joy to be in listening range. To be more precise, this set was viewed close at hand and there was probably no more stunning moment on the festival fields this summer than listening to Rachel and Becky melt the heart of folks with their version of ‘Magpie’. Everything about the show from the sisters’ clog dancing, the beautiful orchestral arrangements, the celebrated trumpet solos and the sumptuous harmonies was blissful and praise for The Unthanks couldn’t be any higher from these quarters.'

'Dean is firmly planted north of the border and used this homeland gig to re-assemble his Whisky Hearts backing band to add extra zest to his growing back catalogue in a live setting. This was the first opportunity to spend more than a fleeting acquaintance with the music of Dean Owens and the resultant purchase of his new record INTO THE SEA cemented a growing appreciation for how he perfectly blends the Americana spirit into songs inspired by feelings, events and observations closer to home.'

'While on the topic of beautiful voices, perhaps the stand out moment of the festival from this standpoint was the delightful set from Olivia Chaney on the main stage on Saturday afternoon. This is one remarkably talented lady who not only possesses a heavenly voice, but turns her hand majestically to piano, assorted guitars and harmonium. Attention was drawn to Olivia earlier this summer and discovering her debut album THE LONGEST RIVER. The promise from this finding has been fulfilled after seeing her play live and as a performer who just views herself as a genre free artist playing, singing and writing songs she takes a liking to, the future is set to be very prosperous for Olivia Chaney.'

'The deplorable situation of not seeing award winning folk duo Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker play live was corrected on Sunday afternoon when a dose of splendid melancholy was served in all its dark splendour. Mixing Gillian Welch and Sandy Denny covers with their own take on the sad song genre, described by Josienne as the ‘psycho ballad’, made for an obsessional enticing half hour. Ben’s exceptional acoustic guitar playing echoed the sounds from Josienne’s beautiful vocals and together we were invited to wallow in our misery. There was no hesitancy in adding this golden moment to the top ten and an essential fix for any folk festival.'

'Like so many folk artists, Steve had been active in communicating songs to commemorate the centenary of The Great War and ‘The Lads in Their Hundreds’ was shared with the good folks of Shrewsbury this evening. ‘(Let Me Go) Sweet Bella’, ‘Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed’ and ‘Cousin Jack’ were among the most rapturous songs lapped up by the crowd with the latter acting as a self-engineered encore performance. Well Steve was compering so it was his rules. The choice of Steve Knightley to kick the festival off was a no brainer by the organisers and the mood in the main marquee was bubbling as we settled down for the second top class act to appear.'

Of course there were many other fine performances at Maverick, Tingestock, Southern Fried, Shrewsbury Folk and Moseley Folk Festivals. These, and plenty of other outside gatherings, remain the core of the summer gig season and it is certain that any festival attended in 2016 will throw up further memorable performances. 

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