Darren Beech caught up with Peter Chegwyn just before the festival and had a chat about what we could expect from Wickham this year.
Many of the UK’s finest traditional singers and musicians appeared at the Wickham Festival near Fareham which took place between Thursday 3rd and Sunday 6th August.
They included Seth Lakeman; Show of Hands; Oysterband: Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band; Kathryn Tickell; The Peatbog Faeries; The Fisherman’s Friends; Lau; Edward II; Boo Hewerdine; The Dhol Foundation; The Spooky Mens Chorale; Steve Tilston & Jez Lowe; Wizz Jones; Talisk; Fay Hield & The Hurricane Party; Les Barker; TradArr plus many more.
Also appearing at Wickham 2017 were the 70s chart-toppers 10cc; top Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall; Festival favourites The Levellers; plus Andy Fairweather-Low & The Low Riders; John Otway; The Selecter plus many more well-known names.
The Wickham Festival was voted the UK’s Best Small Festival at the Live UK Music Awards in 2015 and has also been described as one of Britain’s top boutique and family-friendly festivals by The Guardian newspaper.
The festival featured live music on four stages plus a host of other attractions including storytelling, street theatre, dance displays, childrens entertainers, a digital funfair, laser arena, traditional crafts fayre, exotic foods fayre, real ale & cider festival and a late night festival club.
Festival organiser Peter Chegwyn says it’s “a real coup for a small village festival like Wickham to attract so many top artistes who have performed at major music festivals throughout the world.
“The Wickham Festival is known for its relaxed, friendly atmosphere and the high quality of the music on offer. People travel from all over the UK and abroad to attend. This year’s ticket sales are running at a record level and we are confident that our 10th birthday festival at Wickham will be our best yet.”
I couldn’t finish without putting up one of Peters favourite videos from the Gosport and Fareham Easter festival back in 2010 when Alan Burke dedicating “I will go” to the man himself.
Starting life as a series of pop up gigs by the city’s acclaimed folk/roots reggae outfit and other artists constructed round the Manchester Ballads, a collection of thirty five broadside ballads dating from the industrial revolution which, collected by two local folk music enthusiast historians, was published, with backing from Manchester City Council, in the form of facsimile prints of the original penny broadsheets, alongside background to the songs and, as required, a dialect glossary.
Providing a snapshot of Mancunian life in the industrial era, they now form the basis of this new album, the band’s first full length release of new material in 15 years, contemporary arrangements of several of the ballads also featuring Bury-born broadside balladress Jenifer Reid who provides four a capella or spoken excerpts, three taken from her own album, ‘The Langley Linnett’, The album opens with 38 seconds from The Testimony of Patience’, a song about a 17-year-old girl’s life working in the mines also recorded by The Unthanks, before the band, still fronted by the warm tones of Glen Latouche, launch in with the title track, a melodically cascading, melodeon wheezing celebration of the city’s changing fortunes.
Next up, introduced by a gypsy violin flourish, is the rock steady groove of ‘Ragbag’, an 1861 commentary on the exploitation of drinkers by greedy, lying landlords. What follows sees a departure from the core broadsides concept in the band’s jaunty, horns led version of ‘Dirty Old Town’, although, written by Ewan McColl about the harsh living condition in Salford, it gels perfectly with the social and personal histories elsewhere on the album. I’m not persuaded the same argument can be applied to the other more modern cover, a reggaefied take on New Order’s ‘Love Vigilantes’, tenuously justified by the fact Joy Division used to sing their own songs of Mancunian life at a venue in the heart of the historic ballad centre. But, what the hell, it’s a great version.
Returning to the source, opening on a burst of melodeon, ‘Soldier’s Farewell To Manchester’, written around 1800, concerns a soldier looking to bed his girl before going off to war, promising to marry her the next day, she offering to let him do as he will and then join him in disguise. Similarly lighthearted, ‘Victoria Bridge on a Saturday Night’ celebrates a typical weekend goodtime of drinking, market stalls, revelry, “good things and bad” on the bridge over the Irwell which today links the cities of Manchester and Salford. Maybe it’s me, but it sounds almost like a Squeeze song. Then there’s ‘Mr. Sadler’s Balloon’, a musically clumping celebration of the first balloon flight in the country by James Sadler in 1785.
By contrast, several of the ballads are far more serious, addressing politics and troubled times. The five minute ‘The Great Flood’, for example, is a dub-reggae paced account of the 1872 tragedy that overwhelemed central Manchester when the Medlock burst its banks, washing coffins and bodies out of the ground. Others address the civil unrest and uprisings that marked the struggles of workers for improved conditions and the right to vote, the slow, moody ‘Peterloo’ concerning the peaceful gathering of August 16, 1819 that ended in a bloody massacre and the following, jauntier and lengthier titled, ‘A New Song on the Great Demonstration which is to made on Kersal Moor, September 24th, 1838’, referencing the Chartist rally that occurred in its wake.
The exploitation of workers and the fight for better pay continues with the catchy sprightly lurching ‘A Humorous And Interesting Dialogue’ between an employer and employee with its message refrain to masters who keep their wages low to “never keep your workmen down and use them manfully.” The album ends with ‘The Execution of Allen, Gould and Larkin’ which, those up on their 19th century British history will know refers to the so-called Manchester Martyrs, Philip Allen, Michael Larkin and Michael O’Brien (referred to as Gould in the press of the time), three members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood who were hung on Sept 18, 1867 for being part of a gang (two others who were acquitted) that attacked a police van transporting two of the movement’s leaders, during which a sergeant was killed. The notice of their execution was published as a pamphlet featuring the ballad recounting their fate, but here it appears as an instrumental, with the Manchester Session Strings, in the style of an Irish air.
Lavishly packaged with a 48 page book in which social archaeologist David Jennings provides an informative commentary on the ballads and the times, it’s a terrific piece of work, both musically and in a historical context, a reminder of what folk music is actually all about.
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