Thursday, May 05, 2011

Bristol Folk Festival (3)

Saturday Afternoon

Arrived about 12. Clarrie and Tim inform me that I have missed the first spontaneous full on standing ovation of the weekend, for Wildflowers, a trio consisting of three children around the age of thirteen (two fiddles and a guitar). They do a spontaneous set in the bar later in the evening, and they do indeed seem to be astonishing.

I start the day in the upstairs bar where the always reliable Hodmadoddery are applying their inventive guitar stylings to John Barleycorn -- and what better way is there of feeling that it is really spring and you are really at a folkfest then by listening to two men with guitars singing John Barleycorn in a bar? This is followed by an open night. The standard is extremely high, as you'd expect. She has a beautiful voice, but isn't at all confident on the the guitar (says me, who can't play a note). A young girl named Catherine Holt, accompanied by her father on the guitar, looks fantastically nervous, and then delivers a flawless, and quite emotive cover of the Soldier and the Princess.
Tim and Clarrie went off to see the Mummers Play about the life of Brunel. (If you don't know what a Mummers play is, it's part way between Morris Dancing and a pantomime. If you don't know who Brunel was, then, all you need to know is that he came from Bristol. They said it was great.) I stayed in the bar to hear a band called the Bristol Shantymen, because they come from Bristol and sing sea shanties. They were stunning. Not because they sang great tunes, were a decent choir, and had one man with a rather weak voice but who was brilliant at doing the funny lines and the silly long-drawn out yodels, but because they really, really, really, really, cared about the history of sea shanties. They could tell you about particular old sailors who used to sing these songs in pubs in the 60s. They cared about which songs were specific to Bristol and which came from elsewhere. They sang a shanty with the "call" lines in French but the "response" lines in English, because that's how French sailors sung it. They loved their material. It oozed authenticity and love for tradition. This is the kind of thing I'm here for.

Had to take a bet on whether I'd be more likely to enjoy Mabon ("interceltic funk folk") or Pilgrim's Way ("gimmick free folk at it's finest) in the smaller Fred Wedlock stage (named after Bristol's oldest swinger in town.) Naturally went for Pilgrim's Way. They ran though some very adequate versions of traditional songs (Weaver and the Factory Made, Tarry Trousers) before utterly blowing us all away with the songs which gave the band its name. They called it "a great humanist song" but I must admit that during the compulsory "all join in" bit, I sang "The people Lord, thy people are good enough to me" (as opposed to "the people, oh the people"). Because that's what Kipling wrote. What a great poem! It deserves to be far better known than the horrible "If..." And what a stonking tune Peter Bellamy made up for it. I have occasionally thought that a couplet from might stand very well at the top of this very blog:

And when they bore me over-much, I shall not shake my ear
Recalling many thousand such whom I have bored to tears
And if they labour to impress, I shall not laugh or scoff
Since I myself have done no less and sometimes pulled it off

Phil King has a big local following. Lots of people clapped him. I could really take him or leave him. He can play his guitar, no doubt about that, but his voice doesn't excite me, and his songs seem.... Artificial. Inauthentic. It reminds me of that review of Virginia Woolf, where the reviewer wanted to shout "No, she didn't!" after every line of the novel. Apparently, when the singer was stung by a scorpion, it reminded him that Orion, the only constellation he can recognise, died from scorpion wound, and that he feels as if that hunter has somehow watched over him through his life. "No, he doesn't!"

Other people seemed to like him a lot.

Caught the very end of Elfynn in the main hall. They appeared to be rather good.

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