Folk on the Water Festival final night.

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Folk on the Water Festival final night.


The plethora of summer music festivals that take place around the world offer music lovers many opportunities to see top-flight and established artists in anything from small intimate settings to vast multi-stage corporate events.  They also give the chance for up and coming artists to play to bigger crowds than they might otherwise attract.


Now ten years old, The Folk On The Water Festival (FOW) supporting Zoe's Place, the only Midlands based Baby Hospice, is one that attracts good crowds at the various venues (pubs) that it uniquely visits in it's travels around South Warwickshire by canal boat. It is also one that takes younger artists perhaps making one of their early appearances, more of this anon.


In recent years it has culminated at the Folly Inn at Napton on the Hill. The setting is in a natural amphitheatre where everyone has a good view of the semi-permanent stage. This year, with the British summer consisting of more that three sunny days and a thunderstorm, the event was blessed with beautiful weather which is always a bonus.


Every year the festival hosts an "Artist in Residence" who travels round in the boat and appearing at every venue, sometimes more than once. This year that honour fell to Elan Marie O'Callaghan from Derbyshire who spent the time learning new songs and how to steer a narrow boat as well as everything that goes with it. This eighteen year old is a tall girl in tall shoes with a melodic voice to match her stature. She commands attention through her quality of performance and persona. This is something that she is learning as part of the Big Help Academy where talented youngsters are nurtured in the art of stagecraft, song writing and all aspects of securing a career in music. Many of it's former students are now well know performers, producers and videographers working with national and international organisations. Elan Marie is moving along the path of learning her trade, accompanying her own singing on guitar, writing her own songs in both English and Spanish and developing as a performer. This girl is one to watch.


One of the best blues guitarists in the country is Jack Blackman, who, on one of his trips to the Mississippi Delta was told "Son, we can't teach you nuttin' about playing the blues," by one of the players over there. He delighted us with several of his originals and other songs and the audience were mesmerised by his skills and dexterity. including "Hognose Gin" "Police Dog Blues" and "I'm So Blue." The rattier side of a travelling musician was also depicted when he sang a song about someone who played in a wedding band, found themselves rattling along in the back of an old van on New Year's Eve going from one gig to another, pondering, "where did the dreams of Rock 'n Roll go?"  Jack contrived not to have to play an encore by breaking a string, but was thwarted by organiser Dutch Van Spall who rapidly produced his own precious guitar "Kevin" for Jack to play. Such was the skill that Jack displayed that Dutch later said he didn't think he would ever be able to play that guitar again and take it seriously.


In order to demonstrate that the music at FOW is not all folk, it is more music that folk play, Roz Bruce was invited back. I say back, because many years ago she was the artist in residence at the festival. Roz has been described as "the female equivalent of Jimi Hendrix" (who played a festival or two himself in his day). Roz puts a lot of work into her songs, the lyrics especially are clever, sometimes funny and clearly not always suitable for a family audience (We got the expurgated versions on this occasion.) There is an urgency and often aggression in her delivery which I found intriguing and interesting if not always musically to my taste. She has some unusual ideas, for example Roz and her band are working on an album called "Shelf Indulgence" where each song is based on a book. The example she chose for this performance was "Lolita" and the song explored the innocence and growing sexuality of the subject. It is a song that I would very much like to hear again. She also explored the experiences of a woman badly treated  by married lover in "I'm Not A Crook". Roz is a big Leonard Cohen fan and contrived to get the audience singing along with "Hallelujah" as her closing number.


Wilson Wright (Hilary and John) are a couple well known on the midlands folk circuit their voices and instruments being well matched. They sing well known songs with their own bent and write new material themselves. They opened their set with a song that celebrated Abraham Maslow's book "The Psychology of Science" with (when all you got is a hammer) "Everything Looks Like A Nail"  which contains the complaint "They show you how to shoot, they show you how to kill, but they don't you show what to do if..." Hilary's original song "In The Duke's Room" was written in the room at Dalmally Station where the Duke of Argyle would await his train. It seems it is now an Airbnb where the resident dog, Angus has been know to get on the train and end up in Glasgow. John gave a brilliant emotional performance of the Jimmy Cox standard "Nobody Needs You When You're Down And Out." Another original closed the set "Wild Geese" depicts "shifting along with the sand, trying to make the shore." It seems that the pair will soon be able to spend more time watching wildlife as they complete a move to the North coast of Scotland, when Hilary starts a new job. John as a photographer of note will no doubt be in his element. We will miss them. 


The variety of music available at FOW continued with the set provided by Lorna Dea whose love and speciality is Soul and Motown. This interest is reflected in her own compositions which comprised more than half her set. She has two EP's out, the title track of the first being "My Spark", it also features my own favourite of her songs, "My King" which she wrote and sang as dedication to her father who was celebrating his 70th birthday at the event. BBC Introducing have taken more than a passing interest in Lorna's music and have featured her songs on several occasions. Her down to earth and friendly nature comes over to the audience and she couldn't hide her delight when part of the crowd started dancing to her song "Only One." She is such a nice girl, she didn't even laugh when I fell over after taking photo of her on stage. Lorna is a looker too as she occasionally works as a photographic model.


Doubling as both sound engineer and performer was Kieran Taylour. His beaten up Martin guitar is beginning to show the work it has done over the years busking and gigging around the circuit. He is currently recording his first EP at Strawhouse Studios for release in the autumn. His set is all good festival fare popular with audiences and rightly so as he projects his music so well. His song are clear, toe tapping and direct and each has a powerful narrative. The original song featured were  "Please See Me" a tale of someone wanting to be noticed by another, "Movie Screens" and a beautiful song, "Daddy's Girl" about an absent father, who may not be there physically, but his spirit remains.


Kieran was joined on stage, by consummate performer, music teacher and voice coach, Nicky Stewart. they did that well-known standard "Sweet Child of Mine" as a power duet.  This was followed by Ed Sheeran's "Perfect" which I had not heard before live as a male/female duet. It was fabulous.


Nicky had her own spot in the afternoon section of the show. with included such crowd pleasers as "Love You I Do" (with Lorna Dea), Lucie Silvas' "What You're Made Of " and the big Madonna hit "Cherish". Power ballads and rockers are her bag and she has the most incredible voice with a range that astonishes. It is no wonder that the youngsters in her care at Big Help Music, (she is Creative Director) do so well they cannot fail to be inspired by someone who not only has talent, but also the ability to put across, the both the basics and the nuances of how to perform on stage. You cannot fail to be impressed by a performance of Nicky Stewart.


Quite the most inspirational act over the whole festival was the appearance of The Invisible Friends (TIF) Choir. Every one of it's members are suffering from illnesses and disabilities, often chronic, that are not immediately apparent, thus invisible. This group of people (now a registered Charity) formed in Derby under the guidance of one of the bravest people I know, Abbie Tabberer, who herself is in an out of hospital more often than a porters coat. This choir so impressed the Mayor of Rugby that he invited them to sing at his Robing Ceremony. The effort that these people put in simply getting to the gig bends the mind, They are based in Derby yet perform all over the midlands. Abbie's dedication has been recognised by an invitation to the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and subsequently to Buckingham Palace for a Royal Garden Party meeting Prince Charles who was so impressed by her work. After all that they put of a great show for us. 


The closing spot of the evening session, indeed that of the whole 2018 festival itself was occupied by NUNC, stalwarts of the Nuneaton Folk Club. The quartet brought two guitars , three part harmony and a lot of fun to the event. Their first act was to inform everyone that "We're All Gonna Die Someday" and followed this by the appropriate in the circumstances "Lay Your Body Down." Just in case of doubt remaining the next song was "Angel From Montgomery!" They weren't kidding were they? Did I say they brought some fun to the proceedings?   Escape appeared to be on the horizon when Richard Thompson's "I got to the Border" appeared in the set, quickly followed by Woodie Guthrie's "Vigilantè Man." Perhaps observing certain members of the crowd, another Richard Thompson song encouraged audience participation "Down Where The Drunkards Roll."  Recognising the canal-side location (as indeed all the venues for the festival are) The band broke into Fairground Attraction's "Perfect". The video of which depicts Edi Reader dancing along the hatch covers of a narrow boat whilst in mid-stream. (I remember being both fascinated and as a boater, horrified at the prospect at the time.).


I mentioned earlier that FOW has a special section for younger artists to try out their skills among these were twelve year old Theo from Coventry, who treated the crowd to three songs, including tempting the weather with "Rain."  He says his interests are in musical theatre.  Theo was followed by Thea Watson, also twelve years old who not only sang solo, but a duet with the fabulous Nicky Stewart and more than held her own in so doing. I see Thea heading towards TV presentation in the future. She takes charge on stage and exudes confidence, directing operations around her. Thea's final song was Aston Merrygold's "Get Stupid" in which she demonstrated that comedy is not lost on her. The final young girl I want to mention is Tuso Madiri from Luton fifteen years old too, gave us a twenty minute set singing and playing her ukulele. As might be expected her set was all covers, which she performed very well, everything from "Build Me Up Buttercup", to "(Sitting on) The Dock of The Bay" and other contributions from the likes of Crowded House, Lionel Ritchie and Emilie Sandie filled her allocated time.


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