Godiva Festival 2023

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Godiva Festival 2023


It's always a pleasure to give "Hot Music Live" magazine readers my impressions of the Godiva Festival: just not quite as big a delight perhaps as actually experiencing it. Given all the possible logistical, weather & personal issues which might have precluded going, let alone for all three days, I feel blessed & fortunate.

Big thanks as always to Carl, Will & so very many other people involved on the production side for helping me report on the Festival: cannot even estimate how many I had support from over the weekend.

I'll start as I always do by emphasising just how we must never take the Godiva Festival for granted: it's been under threat before & in uncertain times, it deserves & requires our support. There is absolutely no other event in existence or possible existence which could offer so many opportunities to so many original musicians from Coventry & Warwickshire to gain new audiences: and let's not forget that BBC Coventry & Warwickshire invite many to their own stage, broadcast their performances live & interview them.

My apologies to all those whose performances, in an ideal world, I'd have liked to have caught: with multiple stages (which were further apart this year) and my own finite resources, it was impossible to see everyone. In my slight defence, I made a real effort this year to stay for as many full sets as possible & certainly broke my own (rather feeble) record in that respect. Quality over quantity was my mission, though I still saw loads of fantastic performances & had a whale of a time.

I ramble on at the best of times in reviews, so if I gave everyone the due I usually give in articles, no one would have the time nor patience to read this one, so if you don't mind, I'll keep individual comments brief, but still as sincere as normal.

As you know, I tend to favour the stages other than the Main one to favour local acts, but I'm delighted that so many of the latter were selected for that honour (including The Selecter themselves).

Bearing in mind that we only reviewed Downdraft for the first time a couple of weeks ago, how great was it to see them open the whole event from the Main Stage? A powerful & charismatic performance which set the energy level for the entire weekend at a high level. Excellent choice.

On the Sunday I caught "Hot Music Live Presents" artist Chessi O'Dowd up there too: it's not a stage particularly suited to solo artists with acoustic guitars, but her calm & dignified stage presence helped her own the space & hopefully bring the quality of her work to a wider audience.

Later that same day I saw last year's festival openers Cov Kozaks there too: a completely different experience given the number of them & the power & energy of their music. Despite (or perhaps in response to) the horrors still outrageously occurring in Ukraine, their life affirming music & zest was a wonderful gesture of defiance to circumstances & a highlight of the weekend for me. The invasion of their homeland may have played some part in their opening the weekend in 2022, but they are up there on merit as far as musical quality goes: this year they brought out the Ukrainian Cossack Dancers to provide a stunning extra layer of vibrancy & of the many tributes paid to Terry Hall, their idiosyncratic, Ukrainian version of "Monkey Man" was my favourite. It's a testament to Coventry & Warwickshire's diverse community that artists can perform in languages which large parts of the audience don't actually know, but they still get the message.

Off the Main Stage, the stories have interests each of their own: I'll try to give you some sense of as many of them as possible (another delight of the festival is the chance to get to chat with so many musicians and learn stuff of high fascination degree).

One major aspect is how one gets to see & hear unusual or even unique performances due to the circumstances: for example the BBC Stage is not only much smaller than the Main Stage & Next Stage, but in order to have quick turn arounds & hence showcase more artists, slimmed down & often acoustic sets work best. Thus artists adapt. One spectacular example were Luna Kiss, renowned for their volume and thrillingly dirtiness of sound. They openly admitted their trepidation at adapting their material to acoustic guitars yet it was a triumph. You probably won't hear them do the songs that way again, but great songs do stand up to rearrangement & everyone loved what they did: hearing the lead guitar so "clean" on a Spanish guitar was a revelation: and the songs lost not a jot of energy in the process.

Izzie Derry on the other hand, whose forthcoming album leans much more heavily towards a full band than her solo acoustic days so familiar to Godiva crowds for the past decade, opted for more of her older material than she'd normally play these days, though two of them made it into the set, being a guitar composition & one she felt she could adapt. Even the old songs though were tweaked & varied from how you might remember them. It would be great to see her back next year with her full band playing her new songs as they are meant to be heard.

Jake Rizzo went the other way: I had not seen him other than solo, but now he appeared with a second guitarist & percussionist (both called Matt: coincidence or policy?) as he is developing his sound & he was also telling me about exciting developments in the recording studio with his group & with Joe Dolman producing: watch this space.

Two other unique-ish sets were seeing both Jack Blackman & Dean MacDonald on the Next Stage on Friday evening with their bands plus The Sekine String Quartet adding extra layers to their music: not only is that combination going to be tricky to put together anyway, but Dean in particular, despite the success of his recent solo releases seems unlikely to be playing other than with The Session in the foreseeable future. I was sorry to miss Dean's Godiva set with The Session, but I was privileged to catch Jack playing his virtuoso (slide) acoustic blues solo on Sunday afternoon: the right vibe for the day.

I honestly didn't know how Duke Keats could possibly translate his material to an acoustic format: his music is so idiosyncratic & non-traditional. Leaning heavily on his recent ‘Dirty Glamour' EP, it worked a treat (the saxophone I think did a great job of replicating some of the EP's more abstruse sounds) and most importantly, it went down well with the good sized audience, who, let's not forget, were not hard core Duke Keats fans but casual visitors, presumably unfamiliar with his work.

Recent releases naturally featured across sets: Chasing Deer are well accustomed to playing festivals so had no need to adjust any aspect of the performance, but it was great to hear a set full of songs I've not heard live before: from the extremely recently released ‘Diamonds in the Rafters' album: in fact I'm obliged to Rob for kindly giving me a copy for review, and so giving me a chance to talk about the songs in greater detail in a few days' time. Suffice to say, this is another band developing their music & though the performance went down as well as any I've seen from them, the tone & subject of the songs has shifted significantly in the new batch: but more of that in another article.

Stylusboy's ‘Back In The Day' EP has not actually been launched yet: if you can make it, the event is on Thursday 6th July at Baxter Barista's in Hale Street, Coventry with support from Antonia Kirby (whose Godiva set I sadly couldn't make): a review is already being drafted this end. Nevertheless, four of the new songs made it into his set: bittersweet at times, thoughtful all the times, this is emotionally sophisticated material at any time, so the fact that it went down so well with people unfamiliar with his work in general let alone the specific songs, shows you just how good he is.

At this point, I'll slip in something a bit different: I had a hard enough job (and I certainly was not 100% successful) in seeing all the acts I knew I wanted to see in advance: under such an approach, exposing myself to previously unknown ones is not easy & it's a weakness I know. Serendipity occasionally kicks in & this year I experienced two great new (to me) acts.

I wanted to catch the Boudica presented act on the Main Stage: not least because last year's Dream Wife set was the jaw dropper for me & so many others. This year, Nosettes bassist/singer Shingai was at a similar level: though completely different in her style. Again, we are talking charisma & inspiration. The more Boudica acts the better as far as I am concerned & I'm sure I'm far from alone.

I doubt I'll be seeing Shingai play again soon alas, but I was delighted to experience more local artist Dolly Mavies and her band for the first time. As always when I stumble across artists of this quality I kick myself for not having done so sooner, but I thoroughly enjoyed her set & recommend them to you: I'm hoping to review her current album release too.

Having tried linking much of the above into some coherence, I fear the tying up of my review is going to be a bit more a series of disconnected, but no less genuine expressions of moments of joy:

One is seeing one of Horace Panter's several concurrent bands: the Cajun Roosters being one I'd never previously seen: catch them if you & can & you like your zydeco fun & authentic.

Andy Beglin's live performances are another rare treat & Godiva 2023 was fortunately another: I salute his gesture in support of multi-culturalism visually but ultimately it's the beauty and truth of his songs I urge upon you & the passion he put into playing them.

Ivy Ash is another artist whose gigs are sufficiently infrequent to be that much more appreciated when you do get the chance (I think I've seen all but one of those she's ever done in this persona) but in this case, recovery from a tonsillectomy earlier in the year explains why she's not been able to play as much as she no doubt would otherwise have wanted. Thankfully, you couldn't tell she'd had it (my temptation to perceive a little extra bluesiness in her lower register may just be warped perception as she had it before) and her poptastic effervescence enlivened Sunday afternoon. She was telling me of exciting developments concerning new material, so be on the lookout for that.

Levi Washington opened the Next Stage proceedings on the Saturday: it just goes to show how good his music is that it attracted the attention against the very considerable rivalry of his specially made stage suit (though he didn't wear the jacket, which was probably wise or else we'd have been blinded: there are various photos of all three days on the "Hot Music Live Presents" Facebook group & Instagram page: they give a bit of an impression of his trousers at least). Building tracks up methodically, letting us see the artist at work, I was pleased that he chose to push boundaries with the set rather than offer the comfort of covers.

Danny Ansell has played at least once at virtually every Godiva Festival, so it was hardly a surprise to see another of his extremely popular sets, stoking the audience up so much that the BBC made the extremely rare step of conceding an encore. His band for this acoustic gig being long time bassist Patrick Beard and Ali Hutton from Monday Nights who did a great job coming in on percussion:  such setups can really expose flaws of technique or knowledge of the material.

I really hope Bar Pandora get invited to play Godiva soon, given in how high esteem they are held: nevertheless, I did get to see Charlie & Matt perform, albeit, and totally to my surprise, as operators of the giant Lady Godiva puppet: I certainly wouldn't want to go to Godiva & not be surprised nor simply see what I'd expected.

I suspect many people who hear Angelo Cardone focus on the quality of his voice (can't say that I blame them), but what struck me listening to his set was how difficult the songs he performs are to play on the guitar (he actually has a justly high reputation as a guitarist, though it's still the voice I think which attracts first attention with audiences). Leaning much more towards covers than most artists I heard, it was almost as if he'd gone out of his way to choose the hardest songs to play while singing: and he made it appear entirely effortless….

I'll finish at this point, hoping I kept your attention thus far: but I will repeat what I said above: Godiva Festival is a marvellous thing, but it has a fragility born of economics which even the vibrancy you see in attending cannot respond to without us all who appreciate it giving it consistent support. Please join me in doing that..

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