Sets, Rugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll*

Folk by the Oak 2009

My weekend visit to London also included a little trip to the countryside. On Sunday, my mate John and I took a short train ride to Hatfield in Hertfordshire to attend the second annual Folk by the Oak festival that takes place in the scenic Hatfield House. This is a one-day festival that is quite inexpensive and extremely relaxed and full of British acts that play folk and traditional music. John knew a lot more of the bands’ music than I did, but I quite enjoyed the music, the performers, the audience, the cider and the craic. The price of the tickets proved to be extremely good value at the ridiculously low price of 29 quid. The organisers even encouraged guests to bring their own food and drink. The price of the drink on sale at the venue was even cheaper than in the pubs in Ireland and there were no queues to the bar as many people seemed to have brought their own. The quality and the quantity of the food on offer was the only downside. This may have been due to the fact that many people brought picnic baskets, a luxury that is not afforded to those who travel with Ryanair. Even the weather, which had been amazing on the previous day, wasn’t too bad. It started out nice, but started to drizzle in the evening. This built up to a trickle later, before finally disappearing for the last few hours. Most people had brought clothing for this type of weather, but there were a few wankers who brought umbrellas that prevented people standing behind them from seeing the stage. Now, they weren’t wankers for bringing umbrellas, of course, but only because they wouldn’t put them down when asked. This was the only ocassion when it seemed like some aggro might occur. Fortunately, it came to nothing as the weather improved, the brollies came down, the wankers departed and the poor unfortunates who had been unable to see the stage were now able to do so. Here are some pictures of the seven acts that performed along with my recollections of their performances

(One half of) The Shee at Folk by the Oak 2009

(One half of) The Shee at Folk by the Oak 2009

The other half of The Shee at Folk by the Oak 2009

The other half of The Shee at Folk by the Oak 2009

The festival opened promptly at two in the afternoon with a wonderful performance by a band called The Shee. The group is wholly composed of six young women who hail from the border between Scotland and England. Their set included a mixture of vocal tunes as well as instrumental ones. The non-vocal ones bore a similarity to traditional Irish music and featured fiddles, whistles, the accordion and an electric harp. Their playing was of a high standard and it was obvious that the ladies were also enjoying themselves. Rachel’s harp augmented the sound quite well and she seemed to use the top strings like a bass. Rachel also sang a song in Scotch gaelic that wasn’t a million miles away from the Irish language. They gave us a rousing rendition of a traditional song called Tom Paine’s Bones that included some audience participation. We also helped out when we were treated to a bit of dancing when Amy put down her accordion and put on her dancing shoes. It was a little like Irish dancing, but had more in common with bluegrass styles which, of course, had been brought to the States from the British Isles. The Shee certainly got things rolling even though most of the crowd still seemed to be digesting their Sunday lunches. They play at The Cambridge Folk Festival this weekend and I’m sure it won’t be too long before we see them in Ireland

Chris Wood at Folk by the Oak 2009

Chris Wood at Folk by the Oak 2009

The mood mellowed a little when Chris Wood took the stage with just his voice and guitar. Chris won both Folk Singer and Folk Album of the Year at this year’s BBC 2 awards ceremony. He fits into the more traditional image of the folk troubadour and his voice and music certainly contribute to that image. However, his songs are set firmly in the present and are relevant to the times we live in now, surely something that all folk singers should aspire to. In The Cottager’s Reply, he tells the tale of a wealthy Londoner who tries to use his wealth to take the man’s home and land. He introduces a new song about the shooting of the Brazilian, Jean Charles de Menezes, who was mistaken for a terrorist by the Metropolitan police in 2005. This song is very cinematic and also quite moving. Finally, he is joined on stage by Karine Polwart, who joins him for an excellent rendition of Come Down Jehovah, a song that pokes fun at religion. Wood’s banter between the songs was as witty and amusing as some of his songs. He took a particular delight in making fun of the audience who were mainly composed of picnicking families laying on rugs, elderly couples relaxing in deck chairs, and even a few knitters! I guess you could say that it was more Acoustic Picnic than Electric Picnic

Karine Polwart at Folk by the Oak 2009

Karine Polwart at Folk by the Oak 2009

Chris Woods returned to the stage to join the next act, Karine Polwart. Karine won the Best Newcomer award at the 2005 BBC Folk Awards at the tender age of 34. In fact, she had been playing in bands for years prior to that. Her current band includes her brother on guitar and, along with their accordionist, they make a nice sound. I really liked the harmonies when the three of them sang together. Like Chris Wood, her songs touches on social issues such as depression, alcoholism and war. Nevertheless, the band’s polished performance and melodic tunes counteracted the subject matter of many of the songs

Jim Moray at Folk by the Oak 2009

Jim Moray at Folk by the Oak 2009

The mood changed a bit when Jim Moray took to the stage as his set could be described more as rock & roll than folk. He even had an electric guitar! I don’t think he went down too well with some of the crowd, particularly the ones who were awakened from their slumbers. He and his band played an energetic set and certainly got some of the crowd going. The rest of the crowd may even have enjoyed it when he put on his acoustic guitar and played a song about Adam Ant. Nice one, Jim

Kathryn Tickell at Folk by the Oak 2009

Kathryn Tickell at Folk by the Oak 2009

Some of the crowd were on their feet again for the Kathryn Tickell Band and those near the front took the opportunity to do a spot of dancing. Tickell is from Northumbria and has been making albums for over two decades. Her music is also similar to traditional Irish music and she and her band were quite accomplished and lively. Kathryn plays the Northumbrian pipes, which seem to be a more portable version of the uileann pipes, and the fiddle. She’s been involved in teaching music for many years and had taught the day’s opening act, The Shee

Lau at Folk by the Oak 2009

Lau at Folk by the Oak 2009

Lau are a Scottish three-piece whose music combines elements of rock and traditional. I enjoyed some of their stuff, particularly the vocal performances, but I found that some of the tunes went on a bit too much for me. I suppose it didn’t help that the weather was quite damp during their set and some thoughtless individuals in front of me chose this time to put up their umbrellas

Kate Rusby & band at Folk by the Oak 2009

Kate Rusby & band at Folk by the Oak 2009

Kate Rusby closing Folk by the Oak 2009

Kate Rusby closing Folk by the Oak 2009

Just before 9.00pm, Kate Rusby and her band came on to close the event. She was the act whose music I was most familiar and the one I had been looking forward to hearing. And she certainly didn’t disappoint. From the moment the first words came out her mouth, it was obvious that her voice is as amzing live as it is on her albums. Her music combines elements of folk and traditional forms, but it is her voice, with its strong Barnsley accent, that stands out. Her songs do not deal with social issues as such, but are more concerned with matters of the heart. Like many of the day’s performers, her banter between songs was funny and helped us forget about the rain. She played an enthralling set and finished alone on the stage as some fireworks were set off nearby. It turned out to be an explosive end to one of the safest and most relaxed festivals that I’ve ever attended. Perhaps I’ll be back again next year

* The title of this post was suggested by John Devane while attending the Folk by the Oak

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  1. Pingback: Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2009: Music « Town Full of Losers

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