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Folk festival rocks Warwick

Warwick made merry this weekend when its annual Folk Festival came to town. Coventry singer, guitarist and folk writer PETE WILLOW did his bit - and reflects on some of the highlights and surprises of the occasion.

It's an odd way to describe a folk festival, but Warwick rocked this weekend. Now in its 38th year, Warwick Folk Festival provided four days of fun to suit all tastes within that broad and indefinable spectrum of "folk". With more than 230 events crammed into the programme, you have to be selective in planning a schedule to suit personal preferences and practical logistics. Is there time to watch the Morris dancers in Market Place before the main stage concert or ceilidh on the festival site? Can the music workshops be fitted in with the children’s events in the big top circus? For artists appearing, the problem is further compounded by the need to build your own performances into the plan. In my case, I was appearing in two different line-ups which made it impossible to catch headline folk-rockers Oysterband (above) or, sadly, the combined talent of acclaimed songwriters Jez Lowe and Steve Tilston making their only duo appearance in the weekend. On the plus side, being where I had to be meant I could witness some brilliant and unexpected moments - such as the Sallyport Sword Dancers who performed a complex routine of sword locking and somersaults within inches of my nose in a crowded pub when I was hosting a lively session of Irish music with Sly Old Dogs; or watching a hapless motorist impatiently sounding his horn to get through the crowd watching a superb performance by the Steamchicken Jazz Tour in the middle of Brook Street. He couldn't have expected the spirited reply he got from the band's extensive horn section - four saxophones, one trombone and an extremely loud bass tuba. This was after one of my two performances with Willow & Tool Band under a gazebo outside a pizza restaurant. Thunderstorms had been forecast but we sang songs about sunshine to a large crowd of al fresco diners, and I'm convinced that helped to keep the clouds at bay! Of the artists I did see in action, I was impressed with the young and energetic Worcester trio Granny's Attic who belted out some terrific songs on fiddle, guitar and melodeon. The squeezebox player, Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne (above right) also performed a thoroughly engaging solo set to the delight of the discerning folk veterans who packed the Living Tradition Centre. I was pleased to see Coventry singer-songwriter Rob Halligan winning the hearts of the main stage audience with his thoughtfully crafted material interspersed with songs by Dougie MacLean and Van Morrison. And I enjoyed the nostalgia of the talk by world music promoter Andy Kershaw, recounting his experiences as the man who booked some of the biggest names in rock to appear at Leeds University – a venue I used to frequent even before Andy started out as an undergraduate. His obsession with music led to him failing his politics degree but being offered an honorary doctorate years later for putting the university on the map as a world-famous music venue. The weather wasn’t perfect but could have been worse, and it did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the thousands of folk fans who converged on the town and the grounds of Warwick School. Warwick isn’t the biggest folk festival in the country but

it’s one of the most popular, and its double-barrelled programme of main site events and the "Warwick Fringe" in the streets and pubs of the town centre certainly add to the variety. It’s a win-win situation for sponsors, musicians, local traders and audiences. Since Sunday’s superb finale concert with harmonica and accordion wizards Will Pound and Eddy Jay and Scotland’s famous songstress Barbara Dickson (right), the festival’s Facebook page and Twitter feed have been buzzing with messages of congratulation. The large team of organisers and volunteers should be delighted that they’ve chalked up another successful and memorable event. Here’s to the 39th!

Pictures (except for Barbara Dickson) by John Wright.

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