Monday, 4 May 2015

Harefest 2015

Two things guaranteed to put the kibosh on the great British weather are Bank Holidays and festivals. So last weekend represented something of a perfect storm really. Harefest marks the start of the festival season in the north, set on the May Day weekend when we can have anything from blazing sun to snow and ice. So rather wisely this is an indoor affair but with camping for those (fool)hardy enough and limited accommodation in the 15th century manor house hotel for those with foresight and spare cash. Just as well because it was chuffing freezing with some cobble-cracking rain at times.

Harefield Hall
Funke and the Two Tone Baby
This is by any standards a small affair: although licenced for up to 400 I doubt there were many more than half that at its peak. The event is a music and beer festival held at Harefield Hall hotel at Pateley Bridge in the North Yorkshire Dales. One stage with absolutely superb sound engineering in a good sized room in the hall provided the music a couple of bars provided the beer and other drinks. I'm no beer expert but the real ale bar was stocked with a superb selection of real ales and a few ciders, most from local breweries. Many ran out but others were there to take their place.

So onto the lineup, which is what attracted us including as it did many of our favourite acts. As usual we were not at all early arriving on the Friday so missed all of the open mic sessions so apologies for not being able to comment on those. However we were in time for the dream combination of Funke And TheTwo Tone Baby and Gaz Brookfield. I've commented on the former before and Dan's original, hyperactive act once more did not disappoint, converting a fair few new fans. There were clearly plenty of die-hard fans of both present as well judging by the t-shirts and singing along. At the end the two announced they would be going on tour together and that is going to be a brilliant combination with the different styles complementing each other. A chance to see two of the hardest-working musicians on the circuit on the same bill, there's bound to be a show near you. Watch out for dates.

Gaz Brookfield
I could go on about Gaz for hours as, like so many, I love what he does on stage, but I will keep it brief. He certainly seems to have everything under control at the moment. His was a relaxed and consummate performance throwing in new and lesser known numbers as well as old favourites. Playing last (he hates calling it headlining) he had everyone wanting more and things moved on to the fire outside where a few of us strummed out a some songs into the night in the company of friends new and old, while an entire shed was thrown ever more haphazardly onto the flames. It really was a great first night and no doubt accounted for some the sore heads stumbling about late the following morning.

Music kicked off again at 1pm with local Growing Old Disgracefully doing a great job with the rather small and jaded 'morning after' crowd by delivering a mix of covers and original material in entertaining style. They were followed by James & The Giant Pike who I'm afraid coincided with a break for food and further recuperation so went unseen by us. Sorry guys!

Set Sails
We were back at the stage and starting to recover by the time Harrogate-based rockers Set Sails hit the stage. An energetic three-piece with the lead alternating between guitarist, David Colston, and bassist, Hannah Slater. Both had qualities but the largely own-material set came alive when Hannah's powerful vocals were allowed to growl through.

Paul Middleton Angst Band

It sort of felt a privilege to be there to see The Paul Middleton Angst Band. Daft I know, they play every week in Leeds and Harrogate, but the act made you feel like this was a rare chance to see legends at work. It's a long time since the early 70's when Middleton was in Wally and, while he clearly plays on the age thing a bit, he is genuinely no spring chicken. But any effort involved in running through a full set under the punishing Harefest stage lights was overcome by his clear passion for playing. The band also seemed to be enjoying every minute of the old school rock blues routine. 

There's far too much to say about this outfit to fit in an article like this but there are a few stand out points. First has to be the Xylosynth played with concert-standard precision and flair by Matt producing a beautiful sound remarked on by so many afterwards. Then there was the blues lead guitarist Daz, effortlessly cruising through complex licks on an ancient Stratocaster and a cigar box guitar. Then finally comes Paul himself, not just for the trademark passionate lap-steel guitar work but for the impassioned and politically charged spoken lyrics and monologues, a little reminiscent of Chris Bowsher.

Bar-steward Sons of Val Doonican
What can you say about The Bar-steward Sons of Val Doonican ( Through recent band member changes and private stresses Scott (and Amanda) Doonican's genius comedy act has continued to blossom and you can see the ideas still coming for more hilarious reworkings of classic songs to add to the burgeoning canon. Massage In A Brothel (The Police), Frisky In The Jar (the Irish folk standard), Portaloo (Abba), The Lady In Greggs (Chris de Burgh), the list goes on, will have you wetting yourself. Again it would be easy to go on and on (too late I hear you cry) but really, just look them up. They are bloody great. They are playing the festival season in earnest again so this won't be the last time you hear about them from me.
New Groove Formation

Saturday's headliners were the only act of the day not from Yorks/Lancs. Bedfordshire-based New Groove Formation are a guaranteed dance fest and despite being down a trombonist delivered their party-atmosphere, ska-based sounds to an enthusiastic audience leaving us a happy, exhausted, sweaty mess. Summer In A Glass is my festival anthem and guaranteed to raise a smile on the dullest of days. Can't wait to see them again and again this year.

Maelor Hughes
After that and the excesses of Friday night we couldn't summon up the energy to hit the silent disco (of which more later) so had an earlyish night and were raring to go on the final day starting with Maelor Hughes. Somehow we'd managed to miss this guy up to now; definitely the best of the acts new to us this weekend. One man, one guitar, one stomp box, one good set and first time I've seen the drop-tuned, twin capo system in action.

The Rooftoppers
North Corner sort of passed me by a bit and then we were on to The Rooftoppers. A tradition at Harefest is for a band of strolling players together on the roof of a tower and play the adoring crowd below. This year however with the weather being iffy and Rev Hammer having to pull out they filled a slot on the stage and very good it was too. Some rabble rousing covers including a couple of Levellers numbers always guaranteed to have this crowd singing along and by the end we were well in the mood for another of our most anticipated groups of the weekend.

A little light pushing and shoving during New Groove the previous evening had me wondering if anyone might be up for a bit of mosh and indeed it wasn't long into the high-octane Leatherat set before bodies were flying. I love a good natured mosh and we had the space and enough participants to make this a cracking good one. Leatherat were new to many in the crowd and from what I heard afterwards were one of the favourites from the whole weekend. This is what The Levellers should have become for me. Jono's haunting fiddle and the rock guitar and mandolin/bouzouki lines from James and Pete give them power and energy which are driven at full speed to whip the audience to a joyful frenzy. Phew!

Dan Donnelly
I'd pretty much given my last by this time and wanted to leave something for the disco later so I settled back as much as possible to enjoy the last few acts. Dan Donnelly is incredibly talented and drew a big crowd. Clever use of effects pedals, his charm and wit and some great songs; you can see the appeal. Maybe I was getting tired but it didn't hit the mark for me this time for some reason.

Mark Chadwick
The final act I'm going to comment on is Mark Chadwick. I really enjoyed this (far more than his set at last year's Dogfest). Of course the Levellers stuff went down best but overall it was an informal and entertaining performance with an intimate feel. I'd really like to have heard Miles and Erica but we have to eat and rest at some point and I've never been into The Wonder Stuff at all so we gave it a miss to refuel and chat with the family. By all accounts the crowd had thinned significantly by this point and perhaps the evening would have been better headlined by Mark and followed by a longer disco. Would have saved the organisers a fair bit as I think the audience would have been much the same on the strength of Mark Chadwick's name. It really was a Levellers crowd.

But Harefest had one final treat in store for us. We managed to drag our tired broken bodies back up the steps to the hall for the silent disco. If you've never done one before, get to one soon. Everyone has a set of headphones and can switch between two channels playing different playlists. So some of the crowd is dancing and singing to one song while the rest are doing the same to another. Result - hilarious fun! A few dancing the Macarena while most had Devil Came Down To Georgia on was side-splitting.
A couple of small criticisms. The camping field was at the bottom of a long set of treacherous steps. Even for fully able-bodied this provided a challenge of fitness on the way up and judgement on the way down. There were a couple of (less than sober) mishaps but nothing serious. However anyone with a mobility problem would need to stay at the hall or contact the organisers for advice. It was also a strictly over 18s event. While I understand that it is a beer festival and the site might not be ideally suited to children, I do feel it is shame that this excludes many from what is a brilliant event.

And brilliant is was. Mike and Elaine do a fantastic job, creating a tremendous atmosphere for music and music-lovers to meet and enjoy like-minded company. So thanks to them and their team for all the hard work. I heard rumours that this would be the last Harefest, but they said that last year and I sincerely hope it's not. Something this good should carry on if at all possible.

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