A solid line up of some of the finest folk

As one door closes, it is often the case that another one opens. On this occasion, it is a distant portal that has shut, whereas for us North West folk, a more local gateway beckons! For many, the annual trek to Skegness for the Great British Folk Festival was both a fixture and a highlight of the folky year. Whilst the delights of SkegVegas in winter are now but a distant memory, Blackpool in January will now illuminate the region, with the coming of the West Coast Folk Festival.

33 acts on 3 stages over 3 days, sees a gathering of the great and the good of the folk world, along with a supporting cast to draw the crowds, plus the opportunity to make new and exciting discoveries – at the more affordable end of the booking spectrum, for those cash strapped club bookers with an eye to the future.

All this is happening at the Winter Gardens between Friday the 12th and Sunday 14th of January. With a bill assembled by Solid Entertainments, responsible for line ups at several of the Butlins themed weekends, but generally more associated with Blues and Rock events around the country, so they have sought advice from established (and colourful) folk broadcaster and promoter Alan Ritson – who will also act as MC for 2 of the stages.

Whatever input Alan has had, credit must be given for assembling a mixed bill that will sustain interest across the weekend. The obvious names that jump out are the headliners – the high energy Celtic folk-rock skirl of Skerryvore, the continuing attraction of Eddi Reader and the mighty force that is Richard Thompson – no doubt giving us a flavour of his promised new album alongside, selections from his phenomenal back catalogue.

Other notable appearances on the main stage include Cara Dillon, The Webb Sisters, Dean Friedman and Bella Hardy all representing fine folk and songwriting traditions, Kiki Dee and Carmelo Lugeri, fresh from Cropredy, The Tom Robinson Band, bringing power to the Blackpool darkness, and bright young things Joshua Burnell plus Honey and the Bear, one of whom made many a new friend this August with a debut Cropredy appearance and the other no doubt bound eventually for an Oxfordshire appearance, given Jon and Lucy’s current trajectory.

With few summer festivals occurring in our region, the festival will give locals the opportunity to see acts that rarely seem to make it this far North, some already mentioned prior to their gracing the main stage, but perhaps particularly on the Introducing and Acoustic Stages, with rising acts, such as Katie Spencer, Hannah Scott, Lizzie Hardingham, Jon Palmer and Anna Renae, already making waves of varying sizes, plus local acts who may be familiar to FNW club goers, in the form of Cheshire’s troubadour Will Riding and Steamtown, a Yorkshire duo with a guitar, a banjo and a suitcase, singing about true love, hard drinking and trains – who gained a fine reception at the Wigan Diggers Festival, despite coming from the wrong side of the Pennines. And if the chill factor of a seaside winter weekend causes a little worry, there will always be Gaelforce, who will provide all the energy and warmth their name suggests.

Hopefully, the event will be a success, bringing fine folk to the region – and for those of us within easy travelling distance, there is the choice of a daily visit or finding your own hotel accommodation to suit your budget – the only real difference from the package offered at Skegness. We are looking forward to enjoying the music and the company of friends – and maybe see you there – but the final word will go to the aforementioned Alan Ritson, to explain the reasoning behind the location, the line-up and his hopes for the future. He provides the following clarifications.

“Following a highly successful run in excess of 10 years at Butlins/ Skegness of booking acts to appear on both the Introducing and Acoustic stages, the new management of the organisation meant that they wished to cater for a younger audience for whom folk acts were possibly not their first choice. This is despite the majority of emerging performance artists being under the age of 30 but who were we to argue?

It appeared to both Stephen Stanley of Solid Entertainments who had been instrumental in arranging this event over that entire period, and myself, that some impetus and location must be found in order to maintain the loyalty of fans over the years and also attract new audiences. Blackpool was an obvious choice in terms of facilities and geography and therefore we drew on our experience over many years to compile a list of stellar performers including Richard Thompson as headline act, with whom I had spent a week, 2 years ago. travelling down the Rhine on a boat containing an audience of only 80 people watching him perform for 3 consecutive evenings with his wife, Zara Phillips alongside him on stage each evening, who shall also be performing at this festival.

The booking of 33 acts in total are a direct result of my previous involvement with them, either mainly as a result of their being interviewed as guests on both my radio shows or them performing in previous years on the stages at Butlins. This new location promises to be a spectacular setting for these finest acts in world of folk with musical content that spans this entire genre of music.

Stephen and I already have a selection of the greatest and most recognisable names in the folk world lined up for 2025 and envisage this event to be one of the most popular and memorable within the UK. With an ideal and spectacular location surrounded within easy walking distance by a range of 3 and 4 star accommodation for this 3 day event, all at easily affordable prices, we look forward to many years of staging one of the most memorable series of folk concerts for an increasingly enthusiastic audience. It would not be appropriate to actually name the artists already approached to perform in the future, since contracts have not yet been signed, but you will certainly not be disappointed!

Hopefully, Folk North West will have a presence throughout the weekend – watch this space for a review and updates on future developments.