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SHREWSBURY FOLK FESTIVAL - Shrewsbury, Shropshire - 23-26 August 2019

Hot. Hot, hot, hot. And then some. Just the weather to make you want to sit in an airless marquee with 3,500 other people isn’t it? Thought not. But the festival did a great job of keeping temperatures reasonable in the main marquee (not so much in the secondary, 2,000-ish marquee) and, as ever, the sound was excellent and the light shows impressive. But the big yellow disc in the sky was having none of it, especially for the numerous Morris dance sides, who were expected to stick to their original schedules, resulting in a few keeling over. Even in the dance tent, it was bad enough for Alberio’s electric keyboard to burst into flames! And to think that last year people were leaving because the cold, horizontal rain and gale force winds were snapping their tent poles.

Whatever the weather, the event was a triumph. The fees for the craft fair seem to be pitched so that there are considerably more interesting local stands than at many festivals - and long may that continue. Likewise, the choice and quality of the food outlets was very high and worth the wonderfully sociable central area for eating outside, but under cover - these constitute major elements in making the event so enjoyable. As to the music, there was the same adventurous and high standard as we have come to expect. There was an impressively wide range of structured workshops on a surprising large number of topics, a good range of dance sides, and an interesting and varied ceilidh programme ranging through an early, bal, and rousing evening dances such as that with Baz Parkes and the Ironmasters playing on their home patch and sending a full house home very happy. The “in” thing this year seemed to be groups that had percussion consisting of someone sitting on a box and hitting it - unfortunately, that’s exactly what it sounded like as well.

Oysterband gave a fine run through of their back catalogue (and even included a new song which sounded as if it was part of their back catalogue) but could have done with being a bit louder (never thought I’d have to write that!). One of the most enjoyable sets was from Gary Stewart’s Graceland tribute to the Paul Simon album - great playing and singing. Martin Barre’s 50 years Of Jethro Tull prodded some excellent heavy rock, with rather more extended guitar solos than on the original songs. Sorry - but for me, however much the singer indulged in Ian Anderson-type action, early Tull with no flute just isn’t Tull. The highlight was probably Jiggy, whose Irish-Asian-techno fusion won over many doubters - dubious stalwarts were heard muttering afterwards, “best bodhrán playing I’ve ever heard,” and “best Irish stepping I’ve ever seen”. Catch up with their videos on YouTube. Skerryvore finished the festival off with a rousing and popular set - just the job!

And the children’s procession of lanterns seemed even longer and more imaginative than ever - a wonderful example of how this event has something for everyone. Roll on 2020!

Paul Burgess