Rychard Carrington reports on Ely Folk Festival - Ely Outdoor Centre, 6-8 July 2007

Artist Visiting Cambridgeshire
Ely Folk Festival is a fairly delightful haven-cum-celebration, in which all the best values of folk music culture are manifest. The weekend event is testimony to the perpetuating virtues of the folk revival, true to its values and its spirit (if not to some of the more rigid early orthodoxies). It is well organised by a very dedicated team, and, happily, the fruits of their labours are well worth the considerable effort. The festival is, above all, a friendly and a happy one. The many regular attenders evidently hold the event in considerable affection, and rightly so.

It's one of those festivals where the person in front of you in the queue for the toilet turns out to be the star on the stage an hour later. An hour later still you peer through a rail of tie-dye garments in the boutique stall and there they are again, to all the world just a regular festival-goer. There are several official ‘Meet the Musician' sessions in the smallest marquee throughout the weekend, but actually it's generally quite easy to bump into them and get chatting anyway. It's definitely not a place where anyone feels inclined to be standoffish. In fact, the festival holds little appeal to the unpleasant: more or less everyone in attendance is thoroughly nice.

Furthermore, Ely provided fresh proof that the level of musical talent in folk is as excitingly high as ever. One looks most keenly for evidence of this in the youngest musicians. Tiny Tin Lady proffered a light'n'summery guitar, fiddle and harmonies sound, which was nice. Charlie Barker (who is a female) sang Nanci-Griffith-type-stuff very well, while Gareth Pearson was a really outstanding superfast acoustic guitarist, playing with rock'n'rollesque passion, an acoustic Alvin Lee. A beautiful maiden called Jade co-won the competition for best Club Tent act; indeed she thoroughly merited the honour, for her impassioned vocals, pleasant guitar and Joni-Mitchell-type-material. With her fresh, enviable talent, Jade could go far. Yet the long-established acts didn't sound at all jaded either. In their thoroughly individual ways, Vin Garbutt, Sid Kipper and The Battlefield Band (pictured) showed what terrific entertainers they are. We on the folk scene have known this to be the case for long enough for such brilliance to be taken for granted: it takes a live appearance to fully rekindle enthusiasm and admiration for these performers, who in a more commercial scene would be remote superstars.

What else? More, nicely accomplished light'n'summery vibes were provided by Ezio (duo version) and Suntrap, and by the Banks and Taylor Midsummer Ale, while the Moor and Coast Food Tent provided a nourishing ‘veggie monty' breakfast. Offspring were well catered for, especially by a cornucopia of junior delights at Jan's Blackboard Van. Mawkin played a tuneful, musicianly yet punchy folk-rooted set, while Nuada's medieval music was refreshingly distinctive; the powerful a cappella of Sound Tradition and Joy Rutherford also made a change from the plethora of guitars. Anthony John Clarke deserves a mention, and the fairly traditional Alistair Russell and Chris Parkinson provided good folk-club-style entertainment that brought us to the rather gentle final climax of Jez Lowe and The Bad Pennies.

Folk dance was much in evidence, adding to the participatory feel of the event. Morris men popped up all over the place. But there was a frustrating lack of dancing to performers in the biggest marquee. For tired bottoms, Ely has an advantage over Cambridge Folk Festival in that one can rest on a seat right in front of the stage and enjoy an unobscured view of the musicians, but it has the disadvantage that when jigs and hornpipes get played by the likes of The Battlefield Band, everyone, apart from a few very young children, remains sitting down. (Eventually, after some appealing, there was a degree of dancing to Shooglenifty on Saturday night: no help to me, as I'd reluctantly had to depart to catch the last train home: perhaps they were all waiting for my departure.) The rows of seating must be a factor in this, but the average age of the audience is probably another. There are youngsters present - not just performers - but we need more. Come to this most excellent festival next year readers - young ones especially - and come willing to dance. I'll get up and gyrate ungracefully if you do.

Writer: Rychard Carrington

Photo: Simon Hollington

To find out more about Ely Folk Festival, visit: www.elyfolk.co.uk