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SOLFEST, Cumbria 24-26 August 2012
name conjures images of Andalucían warmth, bright skies and not a rain
cloud in sight. The sol in Solfest refers not to the sun but to the
Solway Firth, the body of water separating the west Cumbrian coast from
the Scottish borders.
isolated, but the stunning location between the sea and the Cumbrian
mountains, the warmth of the festival goers certainly makes up for any
lack of Iberian sun.
The music at
Solfest is an eclectic mix of big names from the eighties, Big Country,
Adam Ant and the Waterboys, and a more folksy rock edge mixed with local
Cumbrian music and up and coming bands.
There is no
set formula, and the festival goers are an open and welcoming bunch of
all ages, from toddlers to Octogenarians which ensures a warm welcome to
Photo: Mike Swain
music is spread over three stages, the main stage, a suitably festival
type large set, the bar stage, set in a very large tent with a, ahem,
bar and the Drystone stage. The latter is a small stage, set in its own
mini amphitheatre with a suitably intimate atmosphere and it was here
that the festival kicked off with the appropriately named young band
from Cockermouth – Yan Tan. Their lively hour long set, a mix of
Irish, Scottish and Cumbrian folk music enthralled the crowd, sitting,
lying and dancing in the warm late afternoon sun. The band's age range
from 11-18, though their competence certainly belied this with the lead
singer displaying a confidence and skills beyond her years.
stage uses the natural geography of the site to enable festival goers to
sit in a natural semi circle bowl of a hill.
highlight for many on the Friday night on the Main stage was a
wonderful, intimate solo performance by KT Tunstall. KT was
accompanied by her guitar, loop pedal and for a brief interlude her dog,
the audience chatting, telling stories and being self deprecating when
she made a mistake with her loop pedal while playing 'Black Horse and
The Cherry Tree' – 'I'm glad THAT didn't happen on Jools,' referring to
her solo performance on Jools Holland which broke KT into the
The Solfest audience at one point were used by KT as a
thousand strong human beat box, supplying backing before finishing her
solo set with a funky adaptation of her own hit 'Suddenly I See'.
stage provided further Celtic inspired music on the Saturday with the
Scottish five piece band Man's Ruin. Their 'hazardous concoction of folky blues with funk undertones drew in a crowd which were just
starting to peer out from under canvas covers after a twelve hour deluge
had turned a sunny Solfest into soggy one.
Calum McCrimmon and his
fellow band members worked hard to entertain, combining a mix of musical
styles which would defy any Nick Hornby inspired musical classifier, a
solid bass and excellent percussion provided the foundation, pipes,
flutes and bagpipes add to the mix with Innes Watson providing an
indie-rock style of lead guitar which adds to the musical riot which is
back on the main stage Seth Lakeman's fans were blissfully ignoring the
rain to raise the tempo with teenage fans screaming and not so teenage
fans, well screaming, as soon as the dimpled Devonian appeared on stage.
His energetic set included track's from his latest album highlighting
his vocal range as well as his outstanding skills on the violin. The
rush to buy his CD's after his appearance highlighted the still
desire for more of Seth from the majority of the crowd.
rain finally gone by Saturday night and with the crowd warmed up by the
likes of Man's Ruin and Seth Lakeman the headline acts appeared on the
main stage. First up was Billy Bragg who preached to a converted
audience while occasionally singing.
Waterboys came on
stage promising that he and his band would deliver more music and less
talk. They did
both. They played a mix of music from their new Album, 'An Appointment
with Mr Yeats,' and material from their debut album to 'This Is The Sea', including Fisherman's Blues and a strangely subdued, more melodic
version of 'The Whole Of The Moon', which Mike Scott dedicated to Neil
Armstrong who passed away that day. This was in contrast to the rest of
the set which was intense and fast paced, as exemplified by the
outstanding fiddle playing of Steve Wickham, all of which was
appreciated by the large, cheerful and now relatively dry crowd.
Photo: Mike Swain
dawned, wet again and the site now appeared as an archetypal, muddy
festival field. The grass had gone but by mid afternoon the sun was
finally out, and people were emerging from the beer tent and other
covered spaces to see what the Main Stage could deliver.
strutted the five piece band Saint Jude, led by the charismatic and
energetic Lynne Jackaman. Tambourine banging they burst into their set
at a fast tempo which they sustained for the over an hour, the crowd
swelling rapidly as Lynne's exhortations were taken up by the curious
Jackaman's voice, her range and depth was a highlight of
the weekend, as was her dynamic performance, the rest of the band
complementing her with a mix of classic guitar riffs, a solid bass with
a vigorous percussion and the haunting melodic sound of a Hammond organ.
'Soul On Fire' is a great example of their craft and was well received
by the growing crowd. Their sound is classic timeless rock, from early
Stones and the Doors, through to Led Zep with hints of Primal Scream
thrown in for good measure, all of which was well appreciated by the now
sizeable crowd, a testament itself to the bands performance.
Photo: Mike Swain
Next up on
main stage were Larkin Poe, a quintet from Georgia in the southern
United States. This was to be their last date in a two month long
European tour to promote their latest EP 'Thick As Thieves'. This was a
performance which the audience at Solfest were privileged to witness.
The hearts of the band are the sister songwriters Rebecca and Megan
Lovell, their style of music is their own but is influenced by folk,
rock and R and B. It's an eclectic mix, which displays their musical
virtuosity and their accomplishment as musicians in a variety of
instruments and styles belying their tender years.
performance at Solfest highlighted their obvious talent which was warmly
appreciated by a spellbound crowd. They started with a nod to the
weather with a tune called 'Trouble In The Water', quickly followed by
'Mad As A Hatter, a homage to their grandfather. Their talented songwriting, musical prowess and tight harmonising is matched by their
willingness to experiment, covering a tune from Massive Attack and
finishing with a cover of Jimi Hendrix's 'Bleeding Heart', Rebecca on
mandolin which produced an eerie Moroccan style of sound.
Photo: Mike Swain
act on stage bringing the festival to a climax was Big Country, with
Mike Peters originally from the Alarm providing the vocals in place of
the much missed Stuart Adamson.
This was a set full of hits from their
Gold albums from the early eighties – The Crossing and Steel Town, Mike
Peters included the audience in harmonizing on Fields of Fire, and they
were happy to respond singing along to all the tracks including 'In A
This was a
performance of passion and sorrow, the lyrics written by Stuart Adamson
highlighting his inner anguish, the audience joining in Mike Peters and
Tony Butler singing 'Stay Alive'. The crowd screamed for an encore and
the band duly responded with a lively fast tempo version of Neil Young's
classic 'Rockin' in the free world'.
An appropriate end to a festival
which goes from strength to strength. Next year will be the festivals
tenth anniversary, I along with many others await it with keen
Mike Swain (and photos where indicated)
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