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review: SPRING FEST (Echo)

gadrene shelley 3


by Cliff Moore

What could be better than a festival with seven top acts over eight hours in one under cover venue with good beer?

This indoor, one-day festival is a brilliant concept that deserves longevity. It wasn’t a sell-out – first years of such events rarely are – but it is to be hoped there was enough spark to ignite numerous repeats.

Paul Burke and the team got this spot on: two stages so nary a gap between acts, excellent sound, a relaxed atmosphere and brilliant performances.

The archetypal ‘man of the people’ folk singer Chris Wood topped the bill – he’d surely top any bill – with his gorgeously crafted and beautifully played tales of Englishness, life, love, loss and football.

This national treasure of a singer is also incredibly funny as he cuts through the drivel of the modern world, dispenses with airy-fairy song concepts and tells it like it is on the streets today as part of his campaign to put the folk back into folk music.

Try YouTubing This Love Won’t Let You Fail, None The Wiser, So Much To Defend, Jerusalem or It’s Only A Friendly if you don’t believe me. An hour of Wood on stage seemed to last 10 minutes.

Mostly West Country-based, the energetic five virtuoso musicians of Gadarene take obscure English compositions and add a dynamic modern twist influenced by everything from rock to reggae to come up with banging dance tunes.

No one danced, of course, except Laurel Swift and Matt Norman – but they are in the band and were clogging.

The beautiful voice of Josienne Clarke and astonishing guitaristry of Ben Walker showed exactly why they are British Folk Award winners. They performed their own compositions and covers from Gillian Welch, Fairport and Dolly Parton.

Comparisons with Sandy Denny are not unflattering – and the droll Clarke is hilarious between songs –and the pair are upsetting the staid trad folk applecart with their modern attitude so all is well.

Bournemouth four-piece Fox & The Owl blend rich harmonies and jaunty tunes over the occasional political song and the always reliable Wikkaman collective tell dark and eccentric tales of Dorset.

Purbeck-based Glen Ross sang of migration, cycling and windy days in a breathy voice reminiscent of Colin Blunstone and Hummingbird and the Crow, emerging from the remnants of Fearne, kicked off proceedings.

The Shelley Theatre, loved by everyone who performs there, is being refurbished beyond recognition, but let’s hope the defining quirky, shabby chic remains. And, once the issue of some non-raked auditorium rows is resolved it’ll be even better.

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