Although in its tenth year, this was my first experience of Music on the Marr – Cumbria’s friendliest festival in the tiny village of Castle Carrock just south of Brampton.
What a privilege it turned out to be, to see so many great musicians in the space of just a few days!
Reflecting afterwards, I tried to think which act I’d enjoyed the most. It has to be Blazin’ Fiddles, from the Highlands and Islands, responsible for whipping up a dancing frenzy on Friday night! Hebridean headliners Tide Lines were fantastic too, as were the enthralling Lankum, from Dublin.
In many ways, you’d expect bands of that quality to be great, and they really didn’t disappoint. But what I loved about Music on the Marr were the little surprises hidden away in the village church, pub and school. Young fiddler Arthur Coates from Aberdeenshire, for example, was such a joy! From the second he picked up his fiddle, he was mesmerising. North-Easterner Stew Simpson sang with a range of musical friends, and what a voice! I was particularly moved by his beautiful duet with local musician Ian K Brown – a little festival highlight for me. Likewise, singer Amy Hill who opened the main stage on Sunday evening with such poise, charm and authenticity.
The thing that characterises folk music, for me, is the way people put their and heart and soul into it. Maybe that’s what makes Music on the Marr so special too. So many people putting so much effort and kindness into the whole thing. You really felt it as a punter.
It’s also the variety of textures that sets this festival apart: the local performers such as the D’Ukes, (Castle Carrock’s great little ukulele band) playing alongside the biggest names in folk music, like Martin Simpson. I loved the cheerful, fascinating mixture of it all. Not just the music – from Gaelic folk to Zimbabwean Mbira Reggae - but also the children’s activities, magic, circus stunts, poetry, spoken word.
Then there’s the cake, the coffee, the curry, the chilli, the chips, the sausages, the ice cream, the beer....we tried it all with abandon!
In contrast to the young children who ran around this festival with gleeful ownership, it took the four teenagers I had in tow a little while to embrace the vibe. But by Sunday they’d relaxed into it and had a memorable day crafting, chilling, sampling the music and eating. They loved all the evening bands, especially Merry Hell, the fabulous closing act. By the end, we bounced out of the marquee on a collective high!
To the people of Castle Carrock: thank you. What you have created in your tiny corner of Cumbria is timeless and extraordinary. Please don’t stop at ten years!