Wickham Festival 2015 – Reviewed by Simon Burch

Click on the photo below to see the full set…

Wickham 2015

Staged in a corn field and with three stages linked by alleyways of food and crafts stalls, Wickham proved to be a good nursery slope for my family of first-time festival goers: no intimidating vast crowds and a relaxed atmosphere which built steadily through what turned out to be some swelteringly hot days.

showofhands_wickham15Musically, in the main All Time Grates big top stage it was folk with a twist of vintage pop and rock: from crowd-pleasing sets by folk stars such as Seth Lakeman, Show of Hands, Eliza Carthy, Lisbee Stainton and Martin Carthy to The South – Beautiful South survivors Dave Hemmingway and Alison Wheeler – 10CC, Billy Bragg, Cockney Rebel, Wilko Johnson and The Proclaimers.

Crowd_Wickham15The crowd was an eclectic mix of folk devotees and commuter belt families, but overall the demographic was mature and knowledgeable so that at times the main stage had the contented air of a cricket match, with festival goers seated sensibly underneath sun-hats on folding chairs, sipping real ale and completing sudokus to the sound of music.

Giants@WickhamI soon found out that for a parent festivals have to be enjoyed in the round. My children weren’t there for the music, but found instead joy in the laser quest – a shoot-‘em-up inside a series of sweaty, dark inflatable tunnels – the solar-powered Groovy Movie cinema and the digital funfair, a quirky installation where gamers played Space Invaders while sitting on a stationary bike or racked up high scores by slapping two headless mannequins on their plastic buttocks in time to music.

Playbus_Wickham15After a while it became possible to enjoy the music while waiting for them to complete their activities or resisting their pleas to spend the GDP of a small country in the various food and craft stalls, simply via the proximity to the three stages, especially the acoustic stage, where a varied line-up of young up-and-comers and older veterans strummed, picked and twanged their way skilfully through a mixture of their own material and interpretations of popular classics, finding favour with a sprinkling of punters lounging back on the straw-coated ground.

At the top of the festival was the sweatier and rockier Bowman Ales Stage 2 tent – which hosted performances from Edward II, headlining prog rockers Stone Cold and Damn Beats – but I confess that, as a first-timer wanting to immerse myself in folk my visits there were fleeting so I concentrated on the main stage, where a succession of acts filled the afternoons and evenings with musical stories from every corner of Britain and beyond.

SpookyMen_Wickham15From the lilting Northumberland romance of Kathryn Tickell and the Side, to the seasoned yarns of Huw Williams and Maartin Allcock and the acapella oddness of the Spooky Men’s Chorale, it is fair to say there was something for everyone’s tastes, but the big top came into its own later on as the sun dipped behind the food stalls and the headliners took to the stage.

BillyBragg_Wickham15Among the highlights was the life-affirming return to action of Wilko Johnson, the welcome familiarity of The (Beautiful) South’s hits and the appearance of Billy Bragg, whose wit and political zeal brought Friday night to a close. The next night, Seth Lakeman gave a rollicking masterclass of modern folk rock, sweeping the audience along and raising the temperature in the big top.

Proclaimers2_Wickham15Despite the passing of years, festival headliners The Proclaimers hadn’t seemingly aged that much and their set was a polished resounding collection of love songs, devoted to Scotland as much as to the objects of their desire. The large TV screens showed that the Reid twins had their committed fans who knew all of Proclaimers1_Wickham15the words, but as the night continued, you did get the feeling that most people in the tent were waiting for their signature tune – I Would Walk 500 Mile – like a seashore full of surfers all readying themselves for the big wave that would take them right to shore.

And, duly, at about five to 11, it arrived: cueing a joyous outburst of jigs and a singalong in affected Scottish accents. This provided the most exuberant moment of the weekend, before it drew to a close with a thank you and good night, and the boys left the stage.

The third night was over, but the next day the sun again rose hot and strong. Family holiday commitments meant I had to slip away early, but in my absence the crowds returned with their chairs and sun hats, eager for more.

Simon Burch – 23 August 2015

The Askew Sisters: new album

AskewsSister duo Emily and Hazel Askew released their long awaited new album In The Air Or The Earth on 5th May. Fresh from their work with acts such as Lady Maisery, The Elizabethan Session and The Dufay Collective, the sisters have been focusing on working as a duo again and this will be their first release since the critically acclaimed Through Lonesome Woods in 2010.

In The Air Or The Earth is a dark album that explores themes of boundary crossing. It features striking renditions of some of the most challenging ballads, such as ‘The Wife of Usher’s Well’ and ‘The Unquiet Grave’, alongside sweeping dance tunes and ancient hornpipes. Throughout the album, the sisters use fiddle, melodeon and concertina to create cinematic arrangements that expose their skill for interpreting and reworking traditional material, taking you to the very heart of each song. Woven throughout are the influences of Emily’s work on the early music scene alongside Hazel’s captivating voice, which won her Best Female Singer in the 2011 Spiral Earth Awards. Continue reading The Askew Sisters: new album

Sarah Morgan Memorial Concert

Memorial
Winchester Community Choir, Carolyn Robson, Moira Craig and Mary Eagle
April 13th 2014

I know it isn’t done to review an event like this and I have no intention of doing so. But I do feel that a concert that meant so much to so many people should be reported.

Sarah Morgan died, suddenly but not unexpectedly, on 14th September 2013. In her last days she laboured to complete her doctoral thesis under the watchful eyes of her friends and her doctorate was awarded posthumously. That was the sort of her person she was. It transpires that the idea for a memorial event was discussed before she died and Sarah even made a list of the people she wanted to appear. It was thought by some – those who had given up singing seriously several years ago – that this was Sarah’s last little joke but not one person refused the invitation to appear. It fell to Sarah’s final musical partners, Moira Craig and Carolyn Robson to make the idea a reality on April 13th at Winchester Guildhall.

The Community Choir movement, with which Sarah was so heavily involved in recent years was represented by five groups: choirs from Winchester, Alton and Petersfield, The Spotlight Singers and The Andover Museum Loft Singers. I believe Sarah founded three of these and their repertoires included songs that Sarah arranged, published and sometimes wrote tunes for.

Friends old and new filled the bill. From the past we heard Val Higson, a member of Curate’s Egg alongside Sarah way back in the 1970s and Sheila March, formerly of Bread And Roses, Sarah’s first all-female group. Representing the younger generation was Susannah Starling who proved what a remarkable accompanying instrument the double bass can be. From America came Mary Eagle who first came here thirty years ago and captured everyone’s heart and her friend and fellow Appalachian singer Joe Penland. Sarah’s musical connections covered a lot of ground.

Major names who travelled across the country for their ten or fifteen minutes on stage included Lester Simpson, John Kirkpatrick, The Askew Sisters, Ron Taylor, Jeff Gillett, Eddie Upton and Grace Notes. Mary Humphreys & Anahata, Mick Ryan, Tom & Barbara Brown and Doug Bailey didn’t have quite so far to travel and neither did Belshazzar’s Feast who closed their set and the concert proper with ‘Home Lads Home’ – words by Cecily Fox Smith and music by Sarah Morgan.

No memorial is over without a big finish and ‘Only Remembered’, also sung at Sarah’s funeral, had become a sort of theme. “Only remembered, only remembered, only remembered for what we have done.” Sarah did so much.

Dai Jeffries