Arriving late (well, some of us have to work!) Neil and I met up at the train station and hopped over to Leicester, pausing briefly to drop our overnight bag at the hotel nearby (yes: in an act of utter indulgence we decided we would stay at a hotel for the duration of the festival - and you thought us sneaking home to our own bed every night was living the high life!) We heading in, grabbing a beer and cider at the Orange Tree stall and catching some background music and conversation with Nick before heading to the Big Top stage for Chris Wood.
Wood is a top-notch singer-songwriter, with kick ass lyrics.
"He took her hat and threw it hard
It came to rest in the schoolyard
So she took his specs from off his face
Sir Isaac Newton took care of the rest
She’s hard my daughter is hard
She’s only six but don’t cross her
Watch out here she comes lock up your sons
She takes right after her mother"
Brilliant. After that we hung out for the endearingly young Derby gal Lucy Ward. She was poorly introduced (frankly Howard Monk didn't say a single thing that amused me all weekend in his intros) and made a few faux pas in her efforts to connect with the audience (don't try to say that 'A Stitch in Time', the classic domestic abuse revenge song needn't be anti-men and that it can be turned around quite easily...). But she had a charming vocal style and winning musicianship. If she can calm down a bit she'll be fine, though to give her due, she was following from Chris Wood, who is VERY well established and appreciated on the folk circuit, and was playing the Big Top tent which is a cavernous space. Top marks for effort.
I missed Lucy's final song because I was determined to get settled into the Indoor Stage at De Montford for the headline act there - The Proclaimers.
Sadly, this meant I missed catching a bit of Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo whom Neil caught briefly whilst grabbing a pint at the Orange Tree stage/bar. Pity, as they sound great from what little I know of them (I found out afterwards they did the theme used on UK Wallander series).
Never mind, The Proclaimers were one of the main reasons I was coming to Big Session and although I've seen them before, they are HUGELY entertaining and there is something glorious about their defiantly nerdy style. With a rich back catalogue and a hour and half set slot they can afford to play familiar tunes and newer/more obscure tracks. Ending on established favourites - 'Over and Done With' and 'The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues' - they rocked the house and a jolly good time was had by all. 'Sunshine on Leith' still bought a tear to my eye, especially with luscious Erica Nockalls on violin.* I was hot, hot, hot from the excited room of dancing people but it was grand.**
And we ended Friday without a train rush (which would have meant missing at least 30 mins of the Proclaimers set, probably more), a bag of chips walking down the hill, AND a night in a hotel only a hill-stumble away from the festival site. Brilliant. And Algeria humiliated England with their 0-0 draw. Apparently it really wasn't in the script that Algeria should "play like it was their final". Yeah, because all England should ever have to do is turn up and be venerated. And heaven forfend that England should play every game like it means something to them... Shameful.
Cold weather. And it got colder. Bah. Still, at least we started the day with a great bacon butty at the Rialto cafe. We finally stumbled into the festival and started up with the music: a bit of Blair Dunlop (frighteningly young) kicked off proceedings in the Big Top, followed by The Moulettes who were definitely a great find. You gotta love a band with women on violin, cello AND a bassoon!
After their cracking performance - and a spot of CD purchasing - we had some food and nattering (by GOD it was cold weather) and then popped into the Indoor Stage for a bit of Damien O'Kane (latest squeeze of folk sweetheart Kate Rusby). Some mighty fine playing from young Damien but then the call came up from Neil that he was in the Big Top to see Miles Hunt (yes, former Wonder Stuff maestro!) and Erica Nockalls. Hunt and Nockalls have done a great job of reinventing themselves in a folk-stylee, even if Hunt's songwriting still retains much of the tuneful momentum of the best Stuffies tracks. Either way, it's a cracking set, with the ever loquacious Hunt wonderfully inspired by the elegance of Nockalls - both in terms of her playing AND her presence (she is utterly gorgeous, and with frocks to die for).
There was also a lovely anecdote about eating cake at 3am in a hotel room with Wayne Hussey from the Mission, using credit cards and straws as tools. Ah, how times (and a single vowel) have changed!
After a brief respite it was back to packed tent to see 'Holy Bandits' - aka the festival's co-supporters and founders the Oysterband performing one of their major albums. It was fine enough, with flashes of brilliance (actually more so when they got significantly more folky and/or their lyrics shone through) but otherwise it did feel a bit like early 1990s REM. No bad thing, but I kinda wondered how much that particular album fitted with their folk support.
We then fell down the hill - in the still freezing cold weather - and headed indoors to see the second half-ish of Chumbawumba's set. Long having moved away from punk pop, they are now largely an acoustic force but no less scathing for all that. We then settled into seats to watch Stornoway, whose inexperience (from age) meant they took way too long to set up, but whose performance was nevertheless assured folk-inspired pop.
For the finale of the Saturday, Neil and I opted to take in (from outside mostly) the Dreadzone set of reggae, hip-hop, ska funk. Thumping bass-lines. I finally managed to eat my falafals despite shaking violently from the cold. Then it was down the hill to the hotel again and catch up with the days footie. My word, are they STILL on about there being a fan in the England dressing-room? You'd think being a fan would bar you from entry given the hysteria (because surely it's unreasonable to expect England players and support staff to also be 'fans'....)
Finally, SUNSHINE! We head out after a lie-in and go to The Landsdowne, run by Orange Tree, for a big breakfast. Yummy.
We then head in, mooch about, and head to the Big Top for Kerfuffle (doing their final gigs with the current line-up thanks to the need to 'get a job' for bassist Tom. Kerfuffle have had mentions here before on Rullsenberg, thanks to fiddler Sam's stirling work with folk collective Bellowhead. Knew I'd heard of them before when I went to see them! Anyway, you have to love a band when they feature the lovely diminutive Hannah kicking her heart out in her clogs!
We then came back around to the Big Top to see Will Pound and Dan Walsh: harmonica and banjo players respectively. My word, they are YOUNG and the lungs on Will Pound?! Brilliant! And Dan Walsh cuts a fine banjo, even managing to write bluegrass that isn't a jolly tune with lyrics about death (it's quite cheery instead)
With the sun full out and some actual heat, we decide to sit amongst the teachers, who were reluctantly facing up to going home to marking***, and take in sun rather than music. Nevertheless, we do head inside for Dervish, Celtic supreme, and grab centre seats for the big finish of the Big Session with Oysterband. The Big Session is basically the Oysterband festival, set up - as has been so many of the best De Montford Hall events - by former boss Richard Haswell. So it was nice to see him being paid tribute by the Oysterband in their uproarious festival-ending gig.
At their most 'political', they're astonishingly brilliant, anthemic in a way that deserves more notice (something they ironically note in 'Uncommercial Song' - which, frankly, as a song both isn't or at least shouldn't be). They're also, despite many years in the business, still up for it. Though not violinist Neil, who still has strapping on his ankle from a break earlier in the year (didn't stop John Jones and Ray 'Chopper' Cooper from hopping off the stage for a bit of in-crowd singing!).
They ended,as has become traditional, with 'Put Out the Lights' - and it's always thrilling to hear an audience take off with a tune.
Lovely stuff. And, being a teachers festival in the summer (demographic leaning on the post-45 year age groups), we all get to go home early. Great.
Now all we needed to do was get the bags, get the train and get home to watch Doctor Who on the iPlayer. And catch the footie.
I'm amazed we didn't hear the shrieks from New Zealand. Personally, I think they wuz robbed (even if their goal was somewhat off-side).
* Sweet Erica played with The Proclaimers at the Nottingham gig. If we hadn't missed Miles Hunt on support we'd have known that the breathtaking violin solo was performed by said Ms Nockalls, complete with stunning red dress and auburn hair. Shame on us.
** Nice review of Miles Hunt and Erica Nockalls, plus the Proclaimers, from their tour in October 2009.
*** I swear you couldn't have thrown a pebble without hitting at least three people working in education. Folk music and teaching: go together apparently!