Review of 2015 Festival

Firstly….yeeeehaaaa!! Ah, that’s better….

New site this second year for the festival, first class facilities in the village hall at Bulphan and lovely level site for camping with shady trees, (groves) to get away from the blistering sun…well equipped play areas for the children, and large marquees for the jammers, modern sound system (more of that later)

Our hosts, Richard Lee and Mags Layton supported by their fantastic food and bar staff and the general helpers were absolutely first class, couldn’t be better, everything organised and thought through to make a massively successful event…

Fantastic turn out of musicians and fans and a big section of locals, new to the music and mightily enthusiastic….. And that there blistering sun for most of the festival…drop of rain Saturday night to get everyone into the jamming tents……

I arrived Friday afternoon so I start from there…Richard had asked me to help with the sound desk, a new experience for me…and swiftly introduced me to the two million knobs and controls….which apparently connected to the ,what looked like three hundred mics and what they call the monitors on stage, I carefully wrote down the order from left to right for the two banks only to learn that they all get shifted about for each band. All very confusing for an entrenched single mic man! However Richard seemed to know what he was doing and me, the mere apprentice, largely watched on alongside turning the wrong knobs from time to time as we sound checked flats and sharps for later, little did I realise that by the time they would play, all would be in totally different positions, ignorance was bliss on this occasion!

Before I could blink it was time for the Friday night concert to start, Dennis Schut and his family band, Katka being what looked like ten months pregnant perched her martin on the bump and launched into the first song of the festival, joined soon by Patrick and Hilde, their children; a lovely warm set helped along by Ingeborg on mandolin, got us off to a fine start.

Next up Magnolia Sky from way down south, Rick Townend led them to a harmonic and intricate set, with Hilary’s baptism of fire on the big stage as banjo player… I was watching carefully as he was to star as a “Bandeiro” later on ….excellent set.

Native Grass had thankfully brought their own ‘single’ mic set-up, (two single condensers on one stand) so I put off the nervous breakdown for later… plugged it in turned volume up until it squeaked, backed it off a tad…and went for a bottle of bud…note to all, the sound man can’t get away when the bands are on… keep a stream of bottles coming!!! Leslie and co. put in a good solid set for us, the trio harmonies were a joy to listen to, well done gang.

The One Tree Hillbillies put in their varied and superb set, with the irrepressible Hippy Joe Hymas impressing, as ever with his strong vocals and intricate mandolin soloing. Keith scored some slick guitar breaks and Gill’s solid bass and country voice carried throughout, a great set… one of my favourites of the festival.

Headline of the evening ,the mighty Flats and Sharps piled on to the stage, oh joy. which mics? Which levels? How were the monitors set? Richard was on stage shuffling mics… apprentice sound boy melting down back on the board…but….hey ho, they kicked off and the sound was nearly there, a little twiddling by Richard when he returned and the sound was good….

What can one add to the accolades for this young band? Sensational musicianship, timing and harmony singing, some of their own nice original songs all packaged up with humorous and personable presentation, the audience duly went wild for them…magnificent conclusion for the concert…

Turned off the system all on my own….

Saturday, Richard decided we needed an open mic session as well as the afternoon concert, he also decided that I was the one to organise and host it!! Off I went around the site to round up the troops. Bless you Richard for suggesting it would be acoustic, sound apprentice sighed with relief!
Bless also the four bass players that turned up, Gill, Richard, Nye and Rick, Bandeiros Hilary and I were joined by two new trainee bandeiros Rick and Martyn Loeber, we got it started, Richard and Les followed on then the carefully pronounced “Poor Pluckers” Sandy and John, beautiful singing guitar and mandolin.

The wonderful One Tree Hillbillies put some band class in and two guys, Danny and Lee who had a great style, with interlinking guitar style s and top harmonies.. Thank you one and all for making it work so well…

Saturday afternoon concert kicked off with the Chadwell Hillbillies, once again keeping it acoustic and from the floor… excellent set… loved the songs and the version of Duelling Banjos combined with Sailors Hornpipe! Richard sure let fly with his banjo playing & Mags fiddling was a treat.

Next out Moonshine Pickers, the incredible playing of Ben and John Tippen, a lesson in flat-pick guitar playing, in addition to some fine vocals.. Well done boys,

The surprise act, (Richard certainly pops them in!) Jonas and Jane, representing the Americana side of the festival rather than Bluegrass with a superb and intricate set of mostly original songs that had the audience spell bound, they used the stage and sound system, yours truly gaining his masters certificate in sound engineering as Richard kindly left me to it, gulp!!

Then for the big one: Saturday evening concert…got away to a smooth start with Wood, Wire and Words. Dave and Claire put on a professional and polished performance, ably assisted by Pat Francis, only three mics and one plug in to worry about….

The next one….plenty to worry about! Full five piece, the Bow Legged Skeeters, that’s eight inputs….but with Richard’s help, we got them sorted fairly rapidly. They went on to play a wonderful classic set, beautiful singing and playing; dare i say real bluegrass? No? I won’t then…!…to a classic and trad fan like me they were superb, the audience were warmed up now and responding with enthusiasm..

The Biggin Hillbillies had a hard act to follow but soon had the audience in the palm of their hands, all joining in singing on “king of the road” another first class entertaining set, three encores as I remember!

Despite a printing error in the programme, next up were Grinch Mountain band from London had appeared as if from nowhere, thrust a single mic. into my hand and headed into a fine classic set, led by Phil Alexander and his lovely wife PJ. They introduced some beautiful classic harmony singing, fine banjo from stand in Ian Tofte, they soon had the single mic vibe working to great effect…very nice indeed. I earmarked my old friend Phil as a possible bandeiro for the gospel show as they encored a lovely version of a Louvin Brothers song.

Following his usual edgy format Richard had booked for the headline spot what looked like an army of young hippies in “Dr. Bluegrass and the Illbilly Eight“. These guys and gals had been jamming for hours non-stop in the field and had put in an acoustic set after the open mic. session. I was not sure about what was to come, a snare drum appeared, the young lady on fiddle asked for her mic. not to be too loud…this wasn’t going to be bluegrass as we know it captain…..they launched into a dazzling high speed number that was to be their hallmark. I have never seen a guitar played at such speed, the banjo was John Hartford out of Mumford and Sons, extraordinary speed with clarity and tone I wouldn’t have thought possible. Something entirely different, five part harmonies, dobro player popping in and out, some wonderful versions of all kinds of genres, the stunning version of Chuck Berry’s “Sai la vie” was the stand out that stuck in my head along with the Bob Dylan classic “It aint me babe”. Fantastic and different, in fact unique and extremely entertaining, the audience were on their feet dancing at the end. Well done Richard, brilliant choice..

Next up the late night jam in the marquee; Keith and Gill had been holding the fort for some time leading what seemed like a hundred and thirty banjo players, I watched for a while with Nye as we drank the last of my brandy. I was able to knock out some classics with the help of Lesley who lent me her guitar, some mighty fine picking from all… was it really 2:00am when we finished?

Finally Sunday morning and the Gospel Show. This was my forte, with the help of a full bandeiro line up: Me, Nigel Canter, Nye Davies, Hilary Gowan and Phil Alexander. We opened up with three classics and then introduced the Schut Family, One Tree Hillbillies, Grinch Mountain band, Richard and Lesley and Pete and Lindsey from the Bow Legged Skeeters with Nigel,

This was one of the best gospel shows I have done, everyone pulling out the stops to make it a good one, the hall filled up with an enthusiastic audience, joining in the singing and the finale was incredible, probably the best “will the circle be unbroken” ever!

My hearty thanks to all those who made the effort and came along, both players and audience… see you all next year.

Experienced sound man for hire,
Brian Dowdall.

2 Replies to “Review of 2015 Festival”

  1. Arnie Blake says:

    Hi, I am planning an Old Time Picking Weekend and want to be sure I do not clash with your date 2016. Could you please let me know when it is, thanks


    1. admin says:

      Hi Arnie,

      the dates are confirmed as 14-17th July 2016.

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