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Folkwales Online Magazine December 2011

Gwerincymru — o Gymru o’r byd

Bromyard: Last of the summer wine (or real ale!)

The A465 Heads Of The Valleys route ends up in Bromyard, only 40 minutes from the Welsh border. Thinking of spending a weekend away? ANDY PIPER reports on the Bromyard Folk Festival 2011



Bromyard is a small Herefordshire town and the annual folk festival, usually held in mid-September and regarded by many as the last of the summer festivals, attracts a few thousand people.


The festival’s main site, which is also the home to the town’s football team, is where the main events take place, with two large concert marquees and a sizable 1,100 capacity Ceilidh house. There are smaller venues, open-air dance stages, and of course trading areas to cater for the needs of body and soul. Camping is conveniently spread all about the main area, and showers? Well, the football club’s facilities are more than adequate for the average festival-goer.


The festival proper kicked off on Friday evening with three events on the main site. Festival Jack-of-all-trades Keith Donnelly hosted the main Wye Valley sponsored stage, introducing the first of several enthralling appearances by Derby’s electric blue-haired songstress Lucy Ward, followed by accordionist Brian Peters, the Glastonbury-based Seize the Day and the Martin Simpson Band. With the main site being quite compact, it took almost no time to flit over to the Arts Centre marquee, barely avoiding the lure of metallic Glorystrokes entertaining dancers in the Ceilidh House, to sample the sublime Northumbrian young folk award finalists Tyde, and Newfoundland visitors The Once.


Friday night at Bromyard for many ends in the football club bar. Not especially for the beer, as the main bar on site has infinitely more variety, but for one of the most rousing festival sing-arounds around, hosted by Graeme Knights and Jim Mageean, and channelling the spirit of the late Johnny Collins.


Come Saturday, the assortment of invited dance sides arrive from far and wide and begin displays of their own speciality, be it Morris, Rapper, Appalachian or Belly dance. There are workshops a-plenty, should you want to have a go, and if not, there are concerts throughout the day too.


And, as the festival fills up, it overflows into the nearby town, with busking dancers in every available square or yard, and morris tunes drifting from pubs and bars on the town’s main street, when rain or thirst drove folk inside.


Besides the usual facilities, the town also boasts some smaller venues. It’s here that some of the most splendid and intimate festival moments happen. Among these venues, the Falcon Mews is by far the best acoustically, and ideal for hosting unamplified concerts featuring both emerging and established artists at their best.


Cardiff newcomers BarlowCree opened proceedings with their take on some traditional songs, followed by Hannah James clogging to Sam Sweeney’s accompaniment. Walsh and Pound’s stunning performances of blistering banjo and breakneck harmonica show they’re destined for greater things, and over in the Public Hall, Seize The Day stole the show when they abandoned some unruly amplification for their charged-up set of tribal protest songs.


In contrast, events at the main site were on a grander scale. As I could only be in one place at a time, I was lucky to catch a sublime and humorous set from Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies, followed after midnight by Keith Donnelly, where his comedic monster was allowed to run rampant.


For the insomniacs, there were sessions going on well into the small hours (and beyond my stamina), with one held in the crisp acoustics of the club-house shower and, more traditionally, several supported by the Morris sides in and around the beer tent.


The festival also celebrates other traditional arts and crafts, and thoughtfully includes entertainment for children of all ages. Sunday’s offerings included puppetry storytelling from the Punch and Judy-esque Piggery Jokery, and the bawdy roving troupe of maritime-themed Broadside Mummers with their saucy nautical play.


Sunday afternoon’s programme is full and varied, and the last opportunity to catch final performances, because there’s always something missed when a choice is made. Notable here were cheeky young teenagers Infinite Cherries playing more instruments than they can carry, the melodic Cupola from Derby, who briefly showed the fruits of their collaboration with Lucy Ward for a stimulating performance.

As darkness descended, the crowds began to drift home, but a good marquee-full stayed behind for the grand finale, featuring (despite some arachnid interference) the experimental Inlay, Wales’s energetic rising stars Calan, the effervescent Uiscedwr (alas on their final tour), with Irish stalwarts Dervish finishing off proceedings in fine style.


And so ends another year at Bromyard, a small but perfectly formed celebration of local, national and world traditional arts. The festival seems to have found itself a workable level - it has succeeded, where so many have in recent years tried to grow and faltered. While many of the acts are known and established, budding youngsters are well represented with the talents of Infinite Cherries, Tyde and Lucy Ward, all showing great promise. It’s pleasing to see that many of the dance sides also contain a good proportion of younger members, and of course the audience is a good mix of ages too.


Here in England’s western border, the traditional arts are still being celebrated and enjoyed with a passion. But don’t tell anyone I told you, or everyone will want to come!


Contact: Mick Tems, Editor - Folkwales Magazine, 88 Manor Chase, Y Beddau, Pontypridd, CYMRU / WALES CF38 2JE Phone: 01443 206689

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