Wath Festival sets town alight

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THE 39th annual Wath Festival brought a riot of sound, light and colour to the town – not least when someone torched a portable toilet in the town square and damaged the war memorial...

But a moment of bad behaviour aside, this year’s festival was fun-filled, warm and thoroughly friendly – and showcased some excellent performances from a top line-up of folk music stars.

The three days of fun and music began on Friday night at the Montgomery Hall where local song-writer, activist and entertainer Ray Hearne opened the main concert programme.

He delivered a short set of down-to-earth self-penned songs.

His thought-provoking work diverted attention from the pomp of the Royal Wedding, towards the more important things in life... songs for – and about – ordinary people.

The songwriting and story-telling theme continued throughout Friday evening with a visit from the north- east’s favourite folk son, Jez Lowe.

He made a welcome return to the festival with songs that seemed to reflect some of the images adorning the Montgomery Hall’s walls – notably scenes of the local mining heritage.

Alternating between guitar, bouzouki and mandolin, Jez sang a selection of songs from his repertoire including The Judas Bus, Taking On Men and Will Of The People.

There is always something warm and enchanting about an appearance at Wath Festival by festival patron John Tams, who always tries to make himself available during this weekend.

Joined by Barry Coope on keyboards, Tam’s gentle approach brought the Montgomery Hall to a hushed silence as the Derbyshire songwriter delivered a handful of uplifting songs whilst regaling the audience with some of his stories.

Friday also saw Frances Black’s first Wath visit.

Together with her small band, she brought the sound of Dublin to the Dearne with songs such as The Sky Road, Ready For The Storm and After The Ball.

Saturday began with the customary excitement of Thomas Tuke’s will and bun-throwing from the church tower, and the momentum carried over into the start of the Montgomery music programme.

Rob Shaw took to the stage to welcome a handful of quality folk acts to the festival including Charlie Barker and Harriet Bartlett, two songbirds sweetly harmonising accompanying themselves on guitar and accordion respectively.

Then the aptly dressed Bernard Wrigley, who donned a Dennis the Menace shirt, brought an hour of music, song and his own inimitable brand of comedy to the stage.

The session finished with a headline appearance from Irish singer-songwriter Kieran Halpin, with a set of meaningful songs.

Elsewhere during the afternoon, Lou Marriott presided over the Silver Roots Competition at the Red Lion while Wath Morris Team ran their ‘Mostly Chorus’ session at Wath Rugby Club.

The evening programme saw Bernard Wrigley present sets by Scarborough’s Anna Shannon, the inimitable Chris Wood and Paisley’s Tannahill Weavers – who have now been together for 43 years!

Each act delivered the goods in style. The sunshine stayed into Sunday as Wath Festival stalwart Gary Wells introduced Shropshire’s Flaxenby.

Singer Sam McLeod’s versatile voice blended folk, rock and jazz influences, and fused with Chris Buttery’s mandolin and guitar and Andy Jones’s informed fiddle.

The band were also responsible for the first steps of impromptu waltzing in front of the stage – not bad for so early on a Sunday afternoon.

York’s Holly Taymar and partner Chris Bilton returned for their third consecutive visit  to the festival, demonstrating that Wath Festival knows a good thing when it hears it.

Holly’s trademark inter-song rambling was interspersed by a delightful set of songs including Toes, Beautiful Days and Keeping Time.  

Uiscedwr showed-off the combined musical dexterity of Anna Esslemont and Cormac Byrne, as they demonstrated some of their highly rhythmic sounds before the afternoon’s headliner took to the stage.

Kris Drever – one third of the groundbreaking Lau – played a delightfully laidback solo spot which included songs such as Ewan Maccoll’s Freeborn Man, Boo Hewerdine’s Harvest Gypsies and the traditional Green Grow the Laurel.   

The evening session began with long-time friends of the festival, Cathryn Craig and Brian Willoughby, before the return of Merseyside’s Elbow Jane, and finally a headlining performance from Kris Drever, John  McCusker and Roddy Woomble featuring very special guest Heidi Talbot.

The audience heard superb sets from all the performers with songs including Steel and Stone, My Secret Is My Silence, The Poorest Company and Start It All Over Again. 

Plans are already underway for the 40th festival, which the organising committee – led by David and Ann Roche and Gary Wells – is planning to make bigger and better than ever... although they now have a very hard act to follow!