Call me Russ L

The Wasp Factory – Moseley Folk 2011

Posted in Music by Russ L on 14 September, 2011

I feel that the 2011 Moseley Folk Festival may well have been the best yet. Has it nipped ahead of Supersonic to take the title of my favourite festival? I think it might well have done.

The usual disclaimers apply: don’t expect to learn anything, it’s just What I Done On Me Holidays and a few disconnected thoughts.

Observations that are not relating to the bands that played

~ I know that I say this practically every year, but Moseley Park really is an absolutely lovely setting. Although…

~ What’s the word that I’m looking for? As ‘threadbare’ is to ‘carpet’, then ‘x’ is to ‘grass’. I don’t want to overstate this, but some bits of the park that I remember being very green and grassy in previous years are starting to look a bit eroded and straw-like. This is hardly surprising after six years of Moseley Folk and two of Mostly Jazz, but does a year off from both lie in the near future? People who actually know something about grass (I don’t) may be able to say whether this is necessary or not.

~ More people than ever before, too. It was sold out last year, but there was definitely less congestion then. This, however, was slightly mitigated by the fact that…

~ The new layout is good. The bar is in a far better place and it’s nice to be able to see a bit more of the lake (I’m not imagining that, am I? The stages definitely seemed to be a bit further left as you look at them, leaving a bigger view of the really quite beautiful lake).

~ Unusually for me, I was actually with some lovely peoples for the first couple of days. Big-ups to Matt’n’Chel and The Family Daffern.

~ There were wasps and plenty of ’em (and I’m not talking about the demographics of the audience. Although now you mention it…), particularly on the first two days. I was amused no end on Friday by seeing a man in one of those “Keep Calm And Carry On” t-shirts fretting over one flying near him. Don’t worry if that sounds a bit mean-spirited of me – cosmic revenge took place when I was stung by one the following day.

~ They have Janice Long back as a compere every year and she just doesn’t get any better at it.

~ I may well now officially be too old for this. Spending most of a weekend sitting/lying on the ground didn’t bother me twelve months earlier. This time I got The Aches in full force.

~ Lookalikes that I saw: John Bird, Terry Pratchett, Barb from work. Lookalike seen by others: Alan Yentob.

Observations that are related to the bands that played (although not all of them)

~ Welsh-language death-balladeers 9 Bach were the first band I saw on the Friday (I really wanted to be there to see Vijay Kishore at the very start, but bus delays and then [to a lesser extent] food delays in The Hare And Hounds threw that plan to complete cock), and I thought they were great. Their Celtic mournfulness did nothing to break stereotypes about dour Welshers (although their between song blather was quite cheery), but it made the most beautiful sound.

~ Crystal Fighters were not doing (as claimed) an acoustic set, but they did perform without the modern disco-dancey-ravey bits that I gather they normally have. This left us with some stagey and theatrical songs that were nevertheless full of energy. Very catchy, too, with a strong sense of Spanish-y rhythm (a bit more rhythm is always welcome at a festival like this) and some instruments that you don’t see every day (an unusual instrument is always welcome anywhere). Highlight of first day.

~ At some point since the festival I’ve read someone (I forget who and where) saying of Gruff Rhys that they “enjoyed him more than anyone else I’ve ever seen behind a pasting table”. I have to concur with this.

~ Badly Drawn Boy was likeable. Having read immediately beforehand that he’s prone to throwing a strop (I genuinely didn’t know about that. I’ve heard even more stories since then…) I was sort-of hoping he’d do that here, for comedy purposes. Alas. He has written some good songs in his time. Did he play “A Peak You Reach”? I can’t remember now.

~ I arrived halfway through Oh Ruin‘s set on Saturday, but wished I’d seen the whole thing. In spite of him being from Dublin, it was all very American-sounding – Neil Young gone Southern Gothic. Ace.

~ Ruth Theodore was interesting. Everything about her songs came across as slightly (but not too far) off-kilter: the timing of the playing, the phrasing of her words, the lyrics themselves. This was a good thing, but I couldn’t help but wish that she’d really let go of the side of the swimming pool and go mad properly. I think she has it in her, and it’ll be gorgeous.

~ Luke Concannon seemed entirely well-meaning, but I did not like the general cut of his jib one little bit.

~ Michael Chapman (that’s “Michael Chapman, Genuine Guitar Legend” to you. And apparently “Matthew Chapman” to Janice Long) is a one-man army. A one-man army of finger pickin’ good guitar. When he plays, it sounds like twenty people playing.

~ More finger picking followed and was combined with some endearingly peculiar lyrics, courtesy of The Cribbler. Apparently there’s going to be an album soon, and that could well be very interesting indeed.

~ The Toy Hearts are always enjoyable, playing smooth bluegrass (if such a thing is imaginable). I first saw them at Moseley Folk a few years ago, when they mostly did covers in their own style. It’s now all about their own songs, and whilst I’d normally approve of that a lot more it somehow doesn’t seem quite as fun. Only relatively, of course; they still are fun.

~ Willy Mason turned up late, but nobody’s holding a grudge. I’d never in my life heard this “Oxygen” song of his that’s meant to be inescapably famous, but I quite liked his bluesy alt.country despite this. Or perhaps because of this. I don’t know.

~ Junip seem to have invented Krautfolk. I do like the idea of a pastoral Neu! I also hate having the band name Neu! at the end of a sentence (much as I love the band themselves), as people will assume that you’re exclaiming, but that really has nothing whatsoever to do with this festival.

~ I thought I’d heard The Bees a few years ago when they were going to be The Next Big Thing, but it now appears obvious that whichever mimsy guitar-pop band I had in mind wasn’t actually them. The Bees that we saw here (distinct from The Wasps that we saw here, who were far more numerous) played a sort of indie-ficated jazz-soul with psych and ska bits, and provided one of the most fun sets of the weekend. Songs that persuade people to do chicken-wing dances are a thing that I will always encourage.

~ I love Pram, I really really do, but they just didn’t work outside in a field.

~ I always worry about seeming tokenistic and all ooh-it’s-so-exotic-patronising when talking about the few African acts that make it through to my bubble, and so upon seeing Tinariwen it was interesting to note that (this time around) the thought most strongly occurring was “they’re different, but not so different”. The timing of it all was interesting: most of it still 4/4 (disclaimer: I’m terrible at working these things out) but the drummer seems to get there sideways, somehow. They’ll endlessly be described as ‘hypnotic’ in everything you read about this, but it actually is true. I could have stood there for a few more hours, mesmerised by them and swaying gently. I also love how they’re such a good antidote to the million bands who try to sound hard – this bunch actually fought in the revolution in Mali.

~ I arrived just in time for Eliza Carthy on Sunday. She’s such a cool character, she really is. She’s affixed many things to her folk over the years, and judging by this is currently sounding slightly (slightly, let’s not go mad) swingy. Technical troubles worry her not, she just powers on straight through. I would suggest that this shows us how the Carthys and Watersons of old reacted in the face of unfavourable odds, but since they’re all still going I suppose we don’t need showing. Her “Britain Is A Carpark” was thoroughly enjoyable, and happily it’s on the free CD that came with the programme and so I’ve listened to it several times since then (Aside: anyone got the tracklisting for that? The printed one is all to cock, seemingly missing track 8).

~ Skinny Lister did some big-voiced bellowing sea shanties. I’m all about that.

~ I had an “Oh… those Campbells” moment after I realised who David Campbell was, me being stupid and all. It was also my only occasion of going down the front all weekend on either of the big two stages, given that I couldn’t actually hear anything from the far side (it seemed loud enough to hear from the other side once I got there, although there was plenty of time for them to adjust the levels given that I took the long way round. Me, again, being stupid and all). Lovely versions of “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime” and “The D-Day Dodgers” (a silly song, given how brutal the Italian campaign in WW2 was, but I digress) were assayed, and my only possible complaint could be that I wish he’d done his dad’s “My Father Knew The Man Who Played The Pipes For Padraig Pearse”, which I completely fell in love with at this very festival a few years earlier.

~ I have a strange history with Jim Moray. I know for a fact that I’ve seen him at two previous Moseley Folk Festivals, but I couldn’t remember a single thing about him immediately after either (and so presumably he didn’t make much of an impact on me). Upon seeing him for a third time at the start of this year supporting Ani DiFranco, I quite liked him. So, here… I liked him even more. With his band he sounded a lot less traditional this time, and I can finally understand those who portray him as a moderniser. His voice may sound uncannily like Seth Lakeman’s when you hear it live, but I liked his fun cover of XTC’s “All You Pretty Girls” more than I actually like the original.

~ I don’t see how it’s actually possibly to dislike the idea of East Midlands Outlaw Country, so Mr Plow (sic) and his Cash-etichisms were most welcome. The guitarist has a good line in those Luther Perkins-style country solos.

~ Stornoway are apparently everyone’s favourites nowadays, but I just found ’em bland.

~ I can’t pretend that I didn’t end up in the Bohemian Jukebox tent and seeing him mostly because I’d gone up there to to sit on a chair (this was bliss, by that point of the weekend), but I was more than happy to encounter John J. Presley (and his band, including harmonium. I approve of this) playing tough-as-nails garage-blues-rock with a lion’s roar for vocals. Definitely the hardest hitter of the weekend, sonically speaking.

~ Now, obviously, Billy Bragg is one of my very favourites. He doesn’t get my “best set of the entire festival” award just because of that, though. This was the best of the five times I’ve seen him, and he’s always bloody great at the very least. I was intrigued to see how it would turn out with him vs an audience who weren’t necessarily there for him specifically (and thus might object to his exposition of lefty views between songs), but it appears that the majority of the audience were entirely sympathetic or at the very least prepared to behave that way for the length of his set. There were huuuuuuge singalongs (he noted this himself), which won’t necessarily always add something for me but really worked in this time and this place. His customary strident-but-friendly stage presence was also as endearing as it ever is, but all of these things only get their chances on the back of his songs, and the man really has written more than his quota of genuinely great ones. There were plenty of old faves (“Levi Stubbs’ Tears”, “Greetings To The New Brunette”, “A New England”, “To Have And To Have Not”, “Sexuality”, “The World Turned Upside Down”, “The Milkman Of Human Kindness”, “It Says Here”, you name ‘em) as well as a few new ones (including the instant classic “Never Buy The Sun”, which has been available as A Free Download (Costing Absolutely Nothing) for a little while now). The festival definitely ended with its best.

Other acts I saw, about whom I don’t really have anything to say (not that I had a fat lot to say about the above, but y’know)

~ The Mariner’s Children, Dreaming Spires, Villagers, Malpas, Boat To Row, Bonfire Radicals, The Staves, Scott Matthews, and The Carrivick Sisters.

Overall

~ Fabulous. Best one yet. Again again again.

Testify.

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