Fun, Fiddles and Faeries at Shrewsbury Folk Festival

By guest bloggers Laura Noszlopy and Tom Cowin

Shrewsbury Folk Festival 2014 has been another fantastic folk extravaganza. With over forty acts playing over four stages and four days, there is no way to see everything, but there is certainly something for everyone’s taste. In addition to the musical smorgasbord, SFF14 also offered a brilliant dance tent, a kids field, food stalls galore, and an amazing array of other activities and workshops. The annual Morris Dance-off started in Shrewsbury town centre and sauntered back to the showground. A family of bawdy folk faeries frolicked next to the children’s craft tent and spent the long weekend mingling with festival-goers, making the children squeal, giggle or hide behind their parents’ legs. The Panic circus skills tent was packed with excited children all weekend, balancing on pedalos and unicycles, learning juggling skills and tightrope walking. 

The Refokus project for teens offered workshops all weekend—including Japanese Taiko drumming and clog dancing—and they showcased their efforts on the final day with a group performance. Pandemonium provided loads of craft and dance workshops: the kids also made their own lanterns from willow, paper and glue, which they lit up with LEDs and paraded on Sunday evening to the accompaniment of pipes and drums.

This is a family-friendly festival with a deeply laidback attitude. The stewards and other volunteers ensure that everything runs smoothly and happily. Diane Taylor, a steward who’d travelled down from Leeds for the event, described how she loves “how such a huge event creates its own village atmosphere.” There is plenty of real ale and revelry (many people carried their own tankards, tied to their belts), but there is no loutishness. Many have travelled from afar to watch their favourite acts and there is a sense of dedication to the music on each stage and in every marquee.

Proceedings on the main stage kicked off with festival stalwart John James with his inimitable brand of acoustic rock, ably backed by his band The Reluctant Ramblers.

Things were taking a more traditional tack over on stage two with melodeon maestro Andy Cutting, Andy’s unaccompanied renditions of British and European dance tunes (somewhat incongruously played to a seated audience) brought the timeless melodies of the music.

The Dohl Foundation brought Friday night to a close with a truly electrifying show. Fierce Punjabi drumming expertly blended with celtic harmonies, bhangra and Irish dancing,  both they and the audience could have carried on way beyond the festival curfew.  

Saturday afternoon highlights included traditional dance tunes and songs played on fiddle, hurdy-gurdy and woodwind by Cupola, husband and wife duo Megson with their finely crafted contemporary folk songs, and the rousing acapella harmonies of The Wilsons. The evening started on high note on stage two with Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin. Phillips is regarded as one of the top slide guitarists in this country: his expert, atmospheric playing combined with Hannah’s sublime vocals, made for a fine show.

On the main stage Karine Polwarts very well received show was followed by Mat Gordon and Leonard Podolak, a true highlight of the festival with their stunning display of musical virtuosity  and fancy footwork. Their unadorned set of Appalachian dance tunes and clog dancing brought the entire marquee to its feet in rapturous applause. Steve Knightley’s Wake the Union gave the audience just what they wanted to wind up their festival Saturday in style.

Sunday afternoon saw Bella Hardy play to a packed Main Stage Two audience who clearly loved her jazz tinged easily melodic songs and crystal clear singing voice. Main Stage One was at capacity as seemingly the entire site squeezed in to hear Lau. This trio from Scotland delivered their high octane blend of great musicianship and intense music, evocative of the wild Highland landscape with great skill and a quietly assured delivery, this was a quality show. Seth Lakeman brought proceedings  to a close with his unique, high energy, soulful take on traditional songs and dance tunes.

Monday brought the only truly soggy day of the festival, but while the outside was a typically sodden grey bank holiday inside the main stage spirits and the temperature remained high throughout the afternoon. The Full English delivered an insightful and passionate performance drawing on the work of the great collectors of traditional songs whose work has created an invaluable archive of our shared musical heritage for future generations of musicians to draw on. Finally came Bellowhead, a foot stomping barnstormer of a show. Bellowhead fuse folk tunes with a brass section to create a unique big band take on folk music. They don’t let the pace slacken for a moment throughout their set and their love of the music is truly infectious. A fine close to a wonderfully varied program of top quality music.

A fantastic weekend’s music and festivities, well appreciated by all. There was even some August Bank Holiday sunshine; even Monday’s downpour didn’t dampen the spirits.

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Pete White Pete White

Love Shrewsbury editor and chief developer at The Web Orchard, find out more on petejwhite.com

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