A few days ago the roads, pub and camping field around Castle Carrock began to fill with what is becoming a recognisable tribe of music lovers back for more fine rootsy sounds in the North Cumbrian countryside. In no way could these folky pilgrims have been disappointed, for what followed was a sumptuous feast of songs, dances, poems and tunes from India to Sheffield, and from Lochaber to Quebec.
As is now becoming the pattern, on each of the four days the programme builds to a rousing climax. On the first evening, the so-called warm up event, the headline act was the thrilling Le Vent du Nord from Quebec. The fiddler’s pumping feet stamped out a continuous rhythym while hurdy gurdy, guitar and flute created a sound somehow both Cajun and Celtic. The crowd was well and truly warmed up for day two whose finale was provided by Skipinnish, the latest in a stream of exciting Highland bands to visit the festival. Bagpipes over a rock beat and punchy singing in English and Gaelic provided a Ceilidh-like experience which took both the roof and the floor off. Preceding Skippinish was the wonderful guitarist Richard Durrant who mixes high classical technique with technology. Segovia meets the Ipad! Neither folky or rootsy, Durrant nevertheless went down a storm.
One of the best things about the festival is meeting new performers and Day Three introduced me to the gorgeous singing of young Kirsty Bromley from Sheffield. Accompanied or acapella her sweet and pure sound was an appropriate precursor to the vocal harmonies of festival favourites Chris While and Julie Matthews. I hopethey keep coming back. The day’s concluding excitement was provided by Rusty Shackle from South Wales. Their feisty, loud brand of violin and guitar driven “dirty bluegrass folk’n roll” was for many people the highlight of the festival.
My personal highlight came on Day Four – a reprise of All Along the Wall, a musical journey along Hadrian’s Wall created and performed by six musicians and two poets. Originally comissioned five years ago it hadn’t been performed since 2011. The piece is funny, rousing, thoughtful and very beautiful in places. Bringing it home to the Valley of the Gelt was an inspiration and undoubtedly moving. After all, it might never be performed again.
The festival concluded, as it always does, with dancing, singing and the general letting down of hair courtesy, on this occasion, of Merry Hell, a madcap anarchic crew from Wigan whose engaging and frenetic blend of musical styles summed up the festival perfectly. Their rousing encore was called “Let the music speak for itself”. Last weekend in Castle Carrock, it most certainly did that!
- Gary Weston