Reviews & Photographs


By Didge Lewis for Folk Orbit:

It doesn't seem twelve months but it is really - another Chester Folk Festival has taken place. It came and went in a blur, no sooner had it started than it was over. I would like to rewind and rerun it, only this time a little slower, (apart from the rain on Sunday), and enjoy it all a second time.

I can't help but write about it because it happens literally on my doorstep, so I'm completely involved with it, and most of all it's a cracking festival. Size wise it is at the middling point of the scale and in tune with this, the mood is relaxed and laid back. The main site (in Kelsall about eight miles outside Chester) is compact and very handily placed next door to the Morris Dancer pub, just across the road from the Co-Op convenience store and a short walk from the other festival venues at the local Community Centre and Social Club, and 2 other pubs: The Farmers Arms and The Oak. All the pubs serve food and the Farmers Arms offers a Chinese take-out service.

To start with a true-life confession - last year I made a solemn promise (signed in a mixture of blood and Weetwood's Old Dog) that this year I would join in on the Morris Dance workshop and report back. However, I have to admit that I didn't make it.

I don't usually the mention the band of organisers, that keep the Chester festival going. They remind me of that saying about the swan that glides serenely by, while under water its webbed feet are going like the clappers. However, I am a member of that group, and it gives me an extra special personal buzz to be part of the thing. Which is a long way round of saying that at the time of the Morris Workshop I had official duties looking after the Social Club, where sound checks for the artists in that afternoon's concert were going on. Oh well, I'll try again next year (or perhaps I might be able to fit it in at another festival.)

From any point of view it was a great festival. I saw some great acts, met a load of really nice people, supped a few decent ales and finished the weekend feeling pretty tired but extremely happy.

I saw some fine performances, though one I didn't get to was Dave Swarbrick. Most people know that Dave has been very seriously ill, but happily has now returned to the performing circuit. Many people came specially to see Swarb and his appropriately named band Lazarus. Unfortunately, some hasty reorganisation was needed for the Sunday evening concert when Swarb decided he wanted to go on first, in doing so he caught both the organisers and the audience by surprise. However, the audience readily forgave a legend who had almost returned from the grave and gave him a good reception anyway.

The other major act I missed because I had other duties at the time was The Churchfitters. This Brittany based band surprised the many who hadn't heard them before and the reception they got as extremely enthusiastic. I missed too, Roy Clinging's musical play "A Poor Man's Heritage" the feedback said it was most moving.

Talking of feedback, festival goers are encouraged to complete feedback forms and I guarantee that us organisers read and take on board every word. (The especially good words we read twice, and I'm pleased to say there has been a fair number of them.) However, though I feel personally sad that the local Co-Op could not supply the hairbrush one festival goer needed, I'm not sure what I can do about it.

With the two major exceptions I've described above, I managed to catch up with most acts I wanted to see. For quite a while now I've been thinking Last Nights Fun might sound even better with a bodhran player, you know how you get these completely stupid ideas (or is it just me?). But Ciaran Boyle has joined the band and guess what he plays! They were terrific full of vigour and energy. I also enjoyed the banter of Chris (he's one with the concertina) between songs which is dry and witty, and perhaps an acquired taste but it just creases me up. That word 'energy' - I've noticed that month after month I'm using it, of bands and acts that really impress me. It's something to do with the way they start to play and hit you between the eyes with their performance, whatever their musical style.

I think I may of used it a year ago of the young band Isambarde, who were such a hit that they were invited back this year. They may be still young but in the intervening year have become seasoned performers and are settling down into a style and repertoire that is so uniquely theirs. And I'm glad to say that collectively Em, Jude and Chris have that Wow factor more than ever. They led a great Youth Session on Sunday morning - Jude had her own woodwind section.

If I was pressed to pick the young act of the Festival that would be The Devil's Interval (muso note - it's an augmented fourth if I remember correctly) who first impressed me on last winter's Waterson Carthy 'Frost and Fire' tour. Without the great grand-parents of English folk, as an unaccompanied trio, they're really impressive. Other acts I liked included Meridian, Crucible, and of course Phil Beer. Local acts Full House, Waite Collective and The Doghouse Roses really were excellent and as good as anybody else on the bill.

Finally my vote for the most unusual sight of the Festival is the Britannia Coconut Dancers, who have to be seen to be believed.

I just can't wait for the next festival.

By Pete Massey for Green Man Review:

The Chester Folk Festival was held once again in the village of Kelsall, just 10 miles outside of Chester towards Manchester. Despite the great British weather holding true to the old saying “Never cast a clout till May is out” this year was a little cold and wet, but it did nothing to dampen the spirits of those attending. Indeed the attendance figures proved the popularity of this festival is growing. Playing to packed houses in the main marquee, the social club and the community centre, the audience had feast of both national and local artists to entertain them.

Saturday saw Crucible, Last Nights Fun, Nancy Kerr & James Fagan, The Devil's Interval, Full House, Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer, and Les Barker all strutting their stuff. All were most excellent, but I have to say Crucible, Nancy Kerr & James Fagan, and Full House (a local band now with 5 members) impressed me the most. Although the comedy from Last Nights Fun and Les Barker, always firm favourites, seemed endless - need I say more!

Sunday found Swarb's Lazarus headlining the bill with Coope, Boyes & Simpson, Isambarde, Meridian and Caliko. For me Isambarde walked away with the crown for the best performance. This was the 2nd year for Isambarde at Chester and the band just gets stronger and stronger.

I have to confess to being a little disappointed with the top of the bill Swarb's Lazarus. Perhaps I expected more. Certainly they posses the fastest sets of fingers on the planet, but for some reason their ‘showing off’ and chosen material left me cold. This was definitely the year of the frantic ‘Celtic style’ strumming bands, indeed some of the bands are now tending to sound very much the same. However, worthy of an extra mention was the very talented multi instrumentalists Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer. I hadn’t seen them before. They gave an impressive performance and are well worth looking out for in the future.

I understand the main Monday concert at 2pm was a huge success with The Churchfitters, Phil Beer, Bill Caddick, and Ben & Joe Broughton on the bill. I would love to comment on it but the community centre was completely full and I couldn’t get in! My fault for trying to be in two places at the same time. Memo for next year: get there early! However, I did manage to catch the 12pm to 2pm mini concert with Caliko, Isambarde, Andy Clarke, Roy Clinging & Neil Brookes, and Welcome, Finnan & Chrimes, again putting on fine performance, so I can’t really complain.

So that afternoon, as usual, the Morris Dancer pub was crammed full with at least 4 different ‘never ending sessions’ in full swing. The ale flowed and so did the music. Outside the pub, various Morris teams gave a fine display of their dances all afternoon. I left with my head buzzing with music, inspiration, and ideas for new songs.

All in all it was an absolutely superb and well run festival, with all the sing-a-rounds, workshops, and sessions, never a dull moment, always something going on! Congratulations must go to the unsung heroes, being the organisers and their team, for a job well done.

Some comments from our Feedback Forms:

'A big thank you to all the organisers and helpers. It's been a very enjoyable festival. Chester has its own atmosphere which is not repeated elsewhere'

'The line up was fabulous , great to see a lot of younger performers and of course the legendary Mr Swarbrick - what a treat'

'Good variation in type of music - covering various folk genres'

'Our first time at Kelsall; really enjoyed it despite the weather. Well-organised, from website full of info., to sound quality and venues. Will come again'

'Another terrific line-up and organisation. Great to see so many performers enjoying as well as putting the effort in'

'A big thank you to the organisers, the staff were all friendly and helpful and despite the weather the atmosphere was fantastic, I think I read something on the programme that said "the little festival with the big atmosphere" well, that sums it up for me. Well done to all concerned'