The Sixth Southsea Folk And Roots Festival
South Parade Pier
August 25 - August 28 2005
2006 Festival Review
The sixth Southsea Folk & Roots Festival featured top musicians from the wide world of traditional music, from not only the U.K but also Ireland, Nashville, and New Orleans, proving, as ever, there was something for everyone!
Although the main Festival site is South Parade Pier, there are always plenty of Fringe events, and the very first event of the 2006 Festival was Thursday night at The R.M.A. Tavern, where The Bullfrog Blues Club presented Steve Roux, Bernie Fox, Rob Vick and Matt Beckwith , alias White Knuckle Blues Band . They performed a great set, providing a fine introduction to the band for those attending the blues day on Bank Holiday Monday. Mel, the bass player from The Larry Miller Band, (headlining the Monday blues day) was at The R.M.A. Tavern that night, and seemed mightily impressed with the calibre of the band!
Southsea Folk & Roots Festival 'proper' started on Friday night with bluegrass band Slim Pickings opening proceedings. They'd previously been seen at South Parade Pier as chosen support for David Grier one of the all time greats of bluegrass guitar playing. 'Two Dollar Bill' was a great introductory song, with some fine picking by the band's banjo player, Pat, and also some fine vocal harmonies, and Connie holding a great slap bass line throughout. Initially comparisons to the sound of Del McRoury came to mind, but a couple of great instrumentals reminded me of the legendary Flatt & Scruggs . Suffice to say, this band can hold their own with any of the top American bluegrass bands.
Friday night's headliners were Truckstop Honeymoon, the manic and unhinged banjo player and songwriter Mike West, accompanied by his wife Katie Euliss. They've now settled in Wichita after their home in New Orleans was otally destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Their performance was delightful, and almost exclusively featured songs from the three Truckstop Honeymoon C.D's, with the exception of the song 'Tugboat Captain', from Mike's 'Grizzly' album .. Although these songs were new to many people who have seen Mike solo, the songs were excellent, funny and a joy to hear, with hilarious between show banter perpetuating their 'trailer trash' myth. 'I Won't Let The Angels Take You Away' and 'Mama's Movin' Back to The 'hood' were highpoints, as was Southsea Folk & Roots Festival's Lord Gnome joining them on jew's harp for some of the songs. from one of Mike West's solo albums was also well received.
A great opening night!
Saturday afternoon brought the first of the free afternoon's entertainment to South Parade Pier. George Wilson: our larger than life compere, opened the afternoon's music with a set which included a great version of Richard Thompson's 'Vincent Black Lightning' not the easiest song in the world to sing, and Ron Trueman-Border's 'Old Hippies Never Die' - the subject matter bringing a few smiles of recognition!
Next up was Broadside, a duo comprising Chris Ricketts, one of the Festival's great supporters and helpers, accompanied by Emma Bannister. The youngest performer at the festival, Chris' songwriting is improving by leaps and bounds, and the addition of Emma Bannister is inspired, as her delicate vocals and fine flute playing provide a great counterpoint. Their joint composition 'Don't Wait Up For Me' was particularly memorable.
Gardener are old friends of the festival, and Max & Steve were in fine form, and a version of P.J. Wright's 'Little Johnny England' was excellent - and only performed once they'd established that Peej wasn't in the building yet! The Steve Knightley (Show Of Hands) song 'Cut-throats Crooks and Conmen' (as they'd called it!) was also very well received.
P.J. Wright and also Keiran Halpin had been caught up in traffic, but luckily Ade Cull stepped into the breach, rushed home and got his guitar, and launched straight into a totally rehearsed short but very polished set, which included a memorable version of 'House Carpenter' amidst some excruciatingly corny jokes.
P.J.Wright arrived in a rush and before having time to catch his breath was on stage! His opening number was a surprise to most people - an instrumental version of The Beach Boys 'God Only Knows'. Peej, of the Fairport spin off Dylan Project, is also a member of Little Johnny England and part of a duo with Dave Pegg of Fairport, and the breadth of his material is awesome. We were treated to songs from the Little Johnny England repertoire (including 'Little Johnny England' - earlier sung by Gardener, who could be seen cringing in the front row') and songs from his solo album, 'Hedge Of Sound', including the excellent 'Random Acts Of Kindness'. He even played a version of the surf instrumental 'Pipeline' and sang a great unaccompanied song about his sometimes brutal schooldays, the title of which sadly I can't recall.
Kieran Halpin from Ireland was next on stage, after having endured a harrowing seven hour journey. He's one of the great songwriters of our time but comparatively unknown outside of a dedicated fan base. What a voice - like gargling gravel and honey. Starting with 'Walk Like A Champion', we were treated to some exquisitely crafted bittersweet songs including a great song entitled ' Bigger Picture', inspired after a conversaton with Vin Garbutt shortly before the the birth of Kieran's second child . All too soon the set was over, and Keiran rushed off to host a song writing workshop - before disappearing to The R.M.A. Tavern for an evening Fringe event!
The Micky Kemp Band are old favourites - although some people may ask quite what they're doing at a Folk & Roots Festival - which just goes to prove the famous Louis Armstrong quote-'Folk music' I ain't never heard no horse sing!' Featuring the great Darryl Bath on guitar, and the irrepressible Micky on vocals and rhythm guitar playing some fine Micky Kemp originals including the brilliant tribute to the former Fleetwood Mac front man - 'Being Peter Green' , and covers such as Dave Edmunds' 'Queen Of Hearts'. They were the ideal band to close the afternoon.
The evening concert started with another blistering set from P.J. Wright, who managed to perform a very different set to his afternoon slot, which was a fine start to the evening, when we were treated to a performance by The Ric Sanders Trio.
Ric's best known as Fairport Convention's fiddle player for the last twenty or so years, after being in one of the many incarnations of Ashley Hutchings' Albion Band. However, but his versatility shone through as Ric, Vo Fletcher and Michael Gregory crossed boundaries and defied categorisation. They featured original compositions, folk tunes and some drastically re-worked Fairport Convention songs and also showcased works by jazz and fusion giants including Stefan Grappelli, John McLaughlin, Miles Davis combined with influences drawn from The Beatles, Hendrix, Brian Wilson and Stevie Wonder.
Ric's first band was the experimental rock band Stomu Yamash'ta And The Red Buddah Theatre, and three years later joined avant garde jazz fusion band Soft Machine, so maybe these directions weren't too surprising! An intriguing evening of music.
Sunday's free afternoon music once again was opened by George Wilson, and first up was Ade Cull, who had so valiantly stepped into the breech the previous day. He was back again with a new set, including some songs from his excellent self penned CD. 'She Brings Me Flowers'. Standouts were the title track, and a very different version of 'Summertime' segued with 'Buddy Can You Spare A Dime'.
George Wilson had already sung a Ron Trueman-Border song ('Old Hippies Never Die') the previous day, but this time we had the man himself. One of the most prolific singers on the circuit, RonTrueman-Border's songs are catchier than fleas. Once I wrote a review saying 'There is no earthly reason why this man should not be the logical successor to Richard Thompson'. I stand by that - apart from in retrospect, Richard's still at it, and long shall he reign. But Ron's songs are true class, and songs like 'Covered In Blood' , 'Sail Away' and others too numerous too mention had an audience who's never heard them before singing along by the second chorus. And that's no mean feat.
Arlen were next up, now a duo consisting of Dave Newey and Lucy Rutherford. By an administrative cock-up by a member of the committee (oh, alright, it was me') they'd been scheduled for the Saturday - but I'd forgotten to tell them I'd changed it from the Sunday they were originally scheduled to play!
Within seconds of them taking the stage it was obvious to everyone why they had been selected as finalists in The B.B.C. Young Folk Awards. Lucy's vocals are achingly beautiful (so's she, for that matter!) and Dave Newey's guitar playing and vocals are excellent, as is his songwriting. However, their cover versions are well chosen, particularly a great version of Eric Bibb's 'Saucer and Cup' and a radical working of Bob Dylan's 'John Brown'.
Sweet Believers are a band featuring Fliss Downs (formerly Fliss Dowling) who was once upon a time the lead singer for the blues band Reconsider. These days Fliss and her new band are performing in a much more mellow sounding mode. He band played wonderful versions of 'Frank & Jesse James' and 'Have A Litle Faith In Me', and if this band don't make it there's something very wrong in the world. Top class. A new album is imminent - miss it at your peril.
The afternoon was brought to a close by The Teapot Junkies, who also go out in the form of Purple Monkey - both bands are very much in demand in the pubs and clubs in the area Although much of the original material was unfamiliar to me, there's no doubting that the reason for their big following is the sheer infectiousness of their set, which put a smile on everyone's face, and those who weren't up and dancing were definitely tapping their feet!
Sunday evening's concert started with a fine set from Bob Cheevers, the Nashville singer songwriter who was personally asked by Johnny Cash to accompany him on what was to be his last tour. Bob had appeared at a Festival fringe event at The R.M.A. Tavern the previous evening, and it seemed that he's brought a lot of people from The R.M.A. back to see him he following day at The Pier. Bobs' voice is very similar to Willie Nelson, and his easy delivery and personality soon won the audience over, as did his great songs, culled from his numerous award winning albums, including the brilliant 'From Gettysburg To Graceland' album and the scurrilous '12 Songs You'll Never Hear On The Radio' , from which Bob performed 'I Like Sheep' . Yes, well'.'...
Headliners on the Sunday evening were Ashley Hutchings' Rainbow Chasers featuring Fairport Convention founder member Ashley Hutchings. Ashley is probably the most famous and well respected bass guitarist on the folk scene, and may be responsible for starting more English traditional folk bands than any other artiste - The Ethnic Shuffle Orchestra, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, The Albion Country Band , The Etchingham Steam Band are just some of them, and Ashley Hutchings' Rainbow Chasers are the last in this long and distinguished line.
The Rainbow Chasers consisted of Ashley himself on acoustic bass guitar and vocals, Ruth Angell on vocals, fiddle, violin, acoustic guitar and percussion, and another ex Albion Band member Jo Hamilton (vocals, viola, acoustic guitar and keyboards, with Mark Hutchinson (also a member of Tickled Pink) on vocals, acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, keyboard and tambourine.
All members of the band contributed individually or collectively to the vocals, and the overall result was delightful, but sadly it was a comparatively small but enthusiastic audience who were treated to something very special evening. 'The Guv'nor' still continues to delight and evolve, forty years after first dipping a toe in the waters of the folk scene.
Monday, as ever is always blues day at Southsea Folk & Roots Festival presented by Southsea's Bullfrog Blues Club.
Fittingly, Portsmouth's own 'King of The Blues' Andy Broad opened the proceedings, before heading off to host a blues guitar workshop.
Starting off with a great slide guitar version of 'Goin' To Brownsville', followed by 'Walkin' Blues' he just kept the quality throughout his all too brief performance, the highlight for me being a blistering version of 'Crossroads'. The song's author, Robert Johnson, is reputed to have got his talent by going down to the crossroads and making a bargain with the devil for his soul - it sounds like Andy has taken his soul down to Cash Converters, and once he's got the money together will redeem it, so next time you see Andy Broad busking give generously or buy a C.D.'
Sons of the Delta were next - in this case the delta being the Severn Delta, for Ric Edwards and Mark Cole are from Gloucester. They'd recently returned from Mississippi after playing with some of the blues greats including Pinetop Perkins and Sam Carr, and their style certainly stopped any preconceptions that 'white boys can't sing the blues' .
Bukka White's song 'Parchman Farm' received a stunning arrangement with Mark's resonator guitar playing producing some very tasty licks. Even the old rockabilly song 'Train, Train' (remember Elvis' version') received a radical reworking with Ric's tasty harmonica wailing in the background. But my favourite song of the set was definitely Chuck Berry's 'Thirteen Question Method', as made famous by Ry Cooder- but Sons of The Delta made it their own rather than copy The Master's version. A great set with some friendly on stage banter in between songs.
Mo Thomas is a Southampton based singer guitarist, who always delivers the goods. He's played at Tichfield Blues at The Abbey festival, and has often played at The Bullfrog Blues Club, and he's built up a loyal following away in Portsmouth - despite coming from Southampton! Highlight of his set for me' Woody Guthrie's 'Vigilante Man'. Great stuff!
Denise Marie was our second artiste from New Orleans (Truckstop Honeymoon being the other), and another victim of Hurricane Katrina. She now resides in Holland, and tours mainland Europe, U.K and Ireland almost continually. She often plays a four string tenor guitar, an old and beautiful sounding instrument, which intrigues may of the blues aficianados in the audience. Denise Marie is blessed with an unusual voice and a range which also includes jazz stylings ,which evoke the sultry summer days of New Orleans.
She is a consummate guitarist, which was amply illustrated, especially on her composition 'Woman's World'. However, the intriguing 'Don't Wait Another Day' was accompanied purely on a percussion instrument which appeared to be a cross beween a tambourine and a bodhran. A stunning tour de force.
White Knuckle Blues Band closed the afternoon . Voted somewhat incongruously as The News Awards 'Best Folk Act' (we're back to Louis Armstrong again') they stormed through songs including 'Satisfy Suzy', with Steve Roux's fine vocals to the fore On the song 'Sick & Tired', Matt's harp blowing softly in the background went down well.
The Monday evening gig was supposed to have started with a set by Saiichi Sugiyama's Creamy, but unfortunately Saiichi had to cancel at the last minute, as he had been called to Japan to deal with some urgent family matters. The Continentals stepped in, and with their Chicago style blues did a great job of getting the audience in the mood. 'How'd She Learn To Shake it Like That'? was a fine opener, and an excellent version of 'All Your Love' was another highlight. This band never fail to deliver the goods.
The last act of the festival was the band fronted by someone once called 'the happiest man to ever get the blues' - The Larry Miller Band. Starting as he meant to go on, Larry ran from the back of the room and hit the stage with a bang, launching into the set at a million miles an hour, much to the delight of the audience. Energetic without being flash, it's impossible to watch this band without a smile on your face, as they tore through a set which included 'Doctor In The House', 'Man On A Mission' and many others, which brought out many of the Air Guitar Society (Southsea Branch) in force. Man on a mission' You bet he was'
And so another Southsea Folk & Roots Festival drew to a close. My only worry is how are we going to top this one' All will be revealed on the Bank Holiday weekend of 2007! See you there!