The sun, the field, the stage, the people, the stalls, the food and most importantly the fun. This year’s Folk By The Oak was an exceptional day in most people’s diaries. As the crowds flocked the gates, the sun beamed radiantly across the grounds at Hatfield House as set up their chairs and blankets for a fantastic line up to come.
As I entered into the arena the atmosphere was all to inviting. As we set up the chairs, rug and picnic the surrounding area of people seemed very contented. For many, this was the first time they had set sites on this particular stage, whilst others were undeniably regulars since its opening in 2008. Nevertheless, everyone seemed to appreciate Tyde as they opened up the event. The mixture of raw musical talent on the fiddle, accordion, rhythmic guitar and bass proved a big. Their energy and enthusiasm coupled with an amazing stage and beautiful weather only set the sail for what was to come.
Following Tyde, Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman took the stage with their very sensually appealing yet, full bodied sound created irreplaceable enjoyment that resonated across the grounds. Their eclectic repertoire of guitar, piano and occasional woodwind proved a treat for the optimistic listener. Bringing the twins, Kathryn later walked the grounds with the girls and enjoyed the festival the proper way.
The splendid array of tables and stalls gave the kids things to do whilst the adults indulged in food and drink from various areas of the country. The pig roast was all to inviting, however, the pigs head was more than enough to deter me. The activities dotted around the field were of great liking to all, there was something for everyone with activities such as archery, pottery, knitting, willow weaving, circus skills, bush-craft all with various face paints and grins ranging from small to very large. Another great idea that won over the children was the inspiring storytelling from the one and only Yarnsmith of Norwich. He was actually exceptional as the kids sat circled and legs crossed in the Yurt that provided some shade in the sweltering heat.
As the umbrellas went up to provide shade, and the beer and wine flowed freely from person to person, even the wedding that was held next door seemed exciting. As I spoke to one of the photographers shooting Seth Lakeman later that evening, he explained the reasoning that the now happily married couple got married and decided to spend the afternoon at their favourite festival. Even the vicar came along in his slightly more 18th Century dressage!
The sound of Adrian Edmondson and The Bad Shepherds filled the main stage with their charismatic and energising punk songs on folk instruments. The pit grew substantially as the crowd flocked to hail the band formed by Adrian Edmondson on vocals and mandolin, Troy Donockley mixing Uillean pipes, cittern, whistle and vocals as well as Andy Dinan with his extraordinary talent on the fiddle. The performance proved to be exhilarating incorporating Adrian's repertoire of gags and one-liners with their full bodied yet sprightly sound, causing kids and parents of the like to dance and sing to their hearts content. These guys were definitely memorable and not having heard them before, I can only say that their CD’s will soon fill my collection.
As the day got on, the crowd were more and more willing to dance, sing and shout for their favourite artists. By way of applaud, Bella Hardy and her accompanying band put on a memorable show singing with such distain and warmth, she spoke of many of her songs, where they came from and how she came to writing them on her voyages to places like Amsterdam. Playing songs like “Labyrinth” “Amsterdam” and “Walk it with you”, Bella Hardy glowed, proving successful as the crowd clapped and whistled her off stage.
With many busy relaxing, the ambience of laughter as child’s play echoed through the field as Show of Hands bolted to the stage. Their performance was extraordinary brilliant as they were undeniably one of Folk By The Oak's highlights of 2011. Their set consisted of energy and clarity, whilst creating warmth that captivated the hearts of many surrounding the main stage. They provided all you could ask for from a folk band and they certainly delivered with various soulful and upbeat tracks. The applause of their set erupted as they finished their last song, a cheeky smile and off they went.
As the day went on, the sun remained. Three of Scotland’s most successful young musicians took stage with the radiant Heidi Talbot accompanying the anticipated performance. The incorporation of achingly bitter-sweet Heidi Talbot with Idlewild front man Roddy Woomble, producer and arranger John McCusker and award winning guitarist and vocalist Kris Drever, was not to be missed. The superb super band, as it can only be described was full of energy as they took to the stage. With their respectively distinguished sound, this performance was blissful as snap snap snap, went the shutter to my camera. This free ranging blend of rock and folk created only glory as the sun set in the distance.
The finale was only up ahead as people gathered to welcome to stage the UK's foremost singer songwriter, brother to Sean Lakeman, with a superbly talented band, Seth Lakeman. His eruption of sound grasped the eyes of the whole festival, whilst nearly blowing my ear drums as I naively approached the stage in front of the huge speaker stack! However, it was not an experience to be missed, his stupendous accompaniment of verse, chorus and bridge, created crowd appraisal as they sang and sang and sang, louder and louder. Song choice was excellent with all respect, with tunes such as “Kitty Jay”, “Hard Working Man” and “King and Country”. The performance as a whole was collectively lively, with an assortment of free sailing hits and words of wisdom, Seth Lakeman produced an undeniably compelling and energetic live show that will now, with a collection of photographs, be remembered for years to come.
This Year’s Folk By The Oak Festival was a great family day out, a great venue and the entertainment was pretty great. Supporting the Willow Foundation it brought joy to not only the people that came, but those in need. I will be going next year. See you there!
Written and reviewed by Julian Carstairs