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ACOUSTIC FESTIVAL OF BRITAIN
Uttoxeter Racecourse, Staffs 25-27 May 2012
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Friday 25 May 2012
'an eclectic programme of unplugged and acoustic music' the festival
ranges across the board with folk, bluegrass, roots, Celtic, blues, pop,
rock, ska, burlesque and more in evidence.
Nothing of a
surprise there, then. What was a surprise, however, was the number of
electric guitars and basses being played at an acoustic event, although
most were to be found on the main stage.
Now in it's seventh year, and it's third at Uttoxeter Racecourse, the
festival has an enviable reputation as one of the friendliest events on
prides itself as one of the most comfortable for visitors thanks to
being able to pitch ones tent next to ones car, and the provision of
clean, flushing loos and hot showers.
camp site just yards from the main entrance, the beer tent and food
stalls made a roaring trade throughout the three days.
in addition to the four stages at the racecourse, the organisers had
also arranged a small stage in the town centre in order to bring the
festival to the locals in the hope of luring a few of them to the main
First up on
the main stage was Shamus O'Blivion and the Meggadeath Morrismen,
playing a set of high tempo reels and jigs all done with a rocky edge
and much cheek.
programme notes say that they're probably the best band you've never
heard of, and certainly are the ideal band to kick off such a festival.
All are accomplished musicians, who after 10 years of playing together,
go from song to song with great ease and enthusiasm.
people were wandering around the festival site, getting a feel for where
everything was, those who had ventured towards the beer tent were soon
dancing to the music coming from the main stage.
them in the nearby Real Ale Tent were Grassoline playing a
pleasing mix of Americana/newgrass style of country music. This gave the
stage crew time to get ready for the next artist on the main stage,
recent release of a new (acoustic) album, it was always likely that
Tracie Hunter's set would encompass most of the 'new' songs. I say
'new', but included on her latest album, Vasilisa, is the first song she
ever wrote, Marylebone, as well as three covers; The Buzzcocks' Ever
Fallen in Love..., Hazel O'Connor's Will You? and to finish off the set
a moving tribute to her father with her rendition of 3000 Miles From
included in this near perfect set were Perfume & Cigarettes, Broken,
Liverpool and King of Tides.
Elsewhere on site one could join a didgeridoo worksop, learn the
ukulele, play African drums or listen to poetry readings.
had moved on from The Real Ale Tent and could now been found playing in
The Dome, whilst on the main stage Swans In Flight had just
started their set, which included Push to Play, Love Rescue, Light
Surprise and Error of My Ways.
the Swans on the main stage was former Icicle Works founder and lead
singer Ian McNabb who included Fire Inside my Soul, Little Girl
Lost, Liverpool Girl and covers of The Beatles' You've Got to Hide Your
Love Away and the Harry Warren/Al Dubin composition I Only Have Eyes for
You in his well received set.
I then attempted to search out Patsy Matheson & Becky Mills who were due
to duet together in The Festival Eye, but, as was to happen more and
more often as the weekend progressed, either they didn't turn up, they
were running late, or they got moved to another stage at another hour,
only for no-one to be told.
problem I wasn't going to waste too much time searching in vain for them
when any minute The Move were due to headline the main stage.
Featuring founding members Bev Bevan (drums) and Trevor Burton
(guitars), the current incarnation of The Move, which includes Phil Tree
on bass, Neil Lockwood on keyboards and Gordon Healer on guitar, has
been around since 2007 and has kept busy playing gigs and festivals up
and down the country as well as abroad.
with two of their best known hits, Flowers in the Rain and Fire Brigade,
the set included covers of Go Now, Walking the Dog, Peter Green's I Need
Your Love so Bad, I Saw Her Standing There, Ain't No Sunshine and other
blues standards they would have played in their formative years before
bringing the night to a crashing and fitting climax with California Man
and Blackberry Way. All in all a thoroughly enjoyable first day.
Saturday 26 May
been a hot sunny day with a welcome breeze to help cool us down;
Saturday was even hotter and with less of a breeze, shade (by way of any
of the tents) was greatly sought after, which possibly explains why 16
year old Polly Money was playing to a heaving Real Ale Tent
audience at 11 in the morning!
16, Polly wrote her first song at the age of 10 and released her first
album in 2010, shortly before having to undergo major surgery to correct
a curved spine caused by scoliosis.
by artists such as Taylor Swift and The Dixie Chicks, Polly kept the
crowd entertained for a good half hour. Later that day she was also to
be found in The Dome and on the Town Stage...not a bad first
introduction to a festival and I'm sure she'll be invited to many more
Real Ale Tent certainly provided shade, with so many people inside it
was actually more like an oven and the irony was that it proved to be
actually cooler (and a lot less sticky) outside, in spite of the
unrelenting sun beating down, where Seven Little Sisters were
preparing to play the main stage.
blend of bluegrass, Cajun, Irish and punk they soon had a steadily
growing crowd dancing and clapping to the music.
around the festival Robin Williamson (of Incredible String Band
fame) could be found in The Dome, followed by Adrian Nation,
whilst poets and morris dancers were keeping the crowds entertained in
the Real Ale Tent.
back on the main stage King Hammond (the alter ego of former Bad
Manners member Nick Welsh) had the crowds dancing with a ska set that
included Mr DJ, Rocking on Ridley Road, Monkey Boots, Rough Rider (a
Prince Buster cover) and Kiss my Arse!
There then followed a mid afternoon lull, either by design or accident,
where not much seemed to be happening anywhere. Stackridge had
originally been due to play the main stage at 4.00pm, but had pulled out
several days earlier and both the original and updated programmes showed
blanks against all the other stages, yet music could still be heard
wafting around the racecourse.
abounded about so-and-so being moved to a different stage at a different
time, and artists were approaching anyone wearing a laminate desperately
asking 'I'm xxxxxxxxx, do you know where I'm meant to be?'
That's how I
came to see Kraft, a psychiatric nurse, entertaining those in The
Dome with a rap set about the problems of mental illness, the woes
currently besetting the NHS and the perils of smoking too much dope.
Eventually official announcements from various stage managers (that
didn't for once contradict each other) showed that comedy contortionist
and escapologist Chris Cross had been bumped up the order on the main
stage to later allow Mike Peters to do his set there rather than in the
more cramped Real Ale Tent; and what a good decision that proved to be.
patter of Ross Noble and an obviously freakishly disjointed body,
Chris Cross had everyone both gasping in awe and horror at the way
he could dislocate both shoulders to perform various tricks... as he
said it himself 'I put myself out for my fans' Utterly compelling.
Utterly gross. Utterly awesome.
and current Big Country frontman Mike Peters then took the stage
to a rousing welcome and proceeded to play a selection of Alarm and Big
Country songs, such as Strength, Look Away, In a Big Country, Breathe
and Fade In, Fade Out, Fade Away before being joined on stage by Glenn
Tilbrook and their various children for the final song of the set.
After Mike Peters I had hoped to catch Pig Earth but with all the
changes to the festival schedule I discovered that they had been moved
up the order and had played at the same time as Mike.
With so many
changes going on I was anxious to ensure that I would still be able to
catch certain acts on the lesser stages and was happy to learn that one
particular gentleman I wished to see was still in his allotted slot.
meantime, back on the main stage, Glenn Tilbrook regaled
everyone with a mix of Squeeze, Fluffers and Co-Operative songs
including Take Me I'm Yours, The Next Thing I Knew, Through The Net and
Tempted, interspersed with a cover of Peter Green's Oh Well, and Elvis's
invited any member of the audience who wanted to come up and join him on
stage to play to make themselves known and after a few more songs
including Up the Junction, 'Steve' form the audience joined Glenn on
stage for a rendition of Goodbye Girl... a memory he'll no doubt
treasure, along with the ovation he received from the crowd.
ended with Chat Line Larry, Pulling Muscles (From The Shell) and as an
encore, after drawing the winning ticket for the Love Hope Strength
Foundation raffle, Black Coffee in Bed.
Glenn's set I quickly made my way to The Dome which was already filled
to overflowing for the appearance of Gordon Giltrap who, sadly
for this reviewer, spent the first twenty minutes or so tuning his
guitar whilst recounting amusing stories.
before his set actually began as I was one of only two photographers
invited back-stage at the main stage to record for posterity Joan
Armatrading receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the BBC's Sue
Marchant on behalf of the festival organisers.
With her new
album, Starlight, due out two days later, Joan Armatrading's set
was always going to contain the unknown, and so it proved.
with the classic Show Some Emotion from the 1977 album of the same name,
there followed two songs from the new album; Single Life and Close to Me
before a return to the more familiar in the shape of the 1980 song All
The Way From America and Crazy from her 1992 album Square the Circle.
Next was the
slow love song Tell Me from the new album before another song the whole
crowd recognised, Love and Affection.
And so the
set meandered on; from the familiar to the unfamiliar, leaving all but
the hardened fans feeling disappointed and confused.
Yes, the set
included better known songs like The Weakness in Me and, right at the
end, Me Myself I, but too many of the songs were not well known enough,
nor catchy enough, to hold the attention of many in the crowd.
first impressions always count; well it could equally be said that last
impressions count, too. While her encore featured the hit song Drop The
Pilot, it ended on the unknown Summer Kisses from the new album.
following morning, chatting to various festival goers, the general
consensus was that the set had been considered a poor one, when, I
believe, ending on the better known of the two songs would have changed
that perception. The lesson to learn from this is to always end on a
Set list: Show Some Emotion, Single Life, Close To Me, All The Way From
America, Crazy, Tell Me, Love And Affection, Tall In The Saddle, My
baby's Gone, Starlight, The Weakness In Me, Cool Blue, Kissin' And A
Huggin', (I Love It When You) Call Me Names, Best Dress On, Me Myself I
with an encore of Drop The Pilot and Summer Kisses
Sunday 27 May
For those of
us suffering from sunburn, Sunday provided a few clouds and (ever so
slightly) cooler temperatures, but the various stages were still hot
the main stage were Rusty Shackle with their take on Celtic,
Folk, Bluegrass and Blues. Memorable moments from their set were 3 a.m.
and a down-tempo jokey song that included a pastiche of the Hokey Cokey
and We Are The Cheeky Girls... very, very amusing and just the thing to
get an 11.00am audience in the mood for another day of music and
As had been the case on the previous two days, elsewhere the
entertainment consisted of various types of Morris dancers, music
workshops, poetry readings and Poly Money was making yet another
appearance, this time in The Dome.
food stalls were as busy as ever, and the other stalls seemed to be
selling their wares too. Disappointingly, numbers seemed to be a little
down on the previous day, in spite of a major act on the main stage at
I first saw the list of acts booked (before the timetable was published)
I had expected this next act to be headlining the Sunday, not taking the
stage at 12.45pm!
reasons unknown, (surely it can't be age, as The Move, a band of similar
vintage, had rocked late on the Friday night) The Animals
entertained a crowd seemingly more intent on eating than dancing.
original drummer John Steel and keyboard player Mick Gallagher who first
joined the band in 1965, they played a set that included all their best
known and biggest hits, along with various covers, such as It's My Life,
Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, Dimples, Bring It On Home To Me
(originally recorded by Sam Cooke), Don't Bring Me Down, Boom Boom and
ending with We've Got to Get Out of This Place and House of The Rising
Barton's vocals had those audience members originally intent on eating
lunch and satisfying their stomachs instead having their souls
satisfied. A great set from a band who just know how to entertain.
depressing dirgeful offerings of Justin (Sullivan) and Dean (White) left
a sour and unpleasant taste in the mouth... why whip several thousand
people into a happy mood only to serve them this bitter tasting pill?
Such a set has no place at a festival, unless it's being sponsored by
To keep the
Sunday crowd further entertained, the Real Ale Tent saw a great
performance from T-Rextasy, one of the better tribute acts on the
circuit, before the main stage welcomed Justin Sullivan and Dean
White from New Model Army.
the set was an a cappella version of Another Imperial Day, followed by,
amongst others, Marry The Sea, Heroin and You Weren't There.
perfectly honest, after the feel-good set played by The Animals which
had got even the most reluctant audience members on their feet and
dancing... or at least clapping and singing along, the depressing
dirgeful offerings of Justin and Dean left a sour and unpleasant taste
in the mouth... why whip several thousand people into a happy mood only
to serve them this bitter tasting pill? Such a set has no place at a
festival, unless it's being sponsored by Dignitas.
hard NMA fans would have been pleased, but most of the audience spent
the set sat in their seats, talking amongst each other and finishing off
the lunches that had been interrupted by The Animals.
the applause at the end of the set was the most muted received by any of
the main stage acts during the course of the three days, and seemed to
be more of a 'thank God that's over' rather than a genuine show of
thanks and appreciation.
To help lift
my mood, I wandered over to the Real Ale Tent where Danny Bowes and
Ben Matthews from Thunder kept the crowds entertained with
outrageous tales from the road, interspersed by the odd song, while in
The Dome (having been moved from the soulless Festival Eye tent that
no-one seemed to want to play) Press Gang (traditional folk
re-worked with the use of hurdy gurdies, accordions, rap and audience
participation) were warming up the many hundreds squeezed inside and
overspilling outside in readiness for Tir Na Nog, an Irish
acid-folk band who, in the past, have toured with Jethro Tull, Roxy
Music and featured many a time on the John Peel sessions.
With Tir Na
Nog in The Dome, this meant Uli Jon Roth was sensibly moved from
there to the much larger Real Ale Tent where he regaled an ever
increasing audience to a completely improvised session... 'let's play a
few chords and see where it leads us', and off he went for the next
thirty minutes, playing almost without a break, merging from one tune
recognised Beethoven's Für Elisse, some Brahms, The Beatles' Yesterday
and All Along The Watchtower but I know there were many more as intros
from semi-familiar songs were interwoven thanks to his own accomplished
and intricate guitar playing with choruses from other songs. When it was
over (all too soon) the crowd rose as one to applaud a maestro at work.
Over on the
main stage, Katrina Leskanitch (of Katrina and The Waves fame...
only without any Waves this time) was getting ready to play.
difficult not to be reminded, the day after Engelbert Humperdinck had
failed so miserably, that Katrina had been Britain's last success, in
1997, in the Eurovision Song Contest, and she went on to show why there
will always be a place for gloriously happy, if sometimes
inconsequential, pop songs with a set that included Rock 'n' Roll Girl,
Red Wine and Whisky, Que te Quiero, Going Down to Liverpool (with which
The Bangles had a hit), Sun Street, Kirsty MacColl's They Don't Know and
finishing off with Love Shine a Light and Walking on Sunshine.
It was just
the sort of set that was needed to help round off an enjoyable festival
before heading home. Yet there was still a little more to take in. In
the Real Ale Tent, Gwynn Ashton jokingly thanked all the other
acts for supporting him before playing a mix of old and new songs
including One Way Ticket to The Blues and Ain't Nobody's Fool.
left the festival having made new friends on both sides of the barriers,
and with the genuine belief that it is certainly one of the friendliest
and cleanest festivals on the circuit.
bring the event to a fitting close, festival favourites The Outcast
Band played the final set of the main stage, enthralling all with a
set that included To The End, Orphans, Blood and Soil, November, Needles
and Ink, Don't Go Home, The Longest Mile, Home by the Sea and The Garden
Overall I left the festival having made new friends on both sides of the
barriers, and with the genuine belief that it is certainly one of the
friendliest and cleanest festivals on the circuit.
organisers had made a genuine effort to get the local community involved
by having a stage in the town centre (such a shame that just one or two
neighbours should complain about the noise, thereby forcing the council
to send people hiding behind bushes with decibelometers!)
times there was a certain amount of disorganisation, with acts being
moved from one stage to another, and times being changed without telling
anyone. I was also surprised at the amount of amplification on view for
what is advertised as an acoustic festival... not that I'm
complaining... I like nothing more than the wail of a screaming guitar!
Review and photos by Bob Singleton
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