|Inside Main Stage 1 at Shrewsbury Folk Festival|
I've always wondered what it would be like going to a music festival, taking a long holiday weekend, and roughing it under canvass! More's the point, doing the one thing we always objectively avoid, the very habit of many that fills me with abject horror: going out and driving any distance on the roads of Britain on a Bank Holiday weekend! Well I should cry out loud: never say die, because we did all of these things last weekend!
|The Wee Tent|
There was a third exception that slightly marred our enjoyment of the weekend, that my wife's back 'went' just before the weekend, so she was suffering a bit. However, she soldiered on through the whole festival very 'womanfully', for which effort I am very grateful.
|Weird Morris costume|
Over the past three or more years, I have been trying to learn how to write 'proper' poetry. You know, the flow of words that can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, that flood the lacrymal ducts, choke the throat and give you one of those moments, when so much suddenly comes into focus, all at once. It is poetry that enables a way of communicating that sometimes rarely sees the light in our everyday lives; that seeks out feelings, emotions; addresses fears, uncertainties, nay even hangups; brings to the consciousness of many who read it the ability to see another perspective on this sometimes astonishingly complex thing in life, which we call the human condition.
So, as my learning journey continues, I have become more acutely aware of the power of words, the power of that simple turn of phrase to make us feel the passion of the writer. If you then combine these with a tune, a melody, particularly one with more than the obligatory three chords, more even than a C, Am, F, G combination, which we all learn when we pick up a guitar or open the keyboard cover of a piano, the heartstrings are plucked, the soul is seared or the spirit elevated, or maybe all three at the same time.
This last weekend, at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival, as we became immersed for a time in the music and the culture, I felt this most especially. This is not least because we saw a couple of our favourite class acts, Kate Rusby and Karine Polwart, who, for me, are proof, if proof were needed, that a pure voice combined with great lyrics, a soulful tune, a class arrangement and proper delivery of the song can elevate your spirit, sear your soul and pluck your heartstrings like no other art form. But more of the eulogising in a bit.
I should point out that, whilst there, we also saw performances by Vin Garbutt (a very funny entertainer and talented songwriter), Lau, with the talented and distinctive voice of Chris Drever, whose music I could describe as symphonic folk; Show of Hands, comprising of the incomparable Phil Beer, Steve Knightley and singer / double-bass player extraordinaire, Miranda Sykes. We also experienced Plainsong for the first time, sadly on their farewell tour after forty years together; with the rich tones of country music combined with super musicianship and four part harmonies, this band was comprised of Ian Matthews and Andy Roberts (founder members of Plainsong, Ian Matthews himself previously a member of Fairport Convention with Richard Thompson et al), Julian Dawson and Mark Griffiths. Then that Demi-God, Mr. Richard Thompson OBE, himself, who headlined on Sunday night. With just one acoustic guitar and no gismo's to assist him, he graced the stage with a solo performance of many of his great songs. And what a truly remarkable guitarist and songwriter he is - "Vincent Black Lightning 1952", "Persuasion", "Beeswing" and no doubt hundreds more. I am a fan of this man. Such is his virtuosity with the guitar, as if to prove his musicianship, he can be found occasionally to cross over to Jazz amongst several other genres of music, evidence his album '1000 Years of Popular Music' released in 2003.
However, in spite of her relatively low billing (first of three acts on Main Stage 1, Sunday evening) it is Karine Polwart who ticks all the right boxes for me, not just from her two performances at Shrewsbury, both of which we watched this weekend, and for both of which she sang different sets of songs, but for all her performances; I've not seen a bad 'un yet. In all, I have bought, and listened to over and over again, well over fifty of her songs and there isn't one of them that doesn't move me in some way; I cannot think of any other singer / songwriters for whom I can say that and, even when she sings what might be described as an 'ordinary' folk song, the tone of her voice and her vocal delivery, giving as she does full value to every word and vowel sound, as well as her cadence, makes her very special to me; and, as a member of a mixed voice choir, I guess I should know a good cadence, when I hear one and how to get my tongue and voice box round a vowel! Add to all of this her musicality, the melodies she composies and the musicianship and vocals of her brother, Steven Polwart and the inimitable Inge Thompson, who provides so much colour to the orchestration and arrangement of Karine's songs, it is almost perfect in every way. I hope this great combination never changes and I have no doubt, at the next opportunity, I shall buy tickets again to see her perform. She will soon catch up with our Kate Rusby in the number of times we have seen her perform.
However famous or otherwise Karine Polwart may become, having met her on Sunday to sign our copy of her new album, I judge her to be an earth mother, someone with her feet on the ground, who does not seek fame for its own sake, but she does merit recognition for her astonishing ability to write lyrics that are poetry in all but name; and music that is so creative, authentic, colourful, spine tingling and a joy to the ears. It is the combination of her poetry and musical composition that will, without question, endure.