Leigh Folk Festival, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, June 27th 2010
A gorgeous sunny day and a free folk festival down by the seaside – what’s not to like? The four of us packed our suntan lotion and took the train to the coast, accompanied by hordes of Londoners heading to Southend to get greasy chips, strong lager and severe sunburn. Leigh, however, is one stop before Sarfend and a little bit more genteel – not that you can’t get a decent pint of cockles and whelks there.
But first the music… Those lovely people at Rif Mountain were hosting events in ‘the Clarendon’, which is not, despite its name, a pub, but a wooden meeting hall next to the Crooked Billet, the best pub in Leigh (there are four pubs in a 200-yard stretch along the old High Street, which is good). I popped in just as Wolfgang and the Wolf Gang were striking up some serious folk drone. This impromptu band, partly hidden behind wolfy masks, comprised Rif Mountain luminaries Jason Steel, Dom Cooper, Steve Collins and some of their chums. They were great – lots of psych-folk chanting, hypnotic percussion and sitar – and I hope they can put some more of this stuff together in the future. The website promises ‘more soon, when the fog clears.’ We made sure to grab one of the thirty free CDs on offer, though.
It was now getting seriously hot and we were fanning ourselves like Italian grandmothers in church as Jason Steel took to the stage in his solo guise. He played pretty much the same songs as when we’ve seen him a couple of times recently, including The Bonny Black Hare and Goodnight, Irene, but, by golly, he played them well. His soft but spooky voice lends a power to even the simplest of songs, and his guitar- and banjo-playing are excellent.
After a bit of Drohne, aka Philip Martin and his hurdy-gurdy, I was in sore need of another pint, so joined the queue outside the Crooked Billet. Entertaining and talented trad-folk duo Vicki Swann and Jonny Dyer were playing on the outdoor Billet Wharf stage across the road, but were soon interrupted by the lunchtime parade of Morris sides, folk dancers, weirdly dressed oddballs and assorted mummers, fakirs and fiddlers. It was all a lot of fun and, after a spot of lunch, we caught some of Megson’s set before Humungous and I decided it was time to find a pub showing the Germany v England World Cup game on a big screen.
The Crooked Billet had a tiny telly, so we walked to the other end of the old High Street to Ye Olde Smack Inn. I trust that’s ‘smack’ the boat rather than ‘smack’ the heroin, but with English seaside resorts you can never be quite sure these days. Anyway, this seemed to be where most of the Essex geezers were gathering, so we joined them for two hours of miserable football, shouting, swearing and lots of drinking. Bloody England…
Astral and Mr P had avoided the big sporting occasion and were enjoying the sunny afternoon by Billet Wharf (left), where we’d miss both Alasdair Roberts and Nancy Wallace, which is a shame, but there’ll be other opportunities. We did, however, catch Anglo-American couple Cath and Phil Tyler, who put on a great set of stirring American and British folk songs. Phil’s from north-east England while Cath’s the American, and you can tell that her roots go back far. She’s a follower of the ‘sacred harp’ tradition of strong harmony singing and used to be in long-standing US folk-punk band Cordelia’s Dad (one of whose current members, Tim Eriksen, is making a trip to London soon – I must go and see him). The power of their playing and singing is obvious from the first moment, and there are no pointless embellishments. In fact, their music is simple – which is not easy. I like this comment about them by Frances Morgan of Plan B magazine: ‘It’s a weird looking-glass effect many folk fans will be familiar with: the straighter you play it, the stranger it gets…’
After a couple more pints and a hearty ‘tea’, we caught the train home, having enjoyed a lovely folky day at the seaside. Leigh puts on a fun and friendly festival and all for nowt. We’ll definitely try to be back next year. Here’s a shaky video of Nancy Wallace on the Billet Wharf stage performing I Live Not Where I Love: