For years, Cambridge Folk Festival stole the limelight as the highlight of the folk calendar, although there were lots of little gems around too.
Purbeck Valley Folk Festival, which evolved from Purbeck Folk Festival, has been growing in popularity and stature in recent years and is branching out from the traditional folk fare into a more diverse and compelling mix of music across 4-5 stages.
Run by Dorset-based folk promoters and father / daughter team Paul and Catherine Burke, the festival has grown from a local event to an international one, attracting a wave of musicians from across the globe.
The big hitters this year were Irish indie folk troupe Villagers, Scottish folk-popsters The Proclaimers and Bristol’s own genre-defying Baraka (read our pre-festival interview with them here). They were flanked by some west country staples in the shape of Sheelanagig, Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman, and local favourites Quinns Quinney.
Villagers delivered a mesmerising set, that unmistakable pronounced pronunciation from frontman Conor treating us to some lyrical mastery and compelling storytelling. Some old favourites such as Nothing Arrived and Becoming A Jackal were peppered through the set, but it was mostly a showcase of recent material. You could hear a pin drop during some songs, and the odd bit of shushing during others.
Those Reid brothers aka The Proclaimers pulled in the biggest crowd of the weekend, performing a wholesome set which was topped off with the inevitable I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles). Far from cementing their status as one hit wonders they impressed the motley crowd with some 50s-sounding crooner tunes such as Let’s Get Married and Sunshine on Leith. The Scottish twang shone through and you could not help but smile.
Cheeky local favourites Quinns Quinney (of which festival founder Cath used to be a member), blurted out an impromptu cover of Proclaimers’ 500 Miles during their soundcheck (which clashed with the Proclaimers actual set) much to everyone’s delight. But while the older among us were swaying to the big name draw, the younger drunker folk were bouncing around to Quinn Quinneys’ excellently executed covers – from Arabian Nights (complete with belly dancers) to Toxic by Britney Spears in what they dubbed the “ultimate rural disco”. Special mention must go to guitarist Deena, whose guitar solo stole the show.
“Anybody here doesn’t dance?” asked Baraka, “You’ll be pleased to know we’re the cure!”. They weren’t wrong. The infectious beats and reggae sounds cannot fail to uplift people and despite a day of drizzle and some deserters, Sunday night was just as brilliant as the two which preceded it.
Many of the musicians commented on how wonderful this festival was, including Sam Duckworth – once Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly and now presenting as Recreations. Playing the beautifully decked out Long Barn, he was on a one man mission to convert the, um, converted. A series of angsty protest songs about anything from the NHS to institutionalised racism, the set was well received by this crowd and he undoubtedly picked up a few more followers.
Folk scene regular Eliza Carthy is always a force to be reckoned with and this gig was no exception. Playing alongside the Wayward Band, she delivered her spellbinding and brilliantly energetic folk – alternating from fierce fiddle playing to captivating singing like it was the easiest thing in the world. Similar scenes on the main stage when Rory McLeod stole the show on Friday afternoon.
The Fox and the Owl proved the perfect openers on the Fire Stage on Saturday, perhaps the best stage due to the intimacy and the setting at the bottom of a slight hill with lovely views over the Purbecks. Mixing original songs with the odd luscious cover, including Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams, they had sniffs of Magic Numbers and The Carpenters about them – standing on the right side of twee. Another band borrowing part of their name from a bird of prey, Owl in the Sun played a well-received set on the Fire stage on Saturday evening dedicating one of their songs to “all the Lauras out there”. Thanks guys!
The site, nestled in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, The Jurassic Coast, is ideal for this boutique event. Two barns cover the main stages, meaning the temperamental British Bank Holiday weather is not so much of an issue; the expertly selected food stalls hit the spot (especially the South African street food – Bunny Chow, which we mentioned last year); and the added extras keep your younguns out of trouble, from clay workshops to storytelling and bizarre busking. It’s a real nice vibe and caters for all tastes.
Top image: The Proclaimers. Photography by Laura Williams.