Reviews & Photographs

CHESTER FOLK FESTIVAL 2003 REVIEWS

2 Articles from 'Folk North West Magazine' - Autumn 2003

CHESTER FOLK FESTIVAL from 22-26 May 2003

We’re off to Chester on the Thursday of Bank Holiday weekend – hope the weather improves. It doesn’t. We’re driving down the M6 with wipers at double speed & John Tams tape (another grim & grey old grimy day). By the time our tent is up we are soaked so the rest of the day helping prepare the site doesn’t matter ‘cos we can’t get any wetter. Evening there’s a session in the Royal Oak, hope Friday is drier. It is & rest of jobs about the site keep us amused till tea time – couple of hours relax before going to Social Club for club night which attracts plenty of floor singers and has 3 guest spots. Helen is really impressed with Dear Gregory.

On Saturday morning a ride into town to go for a swim and a shower seems a good idea & we’re still back in plenty time for day's events. The lunch time Dance Display has a good variety of styles & includes a mummers play during which, with timing that could not have been bettered no matter how carefully planned, a real bride arrives for her big day which is being conducted in the Olive Tree (ie the posh joint that used to be a pub).

Miss beginning of afternoon concert trying to learn something at Morris Workshop – but Hilary Spencer & the John Wright Band are both on form. The trouble for top line acts is that we expect that from them & they need to keep exceeding our expectations. John Wright has been singing ‘I may not have all the answers’ for ages but this rendition is an example of how they do that. This is the first time I’ve seen Joe Broughton & Kevin Dempsey together as a duo & I must admit to being a bit undecided. Think I’ll have to see them again to form an opinion. The Mini Concert lets us get a quick blast of His Worship & the Pig and Bob Fox before trying to find time to eat. I’m not a vegetarian but the veggie chuck wagon is pretty good so that’s where we head.

We decide to spend the whole evening in the Marquee. I think this a problem because the lack of bar means you keep missing bits going to the pub, and this reduces consumption - as Helen is not drinking at present she thinks that’s a good idea. First time of seeing Restless Bentleys & they start the evening well. Just to show how subjective this is I think Tim Laycock is quite entertaining, Helen just thinks he’s boring; however Bob Fox meets with the approval of us both. Sorry but despite the technical brilliance I still can’t get onto the Joe B & Kevin D wavelength. I make no apologies for being a big JWB fan but this set – with so much repeated material from the earlier one does leave me feeling a bit cheated.

Sunday & the fact the clatter of clogs from the 11 o’clock workshop convince me I should crawl out of my sleeping bag is a sign that the festival is starting to take its toll; sitting watching others expend their energy at the lunchtime Dance Display brings me round.

We decide we want to take in the folk opera on offer later in the afternoon, so I go to the early sets of the marquee concert while Helen visits the Craft Fair. What a shame so few were in to see Root Chords provide an enjoyable folk/blues/Cajun mix. The place starts to fill up a bit presumably people are in the know & I’m not ‘cos it's the first time I’ve seen Red10 (but it won’t be the last) who provide music that is a lot better than the pointless endless inane, but somehow impossible to ignore, waffle of Annie.

So to the ‘Babbacombe Lee’ folk opera – I’ve been to similar format things a couple of times before & for me they are OK occasionally but I wouldn’t want to see them regularly. If you get a chance to see Babbacombe Lee performed by Full House (aptly named as it’s standing room only) take it, it’s a worthwhile experience. Another Mini Concert & I catch another half set of John Spiers & John Boden, I’ll get to see them properly somewhere this summer.

It isn’t long since James Keelaghan & Hugh McMillan visited our local folk club so we were aware what an accomplished set they would provide, that we’ll have to catch them again during the weekend and that soon they will be top of the bill somewhere. Then a hour with the Old Rope String Band which was mostly new material since I last saw them & wonderfully original & funny.

Certain factors persuade us to forgo the evening concert for the open mic session – the seats in the social club are far more comfortable than the marquee, the bar is easily accessible, the chuck wagon on the car park will be open late & Helen has taken quite a liking to the duo Dear Gregory who are doing the guest spot. They may well be on the main stage next year. After they finish we head down to the Marquee where there is not a seat to be had but it’s well worth standing for another hilarious performance from Old Rope.

Monday & the weather is superb for a lazy morning. Strawhead have been around for ever & probably divide folkies more than anyone, you either like ‘em or loathe ‘em, I like ‘em so will probably go to both sets today, but first an attempt to learn something at the Witchmen's workshop. Workshops are a great thing about festivals, anybody can have a go at anything that takes their fancy.

It does seem to be a problem for Bank Holiday festivals that people start to drift off on the Monday, so concerts may not get the attendance they deserve, which is a shame because the Monday afternoon concert here could not have had a much more varied line up. I think my vote for song of the festival will have to come from James Keelaghan's set here for Mirabeau Bridge. With both the Marquee and the Social Club having attractive programmes for the final night it’s a difficult choice but we settle for the Social Club where everyone is determined to end the festival on a high & they run out of beer. Next door into the Community Centre for the end of festival ceremony & then sing your heart out, have a good craic, make arrangements to meet at the next festival, until they too run out of beer, say your goodbyes and stagger back to the camp site.

Summary: Chester is a really easy festival to get round with everything close together, though it is a shame about loosing the Function Room at the pub this year. Everyone I spoke to said they had had a great time and I think the organisers are to be congratulated on the variety they got into every part of the programme.

by Geoff Smith

 

FRIENDS & FANS PAY TRIBUTE TO JOHN EVANS

Being involved in a small part of local folk history was a humbling, yet uplifting experience with emotions running as high as the adrenaline that pumped through our veins over the 2½ hours both on stage and off. The occasion was the wonderful compliments paid to the late, great John Evans by all his friends on the folk scene at the John Evans Tribute Concert at Chester Folk Festival on Spring Bank Holiday Monday.

Yardarm, the band that John formed together with step-brother Goff Jones in the mid 1960’s were there to host the event and take the major share of the concert but, for the first time, without the distinctive voice and commanding presence of their friend and founder. The line-up, brought together at very short notice, of Goff Jones (guitar & vocals), Steve Whitley (bass & vocals), Ken Prydderch (vocals), Dave Russell (guitar, violin & vocals) and Ian Chesterman (guitar, banjo and vocals) did John proud. Many of the old songs were there from "Rout of the Blues", a standard opener during the band’s heyday, to "Bedlam Boys", "John Barleycorn" and "Tacuana Girls". The audience also played their part, singing their heads off in an atmosphere that you could almost touch.

It was certainly destined to be a very special occasion with everyone pumped up for and determined to give of their best for John’s sake. Like all the best happenings those "first night nerves" were no stranger to any of us, from dressing room rehearsals to actual performance, though they were soon forgotten once the music started just after 4 pm. The first set sped by before the first guest of the afternoon took the stage. Pete Moroney sang "The Lark in the Morning", to be followed by Barry Evans, once Yardarm’s manager and mentor, and a great friend of Goff & John for over 40 years. Barry, seated on a high stool, Spanish guitar in hand, sang two songs, the second being "The Red Headed Ann", a particular favourite of the band. However, it was his stories of the days on the road (and off) that reminded us that, sad as it was, we were really there to celebrate a life and all its memorable moments including the funny ones. His tale of the weekend he and his wife spent in John’s caravan in Porthmadog in 1987 was hilarious and, as he said, we all know what happened during the storms that year that just happened to coincide with that weekend! Their friendship survived far better than most of the caravans and 90% of the trees and, for once, the tears that rolled down peoples faces were of joy not sadness. Such moments and memories are truly precious.

Yardarm (reformed) carried on with Ian’s song "Australia Bound", followed by the acapella rendition by Goff, Ken & Ian of the great Graham Cooper song of the forgotten Crimean War hero "William Coffey". This set was brought to an end by another Yardarm standard, the traditional harvest drinking song, "John Barleycorn", with a now packed room taking the opportunity to see how much "beer" there was "in the barrel" by physically checking its contents! Just as an army cannot march on empty stomachs so a folk audience cannot sing with dry throats.

The first of the second two guests spots was occupied by the much respected and well liked John Finnan. John, who with The Black Diamond Folk Group opened Chester’s first ever folk club, The Tuning Fork, in 1964 sounded as good as ever singing "Hannah", and "Give Me A Rose" (a song also sung by John) and (with Goff) also sang the heart tugging "The Pirate’s Serenade". The "two Johns" co-organised Chester Folk Festival for over 10 years when also both members of the Chester Morris Men, John Finnan now being the elder statesman of all the local folk performers from those 1960’s revival days.

The final guest spot of the night proved to everyone, if they did not already know, the esteem in which John was held, not only by local fellow performers but by those on the national scene too. The "Bolton Bullfrog" himself, Bernard Wrigley, had made the journey from his Lancashire home specially to pay his own tribute and his 3 songs "The Rigs of London Town", "Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out" and the hilarious "Car Park Song" were well appreciated by the audience.

The final moments were just 3 songs away as Bernard joined Yardarm for the lively, rousing shanty "Tacuana Girls" before leaving the band to finish with Ian’s song of hope, "Next Time Around" with its message that, "It all comes round again". The rows of singing faces were like a sea as they all joined hands, swaying from side to side to the music and the verse about "auld lang syne". The cries for more, despite the very patient but obviously concerned Strawhead waiting to use the room, were answered by arguably the most emotional and poignant point of the concert. The Keith Hancock song, "Absent Friends" has always brought a lump to my throat but there were many for whom it was one song too far, one reminder too many and this time the tears did flow. The memories, not only of the loss of John but also Mike Jenkins and Ken Chesterman in recent years were still only partially healed wounds and the line in the song "Why he had to go was a mystery to me" certainly struck a chord with many.

Suddenly, just after 6.30pm, it was all over and after brief words of thanks and blurred faces we made our way out into the warm, sunny Kelsall evening. Elation had strangely turned to deflation and I think that the sudden realisation that the period of mourning for a very dear friend over nearly 12 months was over. This had been the final act, the last goodbye. I am sure that somehow and in some way John had been with us that day, a unique gathering of friends with their collective memories had brought him back for one last time and he could now rest in the knowledge that the rich legacy he had left behind him would be continued. As I drove away I too knew that we’d all meet again "Next Time Around".

By Ian Chesterman

Some comments from our Feedback Forms:

'An excellent friendly festival. Our first time here but we'll definately be back'

'No criticisms! Just a Thank You to all those who give time and effort all year round to make it happen'

'Appreciate clean and tidy toilets. Really good overall programme'

'Thoroughly enjoyable weekend - good for children too!'

'We've really enjoyed all of it as every year - keep up the good work'

'An excellent festival as usual - thanks for all your hard work'

'We have not been to Chester Festival for about 15 years, but the exceptional musical & singing talent is still evident. Still impressed by great organisation'

'Thanks for a wonderful festival. It's always great but this one was the best for a long time'

'I was bowled over by the strength of the bill - the strongest for years. Both food vans were excellent'