Shrewsbury Folk Festival, Friday 25th August 2017
Rehearsals were over, the packing was done and it was time to set off for our first experience of the wonderful Shrewsbury Folk Festival. The weather was fine, the roads were kind and we made it easily to a service station near Telford for lunch.
Suitably refreshed, after lunch we drove the last few miles to the festival site which was already busy by the time we arrived.
Despite the tragic loss of one of its main architects and organisers, Alan Surtees, earlier in the summer, the professionalism and organisation behind the Shrewsbury Folk Festival was manifest immediately we arrived and superbly maintained throughout our time there. Communication with artists ahead of the festival, the sorting out of accommodation for artists and the processing of artists arriving on site were all carried out efficiently and effectively.
In our case, we parked up quickly near Artists’ Reception, got our festival wristbands sorted out and then went to have a look around the festival site and, in particular, the two stages we were due to play later in the day.
Almost seconds after we had cast our eyes over the lovely Purity Village Stage - where we would later be honoured with striking the very first notes and chords of the entire festival – we bumped into two of our closest friends. Karen and Phil had travelled up to Shrewsbury from just north of Wolverhampton to come and sample the festival atmosphere and to give us some support. They were both on fine form, were impressed with all the facilities on the festival site and were keen for the music to begin.
After viewing and talking to some of the stage managers in the Sabrina Marquee we then went off to put some of our CDs in the relevant shop outlet on site. How pleasing then to overhear, as Rob was engaged with the shop owner, a festival-goer asking to buy one of our CDs before we had even played a note. So, with a little spring in our step, we headed back to the car to pick up our bags and walk the short distance to the city centre to check into the house where we were being put up for the next two nights.
We walked alongside the beautiful River Severn, up past The Bird in Hand pub where we were due to pay the following day and in to central Shrewsbury.
We really couldn’t have asked for better accommodation than the festival organisers had arranged for us. Two hugely community-oriented individuals, Peter and Geoff, had very kindly agreed to put us up in their beautiful house by the river. When we arrived, Geoff was there to meet us and, after he showed us our rooms and relevant facilities, we all had afternoon tea in the garden watching dozens of small birds feasting on the bird feeder. Our rooms were private and beautifully furnished and, as we were to discover, our hosts were the very personification of kindness for the whole weekend.
Fully settled and refreshed, we then headed back to the festival site to get ready.......to kick the festival off. We collected the gear from the car and made our way to the Purity Village Stage, an covered stage in the centre of a large open space around which many craft vendors set up their stalls. Seating was laid out in the open air around the stage for 350-400 people and, by the time we got to the stage, sound technician Izzi was already hard at work putting the final touches to the p.a. system. We met MC for the session, Neville Street, and chatted a while with him; we were going on first, to be followed by two more acts before the main stages on site struck up for the evening.
As 5.00pm approached, increasing numbers of festival goers started to take up the seating. Many had arrived through the afternoon and were by now ready to hear some music. By the time we started, nearly all the seats were occupied and there was a decent crowd standing to the rear and the sides of the seating area. It was very encouraging to see a number of our friends in the audience.
To commence proceedings, Neville paid a fitting tribute to Alan Surtees - one of many over the weekend - before introducing us to the audience. Encouraged by the excellent sound Izzi had set up for us, we provided a pretty upbeat and varied 45-minute set to get festival proceedings going and I’m pleased to say that, from comments we received immediately after the set and from people speaking to us over the course of the following couple of days, the audience appreciated what we did.
It was really lovely to speak with so many of our friends once we had come off stage. Karen and Phil came and chatted briefly as did Robin Mansfield and Marion and Andy Treby from Cambridge Folk Club, Ruthie Bramley from Ely Folk Club, Christine Connelley from the (sadly now defunct) Herga Folk Club, Rose Jenkins who had organised a gig for us in Yarpole in May and some audience members of who had seen us at the Bracknell Folk Club earlier in the summer.
Our next performance was not until 10.30pm when we were due to finish the evening in the impressive Sabrina Marquee. So, we took the opportunity to go and grab some of the food laid on in the Artists’ Reception area. I won’t namedrop because I’m bound to forget someone but suffice it to say there were a lot of famous folk faces in the canteen tent tucking into the same excellent meat and vegetable curries that Rob and I were enjoying.
By this time the larger stages were coming to life and after listening to Joe Broughton’s marvellous Conservatoire Folk Ensemble warming up while we were eating, we were very interested to then go and spend an hour listening to local early music ensemble K’antu playing music from a splendid new music project called ‘The Sky Begins to Change’ which they have been developing with the residents of old people’s home in Shropshire and other counties. We then took the chance to have half an hour listening to the stunning Sarah Jarosz.
It was then time for us to make our way over to the Sabrina Marquee for our own evening performance. Having a nice backstage ‘green-room’ area makes it so much easier to get tuned up and settled for a big festival stage. As we did so, we listened to the excellent guitar work of local musician Chris Quinn. From the deserved applause, it was clear that there was a sizeable audience out in the Sabrina Marquee.
The technicians did a great job ‘front-of-house’ and on the monitors to create a great sound for us – thank you Matt, IZZI and Chris. The stage management was very efficiently run by Tony and we were physically set up on stage quickly and consummate MC Bob Bignell, well known from Bromsgrove Folk Club, did a great job introducing us ....and we were on.
Although it is never easy to see much past Row 3 when the glare of the stage lights is fully upon you, we could tell from the applause, the responses to jokes, etcetera, that there was a healthy audience present for us in the Marquee. This was doubly pleasing given that the Oysterband and Ragged Union were both on other stages at the same time. Again, I believe we played a good 60 minute set and the response from the audience, both at the time and in comments after the show, was very enthusiastic.
So, we came off stage around 11.30pm, packed up our gear and, to the strains of the Oysterband, made our way across the festival site to the car and then on through an impressively lively Shrewsbury town centre to our accommodation. It had been a very long day but a hugely satisfying one. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the excitement had been such that, despite the lateness of the hour and the comfortableness of the bed, (for me at least) it took quite some time for the adrenalin to dissipate and for sleep to arrive. On to Day 2...