Ramsbottom is wet. It’s very wet. So wet in fact that I’m not sure why the “hook-a-duck” game on the fairground section has not just put all his plastic ducks on the various lakes that have formed on the cricket ground. A five minute walk to the festival ground leaves our jeans soaking and me with the distinct feeling that my waterproof is not quite living up to its promise. Entering the festival it looks empty but it soon becomes apparent that despite a hardy handful of people clustered around the main stage in varying stages of sodden the majority of the adult festival goers are huddled in the tents. Beer tents to be precise. Well, this is real ale country. I say adult festival goers as the children are content to splash in puddles and this is a very family friendly festival with fairground rides and the inevitable candyfloss in evidence. Spread over three days today is the final day and is dubbed “Folk Sunday” at the festival which promises a line up of all that is upcoming and good in the world of folk music.
Arriving on stage for the biggest downpour of the day Tristan Mackay valiantly remain on the stage with a Donovan via New Orleans blues style of melodic folk rock pausing only to belt out Travis’ “Why Does It Always Rain On Me” in an ironic homage to the on-going deluge. A slight decrease in rainfall rate and it’s time for Kan who are a revelation. Traditionally inspired folk music heavy on the fiddle but with a synthesiser this group perform a tour of the world through folk music engaging the crowd with a playlist that harks back to traditional Irish folk with a nod to the emerging Middle Eastern folk tradition. They go down an absolute storm drawing a huge and enthusiastic crowd to stand in the increasing drizzle and dimming light as well and encouraging the security guard to launch into an impromptu jig
Next up is Thea Gilmore, ethereal folk songstress with the sublime “Coffee and Roses” surely destined to become a folk standard, with her version of “Sweet Child of Mine” and the collaboration with Sandy Denny “London” following. Joined on stage by both her husband and 5-year-old son on fledgling fiddle she rattles through an assured set of melodic heartfelt folk/country cross over so loved by romantic films to the delight of a crowd who are fast filling up and obviously contain a number of fans. It is easy to see the influences here; Elvis Costello for the lyrical component as well as the omnipresent influence of the late Sandy Denny and the impact the posthumous collaboration between the two has left.
Leaving the stage Thea introduces Seth Lakeman, described by The Levellers as the future of British folk it’s easy to see why. Combining the energy of Billy Bragg with the stylish smoothness of many of the American country singers, Mercury nominated Seth Lakeman draws on his decade of recording music to perform an energetic and polished set ranging from the soulful to more rocky and which seems to make the assembled growing crowd forget the continuing rain.
Then running late it is time for the headliner; Scotland’s song writing diamond, Roddy Frame. Having been performing for over three decades this is literally a set where you are spoiled for choice. The hits are all here; opening with “Small World” the theme to BBC comedy Early Doors. Unfortunately direct interaction with the crowd although good is limited which as Roddy explains is due to his starting late. It’s obvious that Mr Frame would prefer to let his music do the talking and invites his fans – of which the crowd is heavily populated – to “tweet me later”. “Oblivious”, “Bigger Brighter Better” fall on the ears in a torrent like the earlier rain, the well known along with a sprinkling of lesser known songs to delight the hard-core fans and casual observer alike. Finishing with the iconic “Somewhere in my Heart” Roddy Frame gives the audience a master class in intelligent and heartfelt song writing whilst seeming genuinely touched that the crowd know the songs. This performance is truly a class act and he even indulges in a spot of Elvis hip wiggling…
So wet it might have been, cold even during the Roddy Frame set when the cloud cover disappeared so we could see the stars above to match that on stage but mere folk music? No, this was a tour de force of British folk music and the fact we had to stand in the rain to listen to it just made it seem a bit more British.
Words: Gillian Potter-Merrigan
Photos: Brian Merrigan