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Magpie’s Nest Easter Folk Festival, The Old Queen’s Head, Islington, April 5th 2010

April 6, 2010

Circulus, Dog Roses, Holloway Jug Band, Chicken Shed Zeppelin and more

This ‘all-dayer’ was listed as kicking off at one o’clock, but there was no way Astral, The Suit and I were going to drink cider for quite that long, so we turned up at four-ish and found the downstairs bar packed. With some judicious moving and manouevring, we grabbed ourselves a high table, all the better to enjoy the afternoon’s shenanigans.

The band that were on as we arrived were a competent enough young bluegrassy Americana combo, complete with rustic beards and clothes straight out of Deadwood, but the whole was less than the sum of the parts. We didn’t catch their name (rule number one of live music: let people know who you are), but they had quite a following, particularly of young women.

Between bands, Astral and I speculated on the fact that the primary purpose of joining a band (for young men at least) is attracting the girls, and on that score they seemed to be doing quite well. It also suggests that there’s something of a bluegrass revival going on among the indie kidz, which is welcome, but you just know they’ll move on like a herd of savannah-grazers in just a few months – probably post-festival season.

Next on were my band of the day, Brighton-based Chicken Shed Zeppelin, who weren’t as young as the previous band, but who played a mean set of radical-edged bluegrass – they could have been called The Coal Levellers. I knew we were in for an old-fashioned socialist-revivalist occasion when I read the fiddler-singer’s F*ck the Olympics t-shirt. The set comprised their own numbers, some bluegrass classics and some other songs suitably bluegrassed up – notably a rip-roaring Fulsom Prison Blues played at a breakneck speed. Very good fun indeed.

Dog Roses were another dapperly dressed young band ploughing a similar Americana furrow to the first lot and I begun to wonder if ‘Folk Festival’ wasn’t something of a misnomer. I’m all for broadening the definition of ‘folk’ to cover lots of demotic musical styles, but it does tend to get applied willy-nilly these days to bands who either have acoustic instruments or play old-style music or both. The bill at Moseley Folk Festival later this year, for instance, bears witness to this drift. In any case, Dog Roses were OK but nothing special, and Astral and I knowingly agreed that their fiddler was in fact a violinist – and there’s a bigger difference than some might think.

After another break and another opportunity to down more cider, things were getting slightly raucous but still good-homoured as the Holloway Jug Band took to the stage. And again, they were OK, but nothing stood out – even the jug-playing was somewhat subdued compared to the enthusiasm of the rest of the band. If I’m going to watch a jug band, I wanna hear some damn fine jug-playing, thank you very much….

Circulus – ridiculus?

At this point, we took off to the upstairs bar and found a welcome comfy sofa to park on. The promise of bands playing each stage once so that you wouldn’t miss them didn’t completely materialise, though I did enjoy Chicken Shed Zeppelin again. It meant that I was likely to miss most of Circulus downstairs but somehow the stars weren’t aligned correctly tonight for me to enjoy their ‘tripped-out prog homage to both ’70s psych and 12th-century chamber music’. In fact, I ran away upstairs again. Circulus – you either like ’em or hate ’em… or possibly both.

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