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SHREWSBURY FOLK FESTIVAL - 24-27 August 2018

Shrewsbury this year basked in bright sunshine, which really helped the festival atmosphere, but made some of the large marquees uncomfortably warm – you can’t have everything! There was the normal extensive range of events, craft fair and artists, with not just something for everyone, but plenty for everyone. Some of my highlights were the Richard Thompson Electric Trio (and occasionally Quartet) who really were electrifying. Concentrating on material from the forthcoming album, 13 Rivers, but sprinkled with classics from the past (even numbers from early Fairport which they’d never performed live), the band was on absolutely blistering form, with superb sound in the main marquee. Usher’s Island played (and sang) absolutely beautifully despite the fact that they’d travelled straight from their previous gig (in Denmark) by car and plane, arriving five minutes before they were due on stage! It was a shock to find this was the first appearance of Johnny Coppin at the festival. It was a surprise to see that he and Phil Beer had been put on in the smallest venue, the Sabrina Tent. Unsurprising, ‘House Full’ signs went up before they started and the performance was enthusiastically received following which the tent virtually emptied. Hopefully we will see more of him at this and other festivals in the future. The sound was odd – perhaps they didn’t think Phil Beer had anything worth saying?!

Flanders in the shape of Shaarmaarwar sported an unusual line-up of mandolin, mandola and guitar. Their concert set was slightly nervy and rushed, but they came into their own when playing for a bal in the dance tent and were hugely appreciated by a large group of dancers, whilst remaining fun and interesting for those listening. But there were problems with Blowzabella. Surely one of the seven people milling around behind the main console on the sound desk should have realised that having three saxophone players on stage blowing lustily into microphones was not purely for decoration? Instead, all we could hear was an accompanying figure on the hurdy-gurdy, obliterating everything else. Eventually some instruments emerged, but the fiddle and melodeon might as well have not bothered being there.

The Year Turns Round Again was a show featuring morris and contemporary dance with excellent music from Hazel Askew. Sometimes the contemporary aspects were difficult to reconcile within the overall structure, but provided a great contrast whilst intertwining with the traditional elements.

Budiño postured and strutted, but his piping failed to ignite the audience and he was possibly the wrong choice to close proceedings.

Almost wherever you went there was a classy and worthwhile performer – many of them from off the beaten path, to tickle the ears and/or feet. A cornucopia of excellent music and dance and a fabulous festival all round.

shrewsburyfolkfestival.co.uk

Paul Burgess