Banterfest 2022 – or ‘The First Annual Banterfest’ as it may well come to be known – was held in Welbourn, Lincolnshire, from September 16th – 18th.
It’s reckoned that about 40 people saw the Sex Pistols in Manchester Free Trade Hall in June 1976 ….. but thousands of punks claim to have been there. I’m told millions of American rockers similarly claim to have been among the 500,000 at Woodstock in August 1969. Banterfest was such a cracking festival that it’s just possible that, ten years from now, thousands of folkies will claim to have been at Welbourn in September 2022.
How did it come about/1
There are no fly posters nowadays. As the modern equivalent, though, two or three months ago I saw an electronic notice for Banterfest in Welbourn. Welbourn is, shall we say, a village not previously known as a festival hotbed but the programme advertised had a list of musicians you would pay a small ransom to see: Tim Edey, Show of Hands, John Kirkpatrick, Martin Carthy, Winter Wilson, While and Mathews and, of course, Banter themselves and a couple of ‘sub-Banter’ combinations. Numbers were limited to just over a hundred so I bought a couple of tickets immediately.
How did it come about/2
Banter are a four-piece band, formed in 2015 following, as their website puts it, a realisation that “a common love for the living traditions of English song and dance music was at their core and began to pursue its evolution, bringing in flavours from a wider palette of musical influences”. The members are Simon Care on melodeon, Nina Zella on keyboards & vocals, Tim Walker on drums, percussion, brass, vocals & dance calling and, newly added from 2021, Mark Jolley on bass, fiddle, guitar & vocals. If you’ve not come across the individuals, look them up – there are some serious musical CV’s here; if you’ve not seen/heard the band have a listen to their version of ‘The Unquiet Grave’ below. If you know them/meet them, you’ll also be aware of a professionalism and enthusiasm which makes you understand how they could successfully turn the “why don’t we run a festival” conversation among themselves in Covid-times into the splendid event that was held over the last few days.
Friday night I find myself arriving at a village hall where the sports field has been turned into a car park and camp site. Wrist band in place, cider in hand, I go to the main hall (a warm, dry indoor setting were it needed) and wait for the evening’s events. As promised, Tim Edey opened things up. Edey was, quite simply, his usual engaging self, playing as gloriously and self-deprecatingly as ever. Still, what’s the point of a festival if you can’t do something extra? Edey was joined on stage by Nina Zella and we were treated to a couple of musicians trading guitar and keyboards. Judging by the way their eyes followed each other’s hands, this may well have been extemporised. They should do it again.
What a start. They were followed by Show of Hands, a duo, as most readers on folking.com will know, that first sold out the Albert Hall more than 25 years ago. They can now add to their CV a sell-out gig at Welbourn – as well as some entertaining tales of travel to the venue (Knightley) and from the venue (Beer).
A small hall but a good sound and lighting system, some great musicians and a rapturously received couple of sets. A ceilidh/bar music session to follow. This feels good
Saturday morning – cupcake making, dance workshop, bar/music session.
Saturday afternoon – John Kirkpatrick and Martin Carthy. I confess that, when I saw the initial advert and booked the tickets, a couple of hours later I dropped an e-mail to someone who was playing and asked if this really was genuine – if you were going to target me in a scam, you’d invent this kind of line up, in Lincolnshire and I’d buy tickets, without a thought. I’d been instantly reassured that Banterfest was genuine and hence I found myself on the Saturday afternoon listening to two legends – giants (?) superstars (?), nonpareils (?), choose your own word – of the folk world. Both were on top form. At least one of them rang the organisers to say it was one of the best festivals he’d played in years. As Max Boyce used to say, “I was there”; it’s a tale to tell the grandchildren in the years ahead.
Saturday evening was planned to be various combinations of Banter but an enforced late change meant that Mossy Christian stepped in for an hour. The editor of folking.com described Christian’s first album as “If you think Come Nobles And Heroes sounds like excellent listening and a lot of fun as well you’d be right and Mossy is on my must see list as soon as we’re free to go out again” [https://folking.com/mossy-christian-come-nobles-and-heroes-one-row-records-orrcd002/]. Christian played an hour of engrossing traditional music, with style and verve.
And Banter themselves. A first set played by Nina Zella took us into wider genres – jazzy-ish, Aretha Franklin-ish and more. Zella was intermittently accompanied by Tim Walker, trumpet playing percussionist (this has to be seen – have a look at Banter’s website for various gigs and festivals in the next couple of months).
The final set of the evening was played by the full quartet that is Banter. There is lightness and humour – and no end of skill. ‘Unquiet Grave’ below gives a sense of why the band are increasingly in demand. To again quote the editor of folking.com, “If you think that there is nothing new to hear in folk music these days listen to Banter and think again” [https://folking.com/banter-3-mrs-casey-records-mcrcd1202/].
I dipped out before they played a late evening ceilidh and another late bar session – but hopefully you have a sense by now why this is a Festival that will be talked about in the years to come.
I missed Sunday morning, but the plan was for a walkshop (love it – bring your boots not your guitar, fiddle or accordion), a Mongolian Throat singing session and a Tune session led by Simon Care.
Sunday afternoon rounded off the session with a final couple of sets. Winter Wilson were first, followed by Chris While and Julie Matthews, both duos as classy as ever and, judging by the reaction to some of the songs and the queues for CD sales afterwards, both duos gaining new fans for their music.
Keeping It Live – Banterfest 2022
A “boutique festival”, as While and Matthews commented, adding that this may be a model for others and there should be more of them. Now there’s a thought. Live folk music continues to re-shape and rebuild following the past two years, keeping some of the old modes and re-shaping into new ones. There is talk of Banterfest 2023. I’d be delighted if there is. This one was a belter.
Artist’s website: https://www.banter.band
Banter – ‘Unquiet Grave’ – official video: