Ely Folk Festival 2011 Review

Ely Folk Festival may be somewhat small and overlooked in comparison with the more mainstream Cambridge Folk Festival, but it has a warmth and charm and is undeniably flawlessly executed. Run by a dedicated group of volunteers, the organising committee has a nonprofit ethos that had proved a formula for success, as for the third year running the festival has sold out well in advance of the weekend.

And to the festival…

Friday July 8, 2011
There’s always something a bit special about heading towards Ely Folk Festival on a Friday evening: meeting with friends, the excitement and anticipation of the wonderfully diverse line-up, and the general fun-loving atmosphere of what is intrinsically a family festival. The big question on everyone’s lips this year – will it rain? Well, not yet, but it was clear that Mother Nature had yet to decide the weather for the weekend. Nimbostratus clouds were hovering and didn’t seem to be moving anywhere fast.

There were positives to the threat of rain. A queue immediately formed for the main stage marquee, unheard of on a Friday night. Unfortunately, whoever was first in line had queued at the wrong entrance, which resulted in an undignified scramble to the correct one.

With the marquee packed to capacity it was time for the evening’s first performance, the festival’s band competition winner Jess Morgan, a singer-songwriter from Norwich. Quite rightly described as ‘Norfolk Americana’, her brand of alt-country was well received, although a slightly nervous Jess had earlier Tweeted: “Armour plated and ready for Ely Folk Festival tonight!!”

Marquee 2 was devoted to an evening of up-and-coming bands. The gentle charm of The Willows kicked things off, followed by multi instrumentalists Crown Street, who have an ethereal quality to their English folk music that was innocent and beautiful. Also on the bill were Ben Sayer, Pagan Molly and Cly Sparken.

As the evening drew on, the eclectic bill in Marquee 1 ranged from those of a more intimate persuasion (Hickman & Quinn and Brooks Williams Band) to the danceable (3 Daft Monkeys and headliner’s The Men They Couldn’t Hang).

Impossible to typecast, 3 Daft Monkeys’ stunning blend of upbeat, danceable music got the first people on their feet and dancing at the front of the stage. 3 Daft Monkeys were a popular choice and received ecstatic applause and an encore. The same cannot be said for the punk folk of The Men They Couldn’t Hang (TMTCH), with Stefan Cush’s opening salvo of expletives about Rupert Murdoch (‘…and he shifted all his f***ing poisonous dog-sh*t powers to Wapping…’) causing many to gasp before spitting out the political song ‘The Ghosts of Cable Street’, followed by ‘Wishing Well’. The applause was muted initially but as the set went on there was greater appreciation, even if Cush did push the boundaries of acceptability more than once.

Ghosts of Cable Street / Wishing Well by TMTCH

Of TMTCH, the following morning one Facebook user wrote: “Having great time, music good up till last band last night! Didn’t come to listen to foul language (there were kids present) and political rants! Glad they are not playing again.” TMTCH was a brave choice for the festival and were the highlight of the evening, although it may have been a wise choice to have 3 Daft Monkeys as headliners.

With the emphasis firmly on having fun and being sociable the ceilidh rounded the evening off. The key ingredients of a good ceilidh being enthusiasm, a good band, and usually – but not essentially – drink. This ceilidh had all.

Saturday July 9, 2011
Saturday morning kicked off with the festival parade through Ely city centre. Led by the colourful Knockhundred Shuttles and followed by Morris sides Witchmen, Ely and Littleport Riot, Tanglefoot Appalachian, Rockinghan Rapper, Bakanalia, Gog Magog, Young Miscellany, Manor Mill Clog, Devil’s Dyke, Coton, The King’s Morris, Green Dragon, Little Egypt, Bury Fair and Wype Doles, the procession drew equal amounts bewilderment and pleasure from the unsuspecting shoppers on the High Street.

When the parade finished around midday, it was back to the festival. With Saturday being the busiest of the three days and Mother Nature finally turning on the sunshine, avid festival-goers opened their fold-out chairs and positioned themselves around the front of Marquee 1 to take in a fantastic day’s music, while making the most of the continued good weather – although the individual with the tent probably took things too far!

The Ely Online Team

The on-site facilities were plentiful (food, beer and the usual array of niche stalls). The beer tent had a fantastic selection of ales and ciders with medieval sounding names. As the weekend drew on many barrels ran dry with ‘Dragon Slayer’ being one of the first casualties. The spontaneous folk sessions within the beer tent seemed to suffer this year. The musicians struggled to be heard over the louder than usual main stage performances, which was a shame really because these sessions are loved by many.

3 Daft Monkeys Perform Saturday Afternoon

Saturday night’s headline acts began with the charming Dervish, a traditional Irish band whose performance proved to be an intensely exciting series of jigs, reels and songs. Their singer Cathy Jordan captivated the audience with her lengthy song introductions and lush vocals over a rhythmic backing of bouzouki, mandolin and bodhran. The festival loved Dervish, by far the best set of the weekend.

An interesting fact you may not know, in 2007, Dervish were chosen as the group to represent Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest Final that year in Helsinki with ‘They Can’t Stop The Spring.’ They finished last receiving only five points – all from Albania.

The evening finished with Acid Croft pioneers Shooglenifty, who once described their music as ‘hypno-folkadelic ambient trad’. In layman’s terms Shooglenifty push ‘traditional’ to its limits with their genre-defying blend of roots music and dance vibes. They have a huge following, which was clearly evident by the sizeable crowd that crammed up towards the front of the stage to dance.

Although infectious, Shooglenifty were not to everyone’s taste. With no anecdotes between jigs and reels, the performance continued like a seamless DJ mix-tape, which was probably too much for the seasoned folk-lover and it was noticeable that the seated area of the marquee wasn’t quite as full as when Dervish performed. But those who stayed (and there were many) fervently danced and thoroughly enjoyed the groundbreaking Scottish mavericks.

Shooglenifty (no audio)

While it was the headline acts (Dervish and Shooglenifty) who had the crowd on their feet, honourable mentions for Saturday must also go to Malingerers, Little Johnny England, Johnny Dickinson and The QP, who entertained and informed with their incisive take on the folk scene.

Saturday night’s festivities wound up around midnight but the party continued into the early hours of Sunday morning in the campsite grounds. The Shooglenifty brethren played impromptu sessions in the beer tent before being moved on and playing wherever they could.

Sunday July 10, 2011
Sunday dawned while sunshine once again blessed the festival ground. Sundays are always a much more relaxing and carefree affair. The valiant early morning festivalgoer can treat their body to a gentle and relaxing Tai Chi workout but most just settle back and take in the surroundings, have breakfast, maybe participate in a workshop and have a beer.

For the children, Jan Edgecombe’s famous blackboard van and activities are always a popular destination. As was the guy making GIANT soap bubbles (a lot of grown-ups liked this too). Elsewhere, Morris Dance displays entertained, the highlights being Rockingham Rapper’s intricate sword dances and the cadaverous Witchmen.

Not sure what happened with Marquee 3 this year, it still had great workshops but there was promise of more by Festival sponsors, Spiral Earth. On their website they wrote that the marquee was to be renamed the Spiral Earth Tent with talk of great workshops and club nights plus surprise guests, acoustic performances and interviews with the artists. It would have been a nice addition between the busier marquees but it just didn’t happen. Why?

Sunday afternoon in Marquee 1 gave many people the chance to see some of the weekend’s highlights (headline acts aside) and some praiseworthy one-off performances. Tom McConville’s peers say he is the top fiddle player in the country and it’s easy to see why. With his band he gave a virtuoso performance that was technically brilliant, entertaining and had the audience laughing out loud with his narrative.

Seize The Day Perform Sunday Afternoon

With protest band Seize the Day, every song sends a message. “You’re just as likely to meet us at your nearest frontline protest, whether it’s against GM crops, or war, or fossil fuels” states their website. Their songs included ‘I’m Only Doing My job’, written about the death of Jill Phipps, an animal rights protester who was crushed to death by a lorry transporting live veal calves, but presented from the lorry driver’s perspective. Also making a powerful statement to the afternoon audience was ‘Bigger, Brighter, Better, Bullshit’, about corporate greed.

Careful planning is required if you want to see the best of what marquees 1 & 2 have to offer as performance timings of both marquees inevitably overlap. This was the case mid-afternoon with Bounty Hounds and Heidi, John and Boo.

Bounty Hounds Perform Sunday Afternoon

Bounty Hounds unique brand of folk rock opened the proceedings in marquee 2 with a superlative set. While over in marquee 1, Heidi Talbert, John McCusker & Boo Hewerdine’s astonishingly beautiful music delicately captivated with a mix of each artist’s songs and minimal instrumentation (guitar, ukulele and fiddle). Perfect.

As the afternoon turned to evening the club tent’s best acts got the chance to perform on the main stage followed by the entertaining jongleur, Rory McLeod.

The fantastic Ahab had tweeted earlier a photograph with the caption ‘Sold out: Flyers on seats, sweaty tent… Let’s get the chairs kicked away’. Well, the chairs remained in place but the audience loved the harmonies of their folk flavoured UK brand of Americana.

The evening ended with Ely Folk Festival favourite, Martin Simpson, described as ‘the finest acoustic guitarist on the planet’. His American blues and English folk music went down well and was the perfect end to a perfect weekend.

Once again a big thank to the committee and all the volunteer stewards who made this weekend very special.

Some Audio From The Festival

Some iPhone audio from the festival.

Ely Folk Festival Review 2009

Image: John Glover

The Ely Online team ventured once again to The Ely Folk Festival to, hopefully, capture the spirit of the event. With myself (John Glover – pictured right) on pencil and paper and Karl Bedingfield (the camera) we hope to give you a slice of the festival from a non-folkie perspective. Holly and Mike were our ears and eyes on site and completed the Ely Online team. This, the 24th Festival, had a great line-up and the prospect of some decent weather. For my take of the Festival, read on:

The Week Before

As per, my Folk Festival week began on the Monday with a diligent trawl through the Artist list and some googling. Ely Online once more were given the opportunity to see the festival from a non-folkie perspective. Luckily for the uninformed (me), Myspace is information HQ for most bands and some of their best choons. With headphones clamped on and downloading like a dervish I delved into this years selection.

Image: Sold Out!

Shortly, without moving an inch I was enjoying The Dog Roses (winners of the Band competition and first act on Friday), While & Matthews, Hot Lips and Chilli Fingers and, as they say, many many more. Yup, as usual the Ely Folk Festival was shaping up to be the varied line up of traditional and contemporary that we have come to expect. The Folk World must agree because this year the whole weekend was sold out before a note was played.

One of the nice things about the Ely Folk Festival is that you see a lot of the same faces every year and a thought occurred to me when I was travelling home on the train after work. A few Folkies with rucksacks were running down the platform to get their connection and I wondered if they knew what to expect if it was their first visit. Ely must be one of the prettiest places to arrive at on a train from either direction.

Friday Evening

Image: The Dog Roses

The music I was researching? This week’s earworm was ‘A Little Bit More Blue’ by The Dog Roses, one of the most over the top, singable and downright uplifting songs I’ve ever heard. I eagerly awaited the live rendition when they opened the festival. As Band Competition winners they only had twenty minutes in which to showcase their talents and after introducing a song with the line, ‘Here’s a song about suicide’ I knew I’d like them. I patiently waited for the big finish which would undoubtedly be my favouritist new song. Guess what? They didn’t play the bugger! When I spoke to them later in the beer tent they didn’t even recognise the song I was slurring about. I had to sing the chorus to remind them. The Ely Online team all agreed that The Dogs (as we now call them) should be given a slot in next year’s festival.

Image: Strangefolk

Strangefolk sounded suspiciously like Jefferson Airplane and even did a cover of ‘Somebody to Love’. The band has been around since 2002 and I have to agree with the programme blurb, that they played with total commitment.

Next up, after some Whitby Cod and Chips, was Something Nasty In the Woodshed. My scribbled notes said ‘Bagpipes with heavy metal guitar’. Not too far wrong as it turned out but there was much more to them. I loved their Shoogleniftyish grooves and reggae tinged instrumentals. They went down a treat.

Image: Something Nasty In the Woodshed

I found a quiet seat at the back for Allan Taylor. Living in the States for years has influenced his troubadour tales which he’s gathered over the years from talking to strangers in bars which he says has cost him a lot of money. ‘The Veteran’ was a particularly hairy tale of an encounter with a gun-toting Vietnam Vet. ‘Leaving at Dawn’ is Allan’s reflection on the travails of earning your living as a musician. Other stand-out songs, ‘New York in the Seventies’ and ‘Frenchtown’ were expertly performed in his distinctive mellow tones.

Image: Baka Beyond

It was during Allan Taylor’s set that I realised Ely On Line’s self-confessed Geek, Karl, was meddling about with his new phone. Little did I know that he was ‘Tweeting’ from the festival. For those who’ve never heard of Twitter – don’t bother, it’s rubbish. I’m sticking to my Oxfam diary and scribbling notes.

Baka Beyond were the Friday headliners and are no strangers to Ely. They got the crowd dancing at the front and gave everyone a chance to throw some shapes as a warm up before the Ceilidh.

Image: Baka Beyond

Then I wobbled home on my bike.

Saturday Afternoon

Image: Ely Folk

After a breakfast of parasetemol and a fry-up for brunch I made my way back down to the festival site in time to catch the excellent ‘The QP’. With new bassist Tim playing his first gig you might have expected a few wobbles here and there but they’d obviously blooded him well and a tight set of tunes and songs delighted the (for a Saturday afternoon) fullish marquee. This was a band that had more wind-power than me after a curry, at the top of a hill, on a windy day. At one point during the fabulous ‘Mexican Catharsis Set’ they had a four-man front line of harmonica, flute, soprano saxophone and whistle blowing away at full throttle. Hexham Farmer featured the muscular harp playing of Will Pound and I’d have to say that The QP were my ‘Eureka Moment’ of this years Festival. I always drone on about being a non-folkie but there is usually an act every year that really crowbars open my eyes to the thrill of Folk music. I suspect I’m not the only one who will name The QP as their favourite act from this years list.

Image: Ely Folk

Next up were Toy Hearts, a 5 piece Bluegrass band from Birmingham. They were the real deal and I wasn’t surprised to hear that they are off on a 5-week tour of the States quite soon. They played a captivating set full of blues, Western swing, bluegrass and some Sun-era Elvis Presley. I liked them – I liked them a lot. ‘The Captain’ and ‘Stronger’ were my faves.

A duo new to me was next on stage – While & Matthews. They said they were last at Ely when they could smell the sewerage plant. Hmm…that’d be the Pocket Park then! Chris quipped that they were covered in mosquito bites for days after playing on the old site. I can confirm that the Pocket Park still has a goodly population of mozzies just waiting to prey on bare flesh after the wife and I went down that way for a stroll on a warm evening recently. No problems with that kind of thing at the Footy Club.

Several times nominated for various Radio 2 Folk Awards, they have won the best duo at the 2009 folk awards – and I can see why. ‘Single Act of Kindness’ and the incredibly sad ‘Comfort Women’ were the stand out songs and they received an enormous cheer at the end of their set.

Saturday Evening

Image: Flossie Malavialle

With a large black cloud hovering with malice aforethought above the Isle of Ely, festivalgoers headed for canvas. As Ely On Line traversed the site clutching pints of Dragon Slayer the ‘Sell Out’ signs on the gate definitely spoke the truth.

Image: Flossie Malavialle

My ‘You Tube’ search for Flossie Malavialle had produced a few results and to be honest I had considered giving her a miss and going to watch Strange Folk for a second time. I’m glad I didn’t though because she was excellent. Despite having only lived in the UK for seven years she’s developed a rich Geordie accent which has produced a glorious Anglo-French brogue. She sang beautifully; ‘La Vie En Rose’, ‘The Road’s My Middle Name’ and generally charmed the socks off the audience. And if that made you smile it means you were there.

Image: Edward II

Following Flossie was Edward II. Again, my Googling had led me to make notes such as ‘Folk/UB40’, which proved to be reasonably accurate with one huge difference – I’ve always been put off by Ali Campbell’s cod-Jamaican singing voice. Without an annoying vocal to put me off I was free to enjoy Edward II’s ‘dance tunes of old England, sunny sexy grooves of reggae and lover’s rock’. They certainly are a ‘crossover’ act and they had Marquee 1 rocking.

Image: The Peatbog Faeries

And then – the rain began to fall. The Peatbog Faeries came on and it’s fair to say the audience were divided. I suspect that after all the dancing during Edward II’s set that it was like being asked if you want another slice of chocolate cake – more Folk than you can eat. Anyway, as The Faeries ripped up a storm to match the one outside, a large crowd formed at the front to bop the evening away while a portion of the more Traditional folkers slid away to the more gentle homes of the Beer Tent session or While & Matthews in Marquee 2. Personally I love the The Boggers after buying ‘Faeries Stories’ but I can see why they split the crowd. I would imagine at a less ‘intimate’ festival they would have had the Tent bursting at the seams. In fact they would have gone down well at Dance Island that was held last week just up the road.


Image: Mike & Holly

The clouds parted and the sun shone. Sunday is traditionally chillin’ out day – take the sides off the marquees and sit outside.

Got down to the site for the tail end of Strangeworld’s set. Plenty of people had decided to keep out of the sun and they got a good reception. Next up was Adrian Nation. I remembered him from a couple of years ago and he did ‘Where the Lions Are’, ‘Brightest Star’ and a song that, apparently, gets sung at his lad’s school called, ‘Set the Course’. In my review of Adrian’s last visit to EFF I mentioned he does a good line in Van Morrison sounding songs and I’ll stick by that.

Adam Brown and Alan MacLeod filled Marquee 2 and I was pleased that my on-going folk education led me to think, ‘Hmm..that one sounds like a song off Lau’s first album’ as they squeezed and strummed their way through another funky folk tune. Yep – I’m into this folk stuff enough to recognise influences now. When Adam (3 time bodhran champ) started his finger-snapping solo, musos began to walk speedily from all directions of the site to the marquee to watch. Perfect entertainment for a sunny Sunday methinks.

Image: The QP
Image: Eric Bogle

More beer was taken on board while listening to The QP’s set in Marquee 2 but then I had to go to the Main Tent for Eric Bogle and John Munro. A couple of years ago I wrote how he won me over and in this, his last UK tour, he did it again. His between song anecdotes about leaving Scotland for Australia when he was 19 had the audience enthralled and his rendition of ‘And the band played Waltzing Matilda’ was particularly poignant this week in view the events in Afghanistan. He received a standing ovation and the crowd demanded an encore. My backstage informant reports that Eric was reluctant to go back on stage but he did. I must confess, I’ve never been a big fan of encores – shows are paced to fit a mood, whether celebratory or dramatic. I always think it’s a bit anti-climatic to do another song after a tearjerker like ‘And the band…’. However, the public are always right and Eric came back for well deserved thunderous applause.

Image: Hot Lips and Chilli Fingers

Hot Lips and Chilli Fingers are usually a duo of Steve Lockwood and Chris Newman but they were augmented by Mark Russell from the Ceilidh Allstars on Bodhran and a bass player for this gig. Steve Lockwood is a true star and kept his powder dry for the first few songs by sitting down. After 15 minutes he was up dancing, running around the Marquee and whipping up a storm with his Harmonica. He changed the mood for a moving version of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, which was fantastic. My version of the song, ‘While My Catarrh Gently Seeps’ will soon be available on a Sinus Aid compilation CD.

Another band playing for the final time in the UK were Tanglefoot. They were introduced as old friends of the Ely Festival and Al Parrish was even wearing a spectacular green shirt apparently made by Ruth Bramley – is that true? The band energetically romped and stomped out favourites such as ‘Seven a side’ and ‘Vimy’ and Terry Young gave an impassioned speech on the dangers of Global Warming which turned out to be a sneaky attempt to sell some CD’s. Excellent stuff – and I have to admit that I loved them by the end of the set whereas when they came on stage I thought they were a ‘Spinal Tap’ folk band – those curly perms must still be popular in Canada.

Image: EFF Dog of The Year 2009 – Dog 20!

And Finally…along with increased signage at this year’s festival all the dogs had individual tags to identify them and over the 3 days I was enchanted by a little dog that was fussed over by its owners and anyone that saw her. I never discovered the mutts name but anyway, stand up (on yer hind legs) and take a bow (wow) – EFF Dog of The Year 2009 – Dog 20!

Ely Folk Festival Audio


Ely Folk Festival Video

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The Dog Roses (Friday)

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Baka Beyond (Friday)

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Something Nasty In The Woodshed (Friday)

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The Peatbog Faeries (Saturday)

Ely Folk Festival Slideshow

Image: Holly

Click Image above for our photo slideshow!

Top 10 Songs From the Weekend (in no particular order)

  1. A Little Bit More Blue – The Dog Roses
  2. The Captain – Toy Hearts
  3. Mexican Catharsis Set – The QP
  4. Leaving Nancy – Eric Bogle and John Munro
  5. Comfort Women – While and Matthews
  6. While My Guitar Gently Weeps – Hot Lips and Chilli Fingers
  7. Vimy – Tanglefoot
  8. Where The Lions Are – Adrian Nation
  9. Seven a Side – Tanglefoot
  10. Stronger – Toy Hearts

The 25th Ely Folk Festival will take place on 9th to 11th July 2010 – see you there!