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HARTLEPOOL FOLK FESTIVAL - 21-23 October 2016

I challenge anyone to find a more unusual location than the main setting for this year’s Hartlepool Folk Festival. Most events are held in the Royal Navy Museum and Quay, some even held on board Nelson’s last frigate, the HMS Trincomalee. With low ceilings and wooden decks, this was a truly unique and atmospheric location.

The main concerts are held in the impressive Town Hall theatre giving the kind of concert space last year’s festival on the Headland lacked. The festival organiser, Joan Crump, seems to specialise in the more unusual events and projects rather than just concerts – although there were high quality concerts running all weekend.

It’s impossible to list all the highlights, in fact to get to see them all would mean splitting yourself into many bits, even though things are so close. Careful planning was needed and, even then, I failed twice to see Andy Irvine.

Quite outstanding was Ironopolis - a tribute to the man that was Graeme Miles, featuring his music and words and celebrating Teesside. It formed the main concert on the Saturday night and featured Vin Garbutt, the Wilsons and The Young’Uns, amongst others, as well as a full brass band. Kevin Hall provided the words whilst you could hear a pin drop when Robin Dale sang Goodbye To The Ando’s. At the end of the whole performance the standing ovation was, for once, well deserved.

What better way to spend a Sunday morning than as part of the audience for Never Mind The Bandoggs, a quiz organised by Jim Moray featuring teams comprising a couple of Wilsons, Findlay Napier, Jackie Oates and two thirds of the Young’Uns - one of the most memorable and hilarious things I have seen for years.

The interview of Gina Le Faux by James Fagan was also something to remember for the amazing honesty shown by Gina, although it threatened to be spoilt by the noise coming from both below and above the captain’s cabin. What she has gone through is heart-wrenching and a disgrace on what we call the folk family.

There was also an excellent celebration of Trafalgar Day in the form of Nelson -The Fiery Admiral presented by The Keelers and featuring music, narrative and illustration.

The concerts all seemed to have a relaxed atmosphere and mention must go to a great performance by the Young’Uns despite David being quite unwell, as the front rows probably found out!

Imar is a new supergroup based around Glasgow, O’Hooley &Tidow never fail to please, and it was good to see the Tom McConville band after quite a while. I thought that Blackbeard’s Tea Party finished the whole weekend off well and it was a shame that so many left to go to the Fire Down Below Cabaret, although I’m sure that was good as well.

It is worth mentioning how friendly a festival this is and the whole quality of what is on offer. Visitors to the museum were treated to a variety of dance sides whilst there were lots of re-enactors around the site adding to the atmosphere.

I only had one slight grumble about sound checks at the concert venue overrunning, but this seems to be a growing problem at festivals these days. There also seemed to be a lack of venues for musicians’ sessions in pubs, not that that affected me.

I have to admit that I wasn’t sure if the change of location was going to spoil it for me as I thought the festival at the Headland was quite superb (except for the seating in the Catholic church) but it wasn’t necessary to worry. It really worked and hopefully the festival will be here again next year. My advice is to get your tickets early as it sold out this year. I am sure that the Hartlepool Festival will build on this year’s success and become one of those which gets put in the calendar first each year. It does have a different feel about it. A big thank you to all involved.

Dave Beeby