| THIS WEEK’S RADIO SHOW |
My Northern Skies was at the Underneath the Stars festival this year, presenting a 90 minute radio show special (above), which features music from some of the artists who appeared over the weekend. We also chat with Iona Lane, Sam Kelly, N’Famady Kouyaté, Mr Downes (Kate’s former drama teacher), Sally Smith, Kate Atkinson, photographer Bryan Ledgard, compères Leila Cooper and Andy Atkinson, Jason Manford, Damien O’Kane and Ron Block and from Los Angeles, Trousdale.
The stars were very much out once again, hovering over this little farm on the outskirts of Barnsley, for what turned out to be a fabulous weekend of fun and music and those fortunate enough to be underneath them, were in for a treat. Celebrating no less than thirty years in the business, Kate Rusby’s presence could be felt all weekend long, from the moment we all arrived at the festival site, to its conclusion on Sunday night. There was a tangible sense of belonging, a feeling that we were very much amongst friends.
Brass is a grand old word with a strong association with the county of Yorkshire and brass was in no short measure this weekend, notably in the hands of the Brighouse and Rastrick Band, who appeared on the Planets Stage stage midway through and whose “Floral Dance” seemed to be a much anticipated event; an uplifting tune that even Terry Wogan couldn’t ruin (well, almost!). Brass continued to make its presence felt in such combos as Flatcap Carnival, The Haggis Horns and Intergalactic Brasstronauts, not to mention a further scattering of sax and trumpet elsewhere throughout the weekend. Contrary to the well-known saying, where there’s muck there’s brass, there was actually little in the way of muck, the festival site remaining clean and tidy all weekend long, in fact Damien O’Kane mentioned that after previous festivals, there’s actually very little to pick up, which can’t be said for other such events. This is one of the aspects of the festival that makes it so child and family friendly and makes for a comfortable experience. With one or two drizzly moments, the sun eventually came out on Sunday, covering Cinderhill Farm with a blanket of golden light, which is always something to savour.
For the first time, Underneath the Stars featured three prominent female headliners, something the organisers hope will be commonplace in future festival bills around the country. Kate Rusby took her usual Saturday night spot, sandwiched between the Irish rockabilly queen Imelda May on Friday night and the American singer songwriter Suzanne Vega, concluding the Planets Stage headline performances on Sunday night. All three headliners performed memorable sets, treating their respective audiences to a host of familiar songs, each of them audibly and visually appreciated, demonstrated in their eager applause.
Underneath the Stars can never be accused of the ‘same old same old’, as they continue to programme a varied mixture of genres, this year including such outstanding British folk combos as Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys, The Young’uns, The Trials of Cato and Kinnaris Quintet, as well as visitors from as far away as Sydney, Australia, namely the sparkling Azure Ryder, to the colourful trio from LA, Trousdale whose delicious three-part harmonies delighted the audience both inside and outside of the Little Lights Stage marquee. For sheer musicianship, the Guinea-born balafon wizard N’Famady Kouyaté brought a taste of West Africa to the festival, delivering songs in his native tongue and also the language of his new home in Wales. Damien O’Kane and Union Station’s Ron Block traded banjo licks, while Michael McGoldrick guested on both whistles and sticks. For further adventure, experimentation and musical texture, there was an appearance by Penguin Cafe, whose “Music for a Found Harmonium” resounded around the festival site as folks relaxed after their early evening tea on Saturday. Many acts slip this challenging tune into their set these days, but it never sounds quite as authentic than it does under the supervision of Arthur Jeffes and his busily bellowing harmonium.
If your preference is for a bellowing voice however, then you would be hard stretched to find better tonsils than those of Davina, along with her band the Vagabonds, whose late night appearance on Friday night was both thrilling and entertaining, something almost mirrored in a later set by Hannah Williams and the Affirmations, whose soul-drenched performance turned the surrounding haystacks into something more like hey-Stax. Alternatively, Iona Lane provided a more soothing Sunday morning set on the Little Lights Stage, performing songs from her acclaimed debut album Hallival, a few copies of which were dutifully signed shortly afterwards.
Then there’s always the fun element, something key to any great Underneath the Stars weekend and this year there was at least two familiar faces arriving on stage for a chat. The comedian Jason Manford, whose onstage Audience with Jason Manford gave us all an insight to the life of this very funny comic, whilst Adrian Edmondson provided further insights into the world of a comic genius, reading from his engaging memoir. The humour continued on Saturday afternoon with the return to the stage of festival favourites the Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican, whose hilarious antics continued to be enjoyed by fans of all ages, knitted and kitted out for the event, Greggs bags ever at the ready.
Perhaps the highlight of any Underneath the Stars festival though, is the appearances by Kate Rusby herself on stage, certainly during her own Saturday night headline set, but also during one or two cameos here and there, notably her appearance with Jason Manford during his onstage interview, for an impromptu performance of Glen Hansard’s beautiful “Falling Slowly”, Jason reminding himself of the lyrics via his mobile phone, and certainly during Sally Smith’s This is Your Life-ish Thingy, where in time honoured Eamonn Andrews/Michael Aspel tradition, Kate’s life was dissected, examined, probed and poked as her old friend read from the familiar red book. There was a handful of surprise guest appearances, as familiar faces entered through a white stage door, including friends and family, each of who go back further than those thirty years.
Happy 30th Kate, and many more to follow.