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HARTLEPOOL FOLK FESTVAL - 13-15 October 2017

So where does the year go? It only seems like five minutes since I was waxing lyrically about last year’s festival and now it is time to do so again. This festival is based at the National Museum of the Royal Navy, home of the 200 year old HMS Trincomalee, using most of the space both on board and in surrounding buildings. Larger concerts are held in the lovely Town Hall theatre.

Continuing the policy of creating special projects, and following on from Ironopolis, we were treated to Kipling’s The Barrack-Room Ballads, celebrating both the 125th anniversary of its publication and the 40 years since Peter Bellamy released the album - and what a treat it was. The standing ovation it received drowned out festival director Joan Crump’s thanks. Martin Carthy’s reading of Gunga Din was so moving, as was Jon Boden’s singing of Danny Deever, whilst his duet with Eliza Carthy brought the house down. Damien Barber and the Wilsons also provided some excellent versions of the songs. The whole thing was linked by a 10-piece band reminiscent of the Indian wedding bands. Mention must be made of the excellent links provided by Hardeep Singh Kohli, yes the comic and celebrity chef, just right. Thanks also to Jonny Mohun, the creative musical director, who managed to get the performance to the stage. As I left the theatre I couldn’t help but feel I had been privileged to have been present at something so special. The question is, of course, how will they follow that? But I’ve thought that twice before!

The other main event of the weekend was the presentation of the EFDSS Gold Badge to the Wilsons. You could tell how popular they are by the fact that the queue started way outside long before the doors opened. A packed room, including many of their relatives and close friends and those of us who just feel part of their ‘friends’, saw Alistair Anderson present the award to the five brothers, and it was good to see Pat included and even singing one song with them. The Eulogy was written by Kathryn Tickell and read in his own inimitable style by her dad. Afterwards we were treated to some of the best music around. I’m sure the party went on long into the night. This was a richly deserved award to a group who continue to give so much pleasure to so many.

There were lots of other highlights too. Jim Moray’s excellent Never Mind The Bandoggs was a great way to spend a Sunday lunchtime, especially Martin Carthy’s putting a traditional tune to a pop song and the guess the mystery person round.

Alistair Anderson was everywhere, with various Northumbrian artists including Johnny Handle, whose biography by Pete Wood is a must read. Alistair also presented an excellent hour about The Shepherds and their tunes; full of interesting anecdotes. Somehow this was billed as a workshop (which it wasn’t) and this resulted in a smaller audience than it deserved.

Grace Petrie, a protest singer from Leicester, followed the wonderful Commoners Choir, with a high energy set full of original and thought provoking material. There were also fine sets from Granny’s Attic (who have come on in leaps and bounds since I last saw them); Martin and Eliza Carthy; Tim Eriksen (performing with Phil and Cath Taylor bringing back memories of Cordelia’s Dad); and Jack Rutter and Molly Evans (two up-and-coming performers with some great songs).

Doc Rowe showed some of his extensive archive collection under the title of Departed Friends - a whole host of much missed singers made all the more poignant as it included Vin Garbutt and Bert Draycott. Taffy Thomas told stories whilst the Wilsons sang and chef John Crouch cooked up dishes to accompany each story.

Obviously it’s impossible to get round everything at a festival with as many events and with workshops aplenty. I didn’t see Jon Boden in concert, or Lady Maisery, or Sally Barker amongst many others. However I came away with so many good memories of this friendly festival that I am already looking forward to next year’s, which certainly has a hard act to follow. Well done everyone for making it so enjoyable.

Dave Beeby