Doncaster Annual Folk Festival hits the right note

Makara Morris, pictured performing at Waterdale. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP 16-05-15 Folk Festival MC 6
Makara Morris, pictured performing at Waterdale. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP 16-05-15 Folk Festival MC 6

The 8th Doncaster Folk Festival was held last weekend and each year it succeeds in fetching something new to the town. The biggest Festival of Traditional Dance ever held in Doncaster saw the streets transformed into a riot of colour on Saturday with eleven Morris dance teams from all over the country.

Their various styles featuring sticks, swords, hankies, sashes and face-paint were displayed in The Market Square, High Street, Priory Walk and Waterdale. Then at mid-afternoon they all trooped up to Nigel Gresley Square for a huge finale.

The Festival HQ is he Ukrainian Centre in Wheatley, where the concerts commenced on Friday night with three varied and contrasting acts. John Conolly is a stalwart of the ‘60’s folk scene and many of his classic songs are often mistakenly assumed to be traditional! He charmed the audience with his tales of the east coast fishing industry mixed with some more humorous and risqué songs. Naomi Bedford was a new name to many, but her gorgeous voice and American influences attracted comparison with Emmylou Harris. The night was rounded off with the high energy good time folk rock of the Jon Palmer Acoustic Band The Ukrainian centre develops a great atmosphere on these nights and it was complemented by some excellent home cooked food and a real ale bar.

Saturday afternoon’s concerts were hosted by the town’s Notorious Aardvark Record Shop, and featured some more local acts. Alistair Pearson from the shop was MC as well as treating the crowd to several of his witty and touching songs. He introduced recent songwriting competition winners Ginny Mule and Sheffield duo Murder at the Seaside, both of whom featured glorious female voices in simple acoustic settings. The session was wound up by Hull’s Danny Landau Band, Donny favourites who delivered a forceful, driving set of their own acoustic rock songs highlighted by some blissful violin playing.

Saturday afternoon had also seen packed houses and revelry in Doncaster Brewery Tap and The Salutation, which were taken over by crowds of musicians and singers for the traditional festival sessions and singarounds.

Saturday evening is the main event and Hannah Palmer opened the night to a packed hall. She played the same venue back in march and the audience were so enraptured that she was booked immediately for the Festival. Her soaring vocals combined with Ben Savage’s unfussy Dobro guitar arrangements worked the trick once more and left the room spellbound. Steve Turner was next up, and his understated vocal delivery and beautiful concertina arrangements seemed to have a calming effect on the audience and the room.

The highlight this year was always going to be the appearance of The Young’uns, voted Best Band at the BBC Radio Folk Awards and having received a shower of other awards and critical acclaim for their new album ‘Another Man’s Ground’. This trio from Stockton are riding the crest of a wave and it is easy to see why. They mix songs from the great writers of their native north east with increasing assured songwriting of their own; songs of social commentary such as the biting ‘You won’t find me on Benefit Street’; about the residents near their home who had refused to have anything to do with the infamous Channel 4 programme. Mainly A Capella, but with subtle use guitar, accordion and piano, their pitch-perfect close harmonies are a force of nature, as they shift between the great delicacy of their more poignant songs to the blast of the sea shanties that first inspired them. But their secret weapon is the fact that the band are natural comedians and their between-song banter is almost as entertaining as the music! They had the audience eating out of their hands and closed the Festival concerts in fine style.

The final act of the Festival was the Sunday ‘survivors’ session’ in the Masons’ Arms; a low key wind-down which saw the pub taken over by players and singers who still had the energy to continue. The afternoon saw some fine performances of traditional and new songs and a convivial atmosphere that carried on until the early evening.

Organiser Mick Jenkinson summed up the weekend: “The Festival gets better and better, mixing music and dance, well-known names with the best local talent, getting more town centre venues involved. It has become an important weekend for the town and we are already planning for 2016!” Doncaster Folk Festival

* Mick Jenkinson event organiser