Updated: 9 Dec 2010
Click on the image for a larger version.
GREAT BRITISH FOLK FESTIVAL, BUTLINS, SKEGNESS, 3-5 DEC 2010
Great Festival, good accomodation, friendly staff, but Crikey, was it chilly !!!
Acoustic Strawbs made the trip in decidely inclement weather from the three corners of Britain (well Deal, Sheppey and Hampton) to perform in a room which itself was at sub-zero temperatures. (Fortunately a heating engineer was called to sort it out for the next day.) No sign at all of the cold in their performances, as they slipped back effortlessly out of loud electric mode into their acoustic shoes. Cousins opened a well-received set with a rousing "Hi De Hi", and was in chatty mode throuhgout, inculding the increasingly topical "shopping days to Christmas" pitch. Highlihgts for me were "New World", "Josephine", a blistering "Lay Down" and the singalong encore "We'll Meet Again Sometime" - hopefully that will be true for the Strawbs and this festival.
Overall for me, on the festival as a whole, a little too much blues, but hey that's me, and of course some of the dropouts (Unthanks, Renbourn/McShee) were the main folk part of the deal. But scheduling could have been better thought through: the original schedule had Renbourn/McShee against Strawbs, but also The Gathering (feat. Ray Jackson) at the same as Rod Clements solo: really dumb.
Kate Rusby was spectacular and Digance showed yet again he can command a lunchtime crowd with absolute confidence. And of course, the wonderful Gordon Giltrap who started off Day Three with some breathtaking guitar wizardry. (We saw him again on tv that evening when he was in the line-up on Never Mind The Buzzcocks - surreal!)
Other acts: not too fussed as I said abouit the bluesier items - Deborah Bonham and Sandi Thom didn't do anything for me, though others in the party were complimentary. Best of all of the others was Diesel Park West's set (of which I only saw part), who were a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Byrds tribute band, complete with gorgeous full harmonies and jangly Rickenbacker guitars. Ay Ducane were good as well, and Nine Below Zero (who were on their way to the airport afterwards, a very late fill-in addition to the bill indeed) produced some of the best blues and harmonica music. Oyster Band were good, though for me a little samey, except for the totally unplugged encore , which was a nice touch - they weer cleraly very popular indeed as the packed out Centre Stage venue attested: mind it was shedloads warmer than the Reds venue next door.
Comedian Phil Cool was an enjoyable session, mixing plenty of amusement and some music - mind I wouldn't have put him on straight after Digance (the two comic acts back to back: another bit of scheduling madness!). Didn't catch the Dylan Project myself - others did and weren't enamoured. Jiggerypipery was a loud folk dance band with a fairly elderly piper in full highland togs, which nevertheless had plenty of the younger attendees up and dancing in the "Reds" venue (considerably warmer than the previous night). Shinjig was essentially a dance band with caller (which might have gone down better in the other venue, where there actually WAS a dance floor, than I felt they did - other, more dance-oriented folk enjoyed their little ceilidh interlude, but for me dance music doesn't have enough light and shade and dynamics simply to listen to.
As much out of loyalty to his number one fan (D Claridge, step forward), I ventured across after Kate Rusby's second set to join him for the Donovan experience, and surprised myself by enjoying him more than I'd expected. I find the mannered voice a bit of trial, and Lord knows where the between song patter comes from, but he had a good band (good young Irish stock) behind him, and rocked out when he got going. Enjoyed "Barabajagal" "Jennifer Juniper" and "Mellow Yellow" most of all. Glad to have had an opprtunity to see him live.
For us Strawbs fans/Strawberry Fools a high point was two nights on the trot in the rooms with guitars out till 3.30 - our equivalent of the Cropedy Stage 2!. The rooms above us were empty on Friday, but if you were above us the second night - we apologise unreservedly!! We were well behaved on night 3 (mainly as we had an early start - kickout time from the chalets was a painful 10.00am).
All in all a great trip, glad the weather didn't prevent most of us from going - bad luck to those with flu/colds or just snowed up and couldn't make it. And fantastic value, I think: taking two self-catering chalets (5 bedrooms in all for what should have been 7 of us) cost £89 a head for three nights, music thrown in. (A single Strawbs gig and a night away in a hotel can cost nearly that.) The accommodation was basic, but comfortable and clean, and once we got a dodgy heater fixed (very quick response I might add), warm and toasty, despite extremely low temperatures outside. As for food, apart from an obligatory fish and chip meal, Chef Tonge catered for us with wholesome soups, spag bol and cholesterol free (well maybe not) cooked breakfasts.
The event seems to have been a success financially - there were posters offering a booking at the same price for next year's event and it's already posted on their website to start 2 Dec 2011. If it's a reasonable line-up I'd certainly consider it again.
Photo by Sue Holton - more photos from Sue
A great weekend. My highlights (apart from Strawbs) were Gordon Giltrap, Kate Rusby and Ay Ducane. A bit too much harmonica for my liking in some of the other acts, but that's just me. Also a great selection of music inbetween the acts. Not forgetting the fantastic 80% Fool(s)proof sing-a-longs back at base camp. And Sue and Mike's friend Geoff playing GG with nails made of super glue and acrylic dust!
Yes, I agree, it was well organised, but I felt the staff were more used to 60's, 70s or 80's weekend, and had limited knowledge of folk/folk-rock groups, hence the clashes and a lot of blues too. Also they were heavy handed with the amps and the lighting was rather harsh in 'REDS' where the Strawbs played, far too much UV for my liking.
High points of the weekend include, 'our boys', Gordon Giltrap (breathtakingly beautiful set), Kate Rusby (v festive set plus some of her new album), Richard Digance (always a good laugh), plus Phil Cool and the Oysterband....the other acts I saw left me unmoved!
Having never been to Butlins (loved DCs Hi-de-hi comment) I found the accomodation suprisingly cosy, if somewhat basic: you had all you needed, although I was glad I packed some extra blankets etc - the weather was soooo cold.
It did feel rather claustrophobic at times so I enjoyed escaping Sunday morning to Gibraltar Point bird sanctuary, lovely scenery and a nice coffee shop to blow away the years of stale smoke which had been absorbed by the very fabric of the Butlins complex, we having opted for standard accomodation, which must have been some of the oldest 'chalets'! One advantage - our block was close to the main venues, with the icy paths that was a definite plus!
We gave the weekend 7/10. Enjoyable but probabiy not again unless the line-up outstanding. We much prefer, camping at Cropredy! Great to meet up with the other W'wooders, hope you all got home safely
A great weekend, and for someone who doesn't mind a bit of blues, the last minute substitutions actually worked out quite well. Debbie Bonham was pretty good, as were Nine Below Zero (rather apt, given the weather). But I've always wanted to see Richard Digance and he didn't disappoint- cabaret with some v. impressive rag-style finger picking. I bang on about Mississippi John Hurt to the other Fools, and it was great when Digance played a cover of a MJH track. Will go and see RD again- he's on tour pretty much all year.
Acoustic Strawbs were as good as ever, and Gordon Giltrap proved that the rest of us strummers and pickers are mere mortals.
But no one has mentioned [DG's review above has been updated to do so - DG] the Minstrel of Whimsy... having come straight from...1967... Sunday evening was Donovan! Thankfully he didn't go over the stories of India with 3 Beatles, 2 Beach Boys, and Mia Farrow... or the verse of "Hurdy Gurdy Man" that George Harrison wrote... he just played (well, there were a couple of dodgy stories in there). You've got to smile.. he's the King Canute of the Folk/pop world- refusing to ever change - Gawd bless 'im.
And then, back at our chalet?/villa?/cell block?... strumming our guitars and meeting a new strummer - and stealing his instrumentals (don't tell him Sue) was just as enjoyable as the pro acts.
And just before going to bed - checking the cricket score to hear England walloping the Aussies in the second test. Hoorah!
A terrific weekend with an amazing amount of great music, which several of us wondered whether we'd make it to thanks to our White Christmas coming early. Thankfully the roads from London all the way to Skegness (nearly rhymes with Memphis) were clear of snow and ice, and my chauffeur (Mr. Greener) did an excellent job.
Having been a Butlin's employee for a few months in 1978 (a receptionist at Clacton no less, with a stunning pale green crimplene tunic for a uniform) I was pleasantly surprised by the standard of our accommodation. I was also delighted to find that security staff don't now seem to bang on chalet doors at 3a.m., demanding to inspect the premises for "extra guests" or alcohol. (They wouldn't have got through the door for the crates of Bacardi and Stella.)
Anyway, Strawbs on Friday evening was obviously the major draw for the Witchwood crew and having just seen them blow the socks off people all over the country on the electric tour, it was quite strange to see them back in acoustic mode, so effortlessly it was almost as though the electric tour had never happened. No wonder the general public is confused by what kind of music Strawbs play! The set was spellbinding as ever, with lots of compliments overheard from people around the large venue in which they played (called "Reds") and over the rest of the weekend.
Other highlights for me were similar to Mister Claridge's as I am a big fan of the blues (unlike Ali who huffed and puffed when yet another harmonica was pulled out of the hat!) - Deborah Bonham's "acoustic" set was great, as was Nine Below Zero's venture into a more acoustic sound. I'd seen them lots of times as a full on r'n'b band, but not like this and although the "sitting on stools" concept did seem a bit strange, watching Mark Feltham on harmonica etc., I would go and see this version of Nine Below again. That's the fun of festivals, seeing bands you might not normally take a chance on and finding things you never knew you'd like.
I also enjoyed Diesel Park West who did some great CSN&Y covers among other things a lot (never heard of them before), and the "comedy" acts of Phil Cool and Richard Digance were good fun. Strange programming I thought though, putting the only two "comedy" acts one after the other in the same venue when there was nothing else similar over the three days! I enjoyed The Oyster Band, largely because it was lovely and warm when they played in Centre Stage soon after we had all turned into blocks of ice during Strawbs' set (thankfully the heating was sorted out by Saturday - sweltering a lot of the time in fact!). I thought Kate Rusby was very good, although by all accounts I think I missed her better set as I left to catch Donovan in the other venue. Donovan was, ummm, different! Not quite sure what to make of him really, I'd only ever heard his hits before. Oh yes, Gordon Giltrap - amazing guitar wizardry and I can't quite fathom how he does all those different c lever technical things at the same time and keeps it all in sync. I thought men couldn't multi-task? Similar to how Chas manages to play, sing and operate his foot pedals in the right order I suppose! Nice to hear Paul Smith get a thank you from GG too.
I wasnt terribly impressed by The Gathering, which all sounded a bit predictable to me although I've been told they are normally five rather than three so maybe that's the reason. I was equally unimpressed by The Dylan Project, but then again I was totally underwhelmed when I saw the other Dylan (Bob) earlier this year at The Hop Farm Festival. A lot of that stuff always sounds too country and western for my liking.
I'm sure I've forgotten to mention several other bands I liked but never mind, my raison d'etre in freezing Skeggy in December left me totally delighted and so glad to have been there. It was nice to bump into Jane and her husband, and also Dave Musson. (Unfortunately I deleted Dave's number from my mobile by accident - Dave, if you read this, I still haven't got it so if you're going to a Strawbs gig somewhere and want to meet up please do text or ring me again!).
It was a real shame that some of the fold couldn't make it (including Nigel & Lynne & Pete Madeley) because of man flu/snow and wotnot - they were all missed but hopefully there will be a repeat next year and it will be a full house (or chalet). Thanks to Ralph for the Michelin 5* spag bol, breakfasts, soups and more. That "after hours" partying accompanied by the sights and sounds of the Strawberry Fools continued long into the night goes without saying...
And a p.s. that I keep meaning to ask but never remember, except I just have - did anyone see Strawbs at Butlin's in the late 1980s or early 1990's? I distinctly remember seeing an ad in my local paper somewhere around that time for Strawbs to play at a Butlin's (not sure which one) and my memory, which may be a false one, is that they were on a bill with Dr. Feelgood. Maybe it was a 70's weekend?