Reviews & Photographs


By Didge Lewis for Folk Orbit:

Chester Folk Festival takes place in the village of Kelsall, about eight or nine miles away from the city of Chester, in the direction of Delamere Forest. The main action is on what must come close to being the ideal sort of festival site - a large field next to a pub. The pub is the Olive Tree, previously called the Morris Dancer, perhaps a more suitable name for this event. Just three minutes walk up the road are Kelsall Community Centre and the Social Club. These are good venues for events such as ceilidhs and mini concerts and singarounds. Especially as each has a bar kindly run by the Kelsall Social Club.

New to the festival this year was a pub ten minutes further on recently renamed The Farmers Arms (previously the Th'House at t'Top - there must be a tradition of renaming pubs in Kelsall). This hosted sessions, workshops and a Morris Dance display on Sunday morning.

The Festival is compact which not only means you don't have to walk far, but it goes a long way to generating a cosy festival atmosphere. There's always something going on to attend. The organisers and their stewards are always there somewhere, and maintain a friendly and unfussy profile. There's a laid-back feel to the event that infects just about everybody who gets involved in someway.

Of course, if you went, none of this will be news to you. However, which Chester Folk Festival did you go to? Apart from the love of the music that joins us all, there are many different reasons to go to a festival such as Chester's. There are those who go to see top performances by both famous and lesser-known artists, or to dance in the ceilidhs, perhaps to take part in official singarounds or impromptu pub sessions. There are those who get a kick out of stewarding or otherwise being part of the organising establishment. Then there are the Morris men and women, a breed to be admired, who come into their own on occasions such as this. The list could go on but each of these festival goers will experience a different sort of festival. Many of us try to do something of absolutely everything, which is most probably why it takes me at least the following week to recover.

I had a great festival as usual and wished it would go on all week although somehow I don't think my body would stand it. I met just about everybody I know concerned with folk music in the Cheshire and North Wales area, enjoyed more pints of Weetwood ale than is most probably good for me (the brewery is only a mile and a half away), played a little and saw almost half the acts. More than this requires a dedication denied to your reporter.

Everyone will have their own favourites, but particular high spots for me were, Sean Cannon of the Dubliners, singing with his son James. Back of the Moon were a super band whose sound coming from the big marquee made me put down my mega burrito lunch and rush round to find out who was playing.

One of the benefits of stewarding is to be put into places you would not naturally have chosen to go yourself. Sometimes you discover a great act which is new to you and that's how we came across the energetic band Monsieur Pantin with French piper Jean-Pierre Rasle - truly amazing. Heyfeva play traditional music and are all under 17 and scaringly good. Also full of energy and older but still young (if you see what I mean) were Elbow Jane.

Topping the bill were well known acts such as John Kirkpatrick and the Poozies. A harp player I know was entranced by them. The Mrs Ackroyd Band and Bernard Wrigley provided the comedy. I have to confess I saw all three appearances of Bernard in a single day - not only did he never repeat himself, but each one was funnier than the previous one.

The home side Chester Morris Men led the Morris displays, which included the Witchmen, a side that often changes people's perceptions of Morris dancing. Not every festival has a 'book launch' but at this one local artist, Roy Clinging introduced his book on Cheshire Folk Song, and I've had some excellent reports of it.

But one of the real joys of the festival are the sessions that start in and around the pubs and sometimes continue into the early hours of the morning, in tents around the camping field. The variety of music is wide covering anything that might loosely come under the Folk Music umbrella. I have a weakness for Bluegrass so I was happy to hear some country pickin' going on. Late at night, after the ceilidh, jammed into the Kelsall Social Club bar, we joining in the shantys led by the White Hart Morris, which was another special experience. Best of all was creeping home under the stars after three in the morning, having a left a tent full of music, talk and whisky fumes; an experience to be treasured when the cold damp nights of winter are with us.

When it came to the last hour of the last night, we supped our last drink, struggled to remember words to suitable parting songs and vowed to come back next year - only next year we'll arrange to take the Tuesday off work. We asked at what festival we would all meet up again? Oh yes, we will be there! Oh, if only I could remember where. Until the next time then. If a tear was shed, it was a happy one.


Some comments from our Feedback Forms:

'I really enjoy the folk festival. It gives a lovely atmosphere in the village. Well done to everyone involved in the organization and performing'

'Very good. Keep up the good work. Thanks.

'A lovely weekend with some wonderful music'

'Well run festival - first time but not last'

'We enjoyed the festival. Good organization, friendly atmosphere, music everywhere. We take fine memories home. Thank you!'

'What a festival - best ever honest! - so many brilliant acts'

'Lovely festival, lovely people, lovely village'

'A joy to be here - great community & music'