Tuesday, 3 September 2019

FESTIVAL REVIEW: Moseley Folk and Arts Festival (Sunday only), Birmingham. Sunday 1st September 2019

A fallow year for me at Moseley Folk in 2018 and a few observed changes in place when making the return in 2019. First, a formal amendment in the name to the Moseley Folk and Arts Festival, a slight adjustment long overdue in respect to the event's somewhat eclectic nature, Secondly, the expansion beyond the normal tracks to a sloped area housing the revamped Kitchen Garden stage at the foot and the aptly named Folk on the Slope towards the top. The programme also saw a considerable extension with the wider arts embraced in exhibits like comedy, the spoken word and embodied activism. Yet the core of the festival remains in the twin central stages hosting a host of fine performers ensuring the music flowed on a continuous basis from half eleven to half ten. 

Commitments elsewhere on Friday and Saturday restricted attendance to just the Sunday of this three day event. A day increasingly hailed as ‘folk day’, a little ironic in light that we are at a folk festival. Moseley has long sailed down the route of banishing boundaries and this is likely to intensify as straps are loosened. To tighten things a little, the main stage line up for Sunday left few in doubt to the direction with four of the artists being as closely aligned to the UK folk scene as you could wish. There may be a lot of years between Thom Ashworth and Peggy Seeger, but a commitment to the art of the protest song couldn’t be any closer. Likewise, few of their peers come close to matching the status of Richard Thompson and Daoiri Farrell on the contemporary folk scene, with the latter making many jaunts from his native Ireland to share exciting traditional music from the homeland. 

Where you place Sunday headliner Don McLean on the folk spectrum is open to debate. This is countered by a universal approval of writing some of the most popular songs of all time. One in particular had the unsurprising honour of closing Moseley 2019. You can have a single guess and probably won’t need another.

Those of a certain age associate the name with a popular 70s kids show as well. Not to miss a trick, the other Don Maclean sprang onto stage just before his illustrious (near) namesake. Who said the Brummies don't have a sense of humour when it comes to honouring one of their own.

The sixth and final act to grace the main stage on Sunday saw the sound lean towards a studio based art rock folk direction in the shape of Charles Watson. This was the swan song  of the current band set up and they signed off in fine style with a top class performance. Thus providing a smart contrast to the more conventional style that defined much of Moseley Folk Sunday.

During Charles Watson’s set thoughts turned to Dawes appearing on this very stage a couple of years implying that if you strip away all these layers of instrumentation it’s all folk music. A notion supplemented by banners adorning both sides of the main stage proclaiming, ‘all music is folk music’. 

In contrast to previous visits to this late summer festival, the entire time was split between watching all six main stage artists and those playing the quaint surroundings of the newly located Kitchen Garden stage. Timings enabled this thus striking the second stage acts from the agenda this year. Local singer-songwriter Philippa Zawe got proceedings underway on the stroke of eleven thirty, while many folks were still filing onto the site. She impressed earlier in the year when supporting Blue Rose Code at the Kitchen’s main residence and once again displayed shades of evolving into a real effective performer. 

The next three artists to appear on the Kitchen stage all possessed Transatlantic roots, in line with many American touring acts which pass through Birmingham’s leading acoustic listening venue. First up was Whitherward, a duo hailing from Nashville who now find the road, and especially Europe, an appealing home. JD Wilkes and Charlie Parr appeared in slots that dovetailed events on the main stage, both sharing a love for old time traditional American music with a leaning towards Country Blues. At these points, large crowds had assembled on the ‘slope’ to enjoy the rawer sound from the Kitchen stage along with the lavish surroundings of Moseley Park, an oasis in city centre suburbia. 

Closing the Kitchen Garden was out of town singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams, a regular visitor to the Kings Heath venue and an artist with quite a lengthy back catalogue. She promised a huge dose of melancholy and didn’t disappoint. 

All that was left was a certain American songwriting legend and the climax of a brief but highly enjoyable dip into Moseley Folk and Arts Festival 2019. The future appears secure for this festival with a difference, and a pondering thought of who is on the horizon for 2020 starts to manifest. However ‘folk Sunday’ appears a lock in and following the stellar 2019 line up will be one hell of a tough task. 

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