SHANEY LLOYD mucks in at Shrewsbury Folk Festival 2020 yet stays virtually clean as a whistle!
Although nothing can equal the vibrations of live music through your wellies or the unexpected waft of a mesmerising melody as you pass a marquee at twilight, there are positives to the enforced virtual festivals of 2020. The queues for the toilets were remarkably small and were as clean as my own bathroom. Likewise, at the bar I was served straight away by bar staff who even know my favourite tipple. The campsite was mud free and was as comfortable as my own back garden.
You Gotta Have Faith...
First up I ‘arrive’ at the festival flurried and flustered for my first morning festival workshop - Yoga with Faith. Arriving in anything but a zen state…. that commute downstairs is awful… it is a testament to Faith’s ability that by the conclusion of the forty-five-minute workshop I was feeling fresh, free and as Faith expressed it “ready to take this feeling with me throughout the festival”..
Next up, the first of two morning Singing Workshops with Refolkus director Cait who challenges the belief that you cannot be in two places at once as she splits the screen into three and demonstrates each part of a round of Bella Mama - a tune I have enjoyed singing in choirs. I listen to Cait’s rendition of each part then join in with whichever part of the round I chose…. I elect to go last …no change there as I skulk at the back of the choir! In the second workshop we try a song with three-part harmony. Soprano, Alto and Tenor are broken down into manageable bite size chunks, repeating each verse then time to sing along with Cait…so if you had a sudden downpour last weekend you know I was joining in!
The campsite was mud-free and as comfortable as my own back garden
Sing Your Heart Out
Onto the final workshop before we head off to the Main Stage for the afternoon’s music. I blow the dust of my sadly neglected ukulele and finally take it off the to do list and let The Ukulele Massive guide me through some chords. Once I have ‘mastered’ them I move over to the stage to join The Ukulele Massive to headline, showing off my new ‘skills’. Saturday, I wowed the crowds (four butterflies and a startled dove…The Garden Stage) with firstly You Are My Sunshine and on Sunday T- Rex’s Hot Love. After wowing the crowds on my Garden Stage, I head off to leave it to the professionals.
A Welsh Treat
I arrive at the stage at two for an afternoon of fabulous folk. Bethan Rhiannon and Sam Humphries (of the five-piece group Calan) who treat us to Welsh folk songs that have been handed down through three generations. This includes a tune played for Queen Victoria which had to be censured for the royal audience as the double meaning was deemed not suitable for royal ears! [We are intrigued! – Eds]. The song includes an interesting Welsh language number telling the tale of a man who, unhappy with his wife, ultimately decides he wants her back. My Welsh language course has unfortunately not progressed enough yet for me to discover if she was equally happy for him to return!
Music on Board
Next up, one of my favourite festival finds The Longest Johns. This Bristol-based group impress with their four-part harmony sea shanties. As with every band to grace the festival this weekend The Longest Johns treat us to multiple instruments, banjo, double bass and guitar. My personal favourite tune is the hilarious Hoist up the Thing from their new album Cures What Ails Ya. It tells the tale of a man who blags his way to a top job as ship’s captain despite knowing nothing about the job and as they explain, his lie starts to unravel. If you want to experience The Longest Johns’ humour check out the video for Hoist Up The Thing on YouTube… you will never see your Amazon delivery the same way again, but I am not sure their ship was entirely seaworthy!
Headlining the Saturday afternoon set is Seth Lakeman. I first stumbled across Seth
Lakeman a few years ago at the V Festival. My friends and I wandered into a tent where he was wowing a midday crowd (as festival goers will know - not an easy crowd to wow at that time of day!). The thudding vibrations as he played his violin were more akin to Jimi Hendrix than the Royal Philharmonic. His driving rhythms coupled with the emotional lyrics of Solomon Brown, which tells the tale of a heroic attempt by a lifeboat crew to rescue a boat in December 1981 off the coast of Cornwall. As he moves the tempo up again, I guarantee your feet will be tapping even more than Seth’s who manages to keep time while playing the violin and singing his self-penned lyrics.
The thudding vibrations as he played his violin were more akin to Jimi Hendrix than the Royal Philharmonic.
To round off Saturday I attend a Ceilidh. This workshop was recorded live on Zoom … I may have opted to remove my camera. Plenty of folks leave their cameras on though and it is lovely to see all the family and friends dancing around sofas and gardens. Atmosphere set (see what I did there… I’ll be here all weekend) by John Spiers and Friends, callers Andrew Swaine and Daisy Black are relaxed and friendly. I may even brave the dance tent in person next year….so stand well back if you are attached to your toes!
Culture at it's Finest
Back to the Main Stage and Truckstop Honeymoon - a witty and wonderful duo originally from New Orleans but recently relocated to Machynlleth, mid Wales. They play a rattling
rhythmic banjo and guitar with some wonderfully witty words in their tunes. Bad attitude has me tittering while tapping. The mood can shift deftly with such talent as Truckstop Honeymoon as they told the tale of their lost neighbourhood as friends endured enforced relocation and scattered after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their homes. They confide in us the inspiration behind two songs - firstly the tale of how they had been away on tour and discovered their home had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina via the cover of The New York Times. Their second track, depicting the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, tells how they were forced to separate from their neighbours after Hurricane Katrina devastated their homes. And the tale of the phone conversations between the old neighbours as they update one another of their events over the passing years.
Next, I move onto Steve Knightley, co-patron of the festival and half of Shrewsbury folk Festival Stalwarts, Show of Hands. His intimate ‘one man and his guitar’ set (with a special guest spot by Pip the dog) is incredibly moving as he speaks about his many years of experience of moving around the festival and the people he met along the way. He perfectly encapsulates the 2020 change of experience from actual to virtual with his observations that “3,000 people in a marquee coming into your space and you are just a dot and I’m now sitting next to you on your sofa or in your garden its much more intermate and confessional these shows”. His rendition of Are We Alright is incredibly moving. You’ll Get By is a beautiful poignant tune for the moment and his direct address to the camera for his assurance of “We’ll get by” is particularly heartfelt and effecting.
Finally, the festival’s swansong is the traditional group number which is achieved via some amazing editing and filming to create an emotional finale. To put it in the words of Steve Knightley - “See you out there on the road soon” I don’t know about you, but I’ll have my ukulele and wellies ready and waiting!
You can catch up with Virtually Shrewsbury Folk Festival on YouTube and at: https://shrewsburyfolkfestival.co.uk/virtually-sff-2020
There are details on the website on how you can donate to help support the festival and preserve it so we can all keep returning to enjoy it for many years to come!
As always, the festival is also fundraising for the Shropshire children’s charity Hope House with 10% of money raised going towards helping their incredible work.
Written by Shaney Lloyd