Singing, fiddling, dancing, fair maidens, saucy blacksmiths and much more. Summing up Folk Weekend Oxford in a single review is near impossible. Despite hopping from venue to venue over the weekend, there was so much going on that I inevitably missed out on a few events and workshops.
Being quite new to the world of folk, I was amazed to see so many people, so much enthusiasm and so much knowledge. There’s a real shared sense of engagement and history that ran through the whole weekend. While some references and riffs may have passed me by, there was still plenty of accessible entertainment for the average attendee.
The free gigs in the Gallery of the Old Fire Station, which focused on local talent, were great. From a cappella male singing from The Skeptics, to chilling fireside folk from Sue Brown and Lorraine Irwing, through to a haunting cover of Hotel California from Rebecca Cullen, almost all the artists seemed to pack out the tiny, but lovely, little space.
The bigger concerts covered a range of folk traditions and styles. James Bell kicked off with some energetic but historic numbers on Friday night, including a fabulously lewd tale of a blacksmith and his hot rod!
Saturday then went from the very dark and genuinely (and intentionally) depressing Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, on to the playful and insistently cheerful David Gibb and Elly Lucas. Not to mention James Bell’s Troubadours and Trobairitz, which were so fabulous that they earned their own spotlight review.
Of course, since there was such a range of talents at the festival, I found some more favourable than others. Blackbeard’s Tea Party, who led the ceilidh on Friday and the dance party on Saturday, was just a little too weird. They seemed to be the result of the Red Hot Chili Peppers being smushed together with a Cornish pasty. Each instrumentalist was talented, definitely, but together they made a most inconsistent sound. That said, plenty of people were up and dancing, so fun was still had.
Also worth mentioning is the atmosphere all through the centre of Oxford, with Morris dancers popping up and jingling their bells to such dances as ‘The Magic Fairy’, and haunting tales of the Queen’s Soldier drifting through The Ashmolean. Local pubs, like Far from the Madding Crowd, had the drifting rhythms of fiddles and pipes all day, and of course Gloucester Green served as a great centre for the village fête (despite the odd downpour!).
The organisation appeared seamless and the Old Fire Station was a great HQ, with the theatre providing some lovely warm acoustics. All in all, an impressive and appropriately exhausting weekend of musical traditions, new and old.