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SADDLEWORTH FOLK WEEKEND - Uppermill, Oldham - 18-19 July 2015

Take a small inheritance from an elderly aunt, add a challenge from an ex-PA and sprinkle in a dozen pleas from festival goers and stewards... and what do you get? The inaugural Saddleworth Folk Weekend, with Ali O’Brien directing operations. Ali is no stranger to this role as she was director of the original Saddleworth Folk Festival which sadly ceased to exist a few years ago. In the intervening years, many requests to bring it back fell on deaf ears as there was no funding or financial support. Then, good old Aunty Elsie died and left a small inheritance. The unselfish Ali decided to put on a Folk Weekend, smaller than its predecessors and with a cosier atmosphere. This warmer ‘feel’ came through during the entire weekend and many were heard to echo through the hills and valleys around that they were “glad it’s back”, “really missed it” etc.

Ticket prices were held down and attendances were swelled by old regulars, followers of the Oldham Tinkers (celebrating their 50th anniversary) and new faces from far and wide. They came from the north and south of the country, from Wales and Scotland, and a couple from Australia. All agreed the weekend had a big family feel to it.

With no festival committee to rely on, Ali pulled on her contacts and friends. Colleagues and artists alike helped with everything from the campsite to the website. As it was intended to be smaller, the Friday evening had two events – a musicians’ session in Christy’s Café Bar and a lively welcome singaround in the Conservative Club. Local musicians and singers contributed to a healthy ‘fringe’ facet and Pete Coe and Clive Gregson dropped in over the weekend.

Everything on offer around Uppermill was worthy of report but space precludes such detail. Guests included The Oldham Tinkers (50 years and going strong), Hissyfit (the feisty harmony duo from Yorkshire), Stanley Accrington (complete with new song for the occasion called Ali O’Brien, of course) and Other Roads, who just about brought the house down. There were many and varied workshops including bodhrán, whistle, songwriting and harmony singing (thank you The Bailey Sisters). The weekend was peppered with themed presentations e.g. We Are The Women Left On The Shore (Scolds Bridle), Cork Jackets And Drill and Songs And Tales Of Old Saddleworth. The festival café and craft fair were buzzing throughout.

Battle broke out on Saturday afternoon in the Civic Hall with the popular War Of The Roses. This involves a team of singers from Lancashire and Yorkshire respectively singing their very best to win the coveted trophy. Saddleworth is geographically best placed to battle out the Red vs White argument, as it has done so for many years. The victors were Yorkshire - this time.

The final concert on Sunday was headlined by everyone’s favourite five big strapping lads – The Wilsons. The highlight of the entire weekend for me was Meet The Wilsons (boy oh boy, a few home truths came out there - thanks Tom). The concert included The Bailey Sisters plus the truly eccentric Les Barker and the wonderful Hut People.

Ali would like to thank all the helpers and artists who gave of their time and talent to make Saddleworth rise from the ashes and we must thank her for being the instigator of its resurrection – many an inheritor would have blown the cash on a trip to the sun.

Good luck for 2016 – see you there?

Ronnie Williamson