Friday at the lovely Wickham festival saw me wake to glorious sunshine and have a rather lazy start to the day. There is something about festival life that allows me to sleep rather later than usual, it is wonderful. After a late breakfast I wandered over to the site at around 1 pm in time to catch a solo set by Charlie Cunningham. Charlie merges English folk music with the intricacies of spanish style guitar playing and he made for a delightful and relaxed start to the day.
The beauty of Wickham is that the site is compact so a short walk around the site allowed me to check out acoustic singer songwriter Jim Chorley’s tales of countryside and sea before wandering off to check out folk rockers 71 chain. The proximity of the three stages to each other allowing me to catch a little of each act within the 40 minutes time slot. Another huge bonus at Wickham for us photographer types is that almost all of the acts allow you to shoot the whole set. This is a fantastic bonus as it avoids the usual frantic rush from stage to stage that occurs when you are limited to shooting the first three songs. Did I mention how relaxed Wickham is?
Back at the main stage next up for me was Huw Williams and Maartin Allcock. The pair put on a hugely entertaining 60 minute set full of amusing anecdotes, self-depracating stories and virtuoso guitar playing. I really enjoyed thheir performance and wandered out into the crowd to catch the full set after I had finished shooting.
The mid-afternoon slot was the absolute highlight of the day for me. The wonderful Roy Bailey held the large crowd spellbound with his politically edged folk songs and stories. It was incredibly poigniant to see Roy performing without his longtime friend and collaborator Tony Benn. Roy is almost 80-years-old and unsteady on his feet these days, but the fire still rages in his belly and passion burns bright in his eyes as he highlights the injustices visited on the working classes by the elite and their wars. One of the great shames about the music industry these days is that it is dominated by safe, bland and non-threatening music. Few acts dare to challenge the status quo, few condemn authority or try to kick off the traces of unfettered capitalism. Roy and his contemporaries are a dieing breed and we will be much poorer for their passing.
It was interesting to see Billy Bragg standing at the side of the stage to watch Roy’s set, you could see the passion in Billy’s eyes as he watched Roy.
English folk stalwart Martin Carthy treated us to a masterclass of English folk music and virtuoso guitar playing. I confess that Martin’s brand of folk music sits a little too much in the ‘traditional’ bracket for my tastes, I prefer the more edgy more rock or punk edged brand of folk music. That said you have to take your hat off to Martin for helping to keep English folk alive and for being a shining light in the storytelling tradition.
The [Beautiful] South were next up with their usual runthrough of sing along, clever and witty pop tunes. They went down really well with the large crowd and they seemed to enjoy the set as much as the crowd did. Show of Hands never disappoint and to be truthful I never tire of seeing them. I saw them twice at the Larmer Tree just a few weeks ago and their set here was different again. It was wonderful to see and hear the huge crowd sing-along to just about every song. The fact that Show of Hands can vary their sets so much indicates the strength of their back catalogue but the crowd roared their approval when Steve Knightly announced that a new album was in the pipeline.
Billy Bragg closed out the day with an extended set that went well beyond the 11pm curfew. Billy was on fire, perhaps inspired by Roy Bailey, as he slammed the Tories and threw his weight behind left-wing labour leadership candidate jeremy Corbyn. Billy’s set was full of old classics interspersed with a few tracks from his latest album and one or two from the Mermaid Avenue sessions. It was a hugely enjoyable end to a fantastic days entertainment.