Intended to replace the great British Folk Festival but shifted from the delights of Skegness to the grandeur of the Winter Gardens in Blackpool there were always going to be similarities and differences.

The differences were obvious as soon as you walked into the stunning setting, but after bumping into old friends the similarities emerged just as quickly. With 33 acts promised over 3 stages, each of the venues was different, escalating in size and in the familiarity of the performers. Unlike Butlins there was only one main stage with the audience concentrated there. Retained from Skeggy is the Introducing Stage, offering four act each day the opportunity to appear before a decent sized audience, but with one act being selected by the audience to transfer to the main stage for the next year’s event. Unlike Skeg Vegas, this all takes place in a self-contained and impressive venue with much more of a gig feel than the old setting. Finally, an Acoustic Stage was set in a rather comfortable bar with a decent stage and sound system for the artists, all but two unknown to me before the start of the weekend. The obvious difference was that audiences had to find their own accommodation, rather than being provided with the glories of a Butlins chalet.

Having been slightly delayed and suffered, along with the rest of the carriage, the lunatic on the train, it was straight into the Introducing Stage where Thrifty Malone had started proceedings in a style might expect from 4 lads on an away day from Gibraltar. In their own words, ‘what could possibly go wrong?’ but having performed early and warmed the audience they had plenty of time left to live down to their own expectations. Next up, Lizzie Hardingham, first amongst a few artists to whom I needed no introduction, demonstrated why she, along with later performer Anna Renae are amongst the young singer songwriters carving out their own careers, taking the folk tradition to new generations, as well as entertaining the existing crowd. Both offered excellent sets in their own right and share a common grounding on the same course at Liverpool University, but differ in songwriting focus, as Lizzy looks outwards at the world for inspiration for songs, whereas Anna is more reflective and introspective, thus complementing each other as they appear on the same bill. A quick word also for Anna, who was battling against voice trouble, though if that’s what she can do at less than full throttle, I have high expectations of what she can achieve in top gear.

In between Lizzy and Anna came The Superphone, a new one on me, but a tight and musicianly band out of Manchester. The least folky of the performing foursome, they can best be described as indie folk, pop, rock and with a reference to their geographical roots occupying a space somewhere between Oasis and The Hollies, with a little Stevie Wonder thrown in for good measure.

Into the main hall for the evening headliners with Bella Hardy first up and providing both musical and sartorial sparkle and while I am loathe to comment on the appearance of performers, in fairness she referred to her own dress during the introduction to a fabulous rendition of The Herring Girl. Perfectly capable of entrancing an audience on her own, the addition of Sam Carter did offer added value for everyone present.

Now firmly in the veteran class, Tom Robinson and his self admittedly, self-indulgently named band served up a fine dose of nostalgia, excellent anecdotes and considering he commented on the incongruity of an old punk playing at a Folk Festival, he may also have been surprised to see the occasional outbreak of pogoing in the bar area. Having committed the unforgivable crime of playing something from the new album, he did manage to demonstrate that even the older among us can still be relevant. His protest song ‘The Mighty Sword of Justice’ had a timely resonance as we discover the effects of the removal of legal aid for many, as evidenced by the current postmaster scandal. We are reminded that there is never a time that we won't delight in hearing Tom's comeback song, the classic ‘War Baby’, or the song that everybody wanted to hear, as the inevitable ‘2-4-6-8’ Motorway drove many to jam up the dance floor.

From the word go it was clear that Skerryvore would bring the evening to a conclusion in style. Having installed their own lighting and with a staged entrance, it was clear that this was more than a gig, it would be very much a performance. With the crowd flocking to the front as the band skirled into Vancouver Island, the energy and movement rested but briefly for an anthemic sway with phone lights, and a solo spot for Alec Douglas, demonstrating that they aren’t all drone and power. It may not be the easiest of instruments to throw rock n roll shapes with, but the guys manage to make you believe in the bagpipes for a much-enjoyed hour and a half.

Saturday started with a gently engaging, downbeat set from Adam Nosworthy. Coming from a blues and folk background, his set offered something of each. With a nice line in explaining his songs, he also demonstrated self-awareness in telling the story of how a watching Gary Barlow told him to f****ng cheer up.

Moving swiftly to the main stage led to a first meeting with Craig Joiner. Operating within the folk tradition, with strong tale telling elements to his songs, such as the story of Sweet Fanny Adams or recounting a life at sea following pressganging, I wasn.t the only one enjoying a first encounter. Originally performing as a folky, his songs combined those roots with rock dynamics, perhaps a legacy of time spent with his band Romeo's Daughter before returning to his current troubadour ways. Now we have been introduced, further meetings are anticipated.

Keeping up the step count with a rush back to the Acoustic Stage for North West representation from Will Riding and his gently unassuming set, combining intimate and observational lyricism with a humorous take on life. He appears to delight in the less obvious aspects of life, commemorating his favourite shoes or both celebrating or musing on the wonder of childhood, though he did finish by contemplating the effects of childhood trauma.

The Victoria Bar and Acoustic Stage therein offered the feel of a folk club, albeit one held in a rather posh pub, so it came as no surprise to see that next up on the stage was the father and daughter pairing of Louise and Chris Rogan, no strangers to many of the local attendees, given their presence on the on the club scene. Built around the voice of Louise, and what a voice it is, along with her keyboards, plus classy, rich guitar and vocals from Dad. They gave the weekend’s first mention of Wigan, the prelude to a tale of the last highway man to be hung in Lancashire, mixing it up with the intimacy of a lullaby and the joy of a jig.

Having missed Joshua Burnell at Cropredy, due to a date with friends playing at the fringe, and looking to see if the plaudits he receives are justified, a sprint to the main stage revealed that this is a young man with a plan, a very sparkly shirt and all the moves to make sure that his goal is in sight. With the stated aim of an appearance at The Albert Hall, he added further converts to the cause, his cross-genre songs not just a vehicle for his own presence, but allowing a little guitar hero posturing from his backers in a set timed to allow the first encore of the weekend – his take on Tam Lin that had the historic sprung dance floor bouncing.

With the Main Stage closed for evening preparations, the Introducing Stage provided an interesting selection of what folk music has to offer. Rob Clamp, one of the new names, on the bill, had the crowd very much in his side with an upbeat, percussive and rhythmic set, even allowing for a song about the futility of war, and the fact that he finished with a Phil Collins cover – though given his own twist.

In contrast, Hayley McKay offered the sparkliest outfit of the weekend – out shimmering both Bella Hardy and Joshua Burnell and accompanied in a trio by a guitar and impressively minimalist violin, producing pubeat, country inflected folk that was as effervescent as her outfit.

The Yorkshire takeover was then continued by Katie Spencer (yes we know that Hull is Humberside these days – but for some of us, just as Wigan will always be Lancashire – Hull is firmly Yorkshire) – her appearance a legacy of a prior appearance at Skegness, as it is doubtful that she needed much introduction to most of the audience, given that she appears to be one of the Folk UK’s most in demand young artists. With more space in her songs than the Humberside landscape that inspires her, there is room to appreciate both her voice and guitar playing – the latter giving rise to frequent but much deserved comparisons to the likes of Bert Jansch, and of course John Martyn, who she celebrated in her final song.

Having missed Kiki Dee and Carmelo Luggeri at Cropredy, due to supporting friends at the Fringe, and with no idea what to expect, the first few minutes answered most questions, as tastefully delivered guitar mastery combined with Kiki’s vocals, offered the coolest and most intimate set of the weekend. An hour in their company should be available on the National Health, as I could feel a reduction in blood pressure running alongside an increase in enjoyment. From interesting covers – Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ and Neil Young’s ‘Harvest Moon’ – the opulence of the setting in complete contrast to the roadhouse dive of Shaky’s own video, to a re-imagining of ‘that song’ (her words), the sexy hit ‘Amoreuse’ along with the factoid that it was written by Stephen Stills’ then wife (maybe everyone else knows that but I didn’t), to the inevitable finale of the funky song, proving that she still has the music in her, she is happy to share it, and a reminder of the other Kiki Dee factoid that we are contractually obliged to recall, that she was the first female UK signing to the Motown label. Kiki Dee and Carmelo Luggeri – surprise of the weekend (pleasant variety).

Following the unavailability of Cara Dillon, Lousie and Chris Rogan stepped in and made a seamless transition from folk club style setting to grand stage. As with their earlier performance, an easy rapport with the audience, an interesting selection of songs, from history lesson to personal revelation, their mix of the traditional and the original ticked all the boxes, delivered in a manner that has been described as unrivalled in the current folk scene. Apparently, Louise is currently engaged on a solo tour, if you want to check that out!

Richard ThompsonWhich all set things up nicely for the master that is Richard Thompson – also appearing for the second time that day, having earlier accompanied his wife, the confusingly named Zara Phillips. Now Richard is a man that ploughs his own furrow, and after experiencing the pleasant surprise of the weekend, nothing could have prepared the audience for what must have been everyone’s surprise of the weekend (in the very surprising category) as RT channelled his inner Stanley Holloway with a cover of The Lion and Albert (abridged). All hail to the organisers for attracting Richard to Blackpool for his only solo show and he did appear to love being by the seaside, possibly bringing back memories with an early nod to his Fairport past courtesy of Genesis Hall, following which he then proceeded to break every rule of Folk Rock and Roll by revealing what actually did happen on tour when Fairport hit Hamburg. As has already been stated, he does what he wants, and we love him for it. The incomparable Richard Thompson remained incomparable and, if the event is to continue, we can only hope that artists of similar stature can also be tempted to illuminate the Blackpool weekend.

Having dodged the dreaded Sunday rail replacement buses, a dash to the venue was met by the sight of Honey and The Bear charming the main stage audience and I shall allow my seated neighbours to provide the review, as the words, ‘gorgeous’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘wonderful’ were offered. Further evidence of their popularity was provided by what proved to be the longest queue of the weekend at the merch desk, where a lone Lucy struggled with the purchasing power of a whole host of newly found fans.

A quick mention also for a kindly supplied review for Joe Bayliss, described to me by a trusted source, as operating somewhere between John Martyn and Nick Drake, meaning that he will be further investigated at a future date, when transport allows.

The Yorkshire bias was further evidenced by Heslop and Stinger, gracing the acoustic stage with a classic folk duo set up of guitar plus mandolin/fiddle and immediately followed in the main stage by Gaelforce – another act for which I was keen to put a noise to the name, as they seem to have been an increasing presence over the past year or so, but with whom I had failed to coincide.

Blessed with a great name and hair to match, they took the opportunity to demonstrate the reason for their rise. Picking up on the seaside theme, they offered a sea shanty set on the route to Hawaii and then, in recognition of their visit to Lancashire – visited the memory of Ted Edwards, with a dark, brooding and powerful version of ‘The Coal and Albert Berry’, unlike any version I have heard before, and all the more memorable for it. The return of the bagpipes saw out the rest of the set, another weekend find that I have no doubt will be seen again.

The introducing stage still had delights to offer, Chloe Chadwick, accompanied by Harry Tonks warmed the heart with some quite soulful folk-pop and Palmerston were 5 guys having a great time together – a fabulous mixture of The Pogues, The Eagles and The Grumbleweeds – thoroughly entertaining and musically first-rate, they won the awards for the weekend’s best shaped violin (against stiff opposition) and the best self-deprecating joke – especially as they were by no means the oldest performers on offer over the weekend.

Cool and classy as ever, Hannah Scott’s engagingly intimately human and personal offerings literally reduced at least one member of the audience to tears (in a good way). Her rare visit up North won her new friends and hopefully guaranteed a return before too long.

Now as a lover of upbeat, uptempo folk-rock with a social consicience, the Jon Palmer Acoustic band were definitely my discovery of the weekend. They had me at soundcheck, as their cajon made the biggest noise of the weekend and then topped it with 6-part harmonies, flying fiddle, energy, joy and spirit, which meant that listening to their album on the way home was like a welcome hug from an old friend. Hopefully the event will be repeated in 2025, as they seized their opportunity with 12 hands and won the opportunity to appear on the main stage next year – so 60 fingers crossed there!

With all interest transferred to the main stage, walking in on a laughing audience captured the essence of a gentle, self-effacing performance from Dean Friedman, his humour extending to an explanation of the peacekeeping role of ducks in the 1916 Irish uprising – exactly the sort of thing you visit a folk festival to discover. As comfortable as you would expect from someone with his pedigree, he led in nicely to The Webb Sisters, making something of a return following a career hiatus. As tight and polished a performance as you would expect from a duo that spent 7 years and over 250 gigs touring with Leonard Cohen – now you can bet there are some stories to tell there. Featuring a harp and guitar as lead instruments made for something a little different and a characterful blend of voices as you might expect from sisters so comfortable in each other’s company, the results of their reunion will make for interesting viewing given their writing and collaboration pedigrees. Their final flourish was a descent from the stage to mingle with the audience as they delivered a fragile and delicate cover of ‘I Want You To Want Me’. A rather nice touch, rather than a Cheap Trick (if you know, you know).

Finally, we arrive at Eddi Reader and thankfully she was on fine, fine form, providing a fitting finale to a fine, fine weekend. Bawdy and bolshie, she referenced Frank Sinatra as a previous performer on the stage but then offered a cheeky kilts up version of Charlie is my Darlin’, that owed much more to Blackpool legend George Formby than to Ol’ Blue Eyes! From a visit to a 60s Glasgow House Party, through a little more Robbie Burns and the lowest of low downs on the Scottish branch of the Trump Family, to guarded promises of a Fairground Attraction reunion – the between song commentary matched the musical delights on offer – all this and the presence of a member of the much missed Trash Can Sinatras (too niche?) – which brings us back to Frank and the final finale – as couple came out to waltz to The Wee Small Hours – a touching finish.

After the event, and on line for days afterwards, all the talk was of how good the event had been, from the setting to the musical quality on offer – maybe not everyone’s choice on paper – but festivals don’t take place on paper – on stage everyone delivered something to enjoy, and for that reason, the organisers are to be applauded, encouraged to persevere in the hope that the event will take off in the same way as Skeggy and become as loved as that much missed event was.

Final words – a big well done to comperes and DJs Liz Marchant and Alan Ritson (who almost managed to be in 3 places at once) and the volunteers and venue staff who were uniformly excellent – as commented on by many of the audience. Onwards and upwards.

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