Posts Tagged ‘StonyLive’

2018 programme cover designed by Mason Edwards

‘Covers’ being a pretty bad excuse for a pun, as may become evident from what follows later on.

New readers start here: StonyLive! is an annual Festival of Music, Dance and the Arts in Stony Stratford, a small town that used to be in North Buckinghamshire, but is these days, ahem, the proud “Jewel in the Crown” of Milton Keynes. Now in its 20th year, it runs for 9 days from the first Saturday in June to the next Sunday.  (You can see a bit more info and what you (and I) missed by clicking here.  It was a splendid year, so much to choose from)  I always resolve to go to something every day; here’s what I actually managed to take in.

Shall we contradict ourselves by starting with something I went to on the Thursday before.  Yes we shall, because the weekend performances of Carabosse Theatre Company’s Real Ale and Drama Shots 5 were there in the official programme.

Carabosse – “We like it dark” – who take their name from the wicked fairy godmother out of Sleeping Beauty and other folk and fairy tales put on a great show in Swinfen Harris Hall, an intimate venue, full of character.  You knew you were in for a treat when Billy Nomad, knowing smile in minimalist clown-face, stepped up to MC and punctuate playlets with his own ditties.

Immediate coup de théatre with the opener, Eamonn Dolan’s Finn and Tilly: a couple in the audience arguing as a production of Waiting for Godot comes to a close; she all WTF?, he quoting critics as to its profundity; they take it onto the stage and … Godot (a brilliant performance) turns up.  The programme was nicely varied and full of genuine theatrical moments, not least from a chilling theatre of cruelty piece.  Much laughter at Sophie Patterson’s Red Velvet, a Quentin Tarantino take on an Acorn Antiques set in a coffee and cake shop near the law courts.  Three other pieces were concerned with writing or theatre, one in which the playwright is seen as undesirable alien.  The last piece, 19 & 28, featured the whole cast and crew, the dead hanging about awaiting their next reincarnation assignment – a bureaucratic nightmare in a creepy heaven.  Shame about the punchline (methinks) but it all segued nicely into a choral Stairway to Heaven – two “words” in the lyrics of the first two verses?   And it makes you wonder.  Local, yes.  Am-dram? – never: this was the real deal.


Yay!  TheHigh Street closed to traffic and there’s dancing in the street.  All sorts, but primarily, for me, Morris.  Nonesuch, an enthusiastic side from Bristol caught the eye, not so much for their garb as their steps – moves other sides hardly touch taken for granted, I was told.  And so to the Fox & Hounds for the traditional StonyLive! opener, a pint of bluegrass with the as ever enjoyable Hole in the head gang (Sorry. I know there are well-set precedents for surprisingly effective bluegrass treatments of Soul-Stax songs, but for me Mustang Sally is not one that wears it well).

And in the evening the magnificent Roadrunner at a sold-out York House.  Local legends from before my time in Stony, “Rutland’s finest R&B band” as it says in the programme – and you can see why on both counts.  From the opening full attack of Let’s work together they were outstanding.  Yes, you can call them a covers band, but it’s the spark of the choice of material that counts.  From way back to Minnie the Moocher and Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs Wooly bully all the way through to 1993 and George Thorogood and the Destroyers’ Get a job (did they do anything later?), they played with the intensity of classic Dr Feelgood supplemented by some well-oiled showmanship – singer and singer and guitarist delving into crowd with the aid of radio mic-ing.  A good time was had by all.


And the sun shone bright on the Classic Car Show.  Lots of E-types this time (wife thinks they’re ugly).  My car of the show (not that I know anything) was the Bristol they used on the poster, though nothing stood out as of yore (or I’m getting jaded).  When a bunch on scooters unexpectedly arrived on the scene en masse, the musician on the bandstand broke into the Who’s Can’t explain; nifty, I thought, even though there wasn’t a parka in sight.  With camera to hand I like playing with reflections.

Sunday afternoon and it’s the Big Lunch, a family picnic in Rocket Park.  Lovely cod and chips from a van.  Was surprised how moved I was when a Lancaster bomber in World War 2 livery flew over to the strains (eventually) of the Dam Busters March.  Stirring enough to make one put the firebombing of Dresden to the back of one’s mind for a while, and wonder at what the sight and sound of a sky full of these magnificent machines must have been like.

The Youth and Junior Bardic Trials were a surprise too – strongly contested by 6 contestants, all of whom might have been well in the running another year, in front of a decent and appreciative audience.  So close the judges created a new post of Bard in waiting when it was scored a three-way tie.  The future’s bright.


Nice little interlude in the shade of the trees by the Magdalen Tower, all that remained of Stony’s other church after a devastating mid-18th century fire.  Masterminded by Derek Gibbons, 6 out of the 8 Stony Bards each recited a poem dedicated to the tower.  Impressively, without collaboration, each approached the subject of the tower in different ways, ranging from historical chronicle to contemporary trysting place.

Should have been Southern Blues Fiasco from Oxford at the Fox but circumstances meant it was but one of them – a medal winning guitar pedal designer, no less – and an accomplished pick-up band with an age span of 30 years or probably more.  A lively evening of powerful blues and blues-oriented music ensued.  A lovely People get ready with a lot of harmonica made you believe Dylan might have written it.  Was it this lot who did a storming Louie Louie?


… and it’s An evening with the Bard and Friends back at York House, and another fine evening of words and music, most of it original.  So much talent around, all in fine form.  Impossible for me not to resurrect the words ‘quiet power’ when poet Fay Roberts is performing, but she was spellbinding, switching from deadly serious to throwaway flippant and all stations in between within a couple of lines.  Important to mention what ‘Fred’ adds to accomplished singer-songwriter Sian Magill’s work.  Taylor Smith go from strength to strength, with writer Taylor dismissing the infectious rabble-rousing Leaders as ‘folk dirge’.   Shame this event always clashes with the a capella session in the Vaults.


Innocent Hare and a pint of Mad Squirrel in a crowded Beer Bear was fun.  Tunes, songs spanning a century or six, add a bit of clog – not to mention good company – are a lovely way to spend an hour.  Damned licensing laws.  (What a fine addition to Stony High street the Beer Bear is, by the way).

So it’s back up the High Street to the Vaults and ‘our’ Ian Anderson’s Blues from the Ouse.  For shame the audience outnumbered the band – coupla guitars, gob iron – by only one at the start but it soon picked up.  More generation spanning musicians, this time acoustic blues of high order.


A Vaultage special for StonyLive!  Not the usual fortnightly open mic, but a one-off pre-scheduled closed mic for songwriters.  No covers allowed.  I say one-off, but apparently so many applied there’ll be another one later this year.  Proceedings were kicked off by Bard 007, Mr Stephen Hobbs, the bee in his bonnet about cover bands a-buzzing strong with this little ode:

A salute to Songwriters
[dedicated to Pat “Vaultage” Nicholson]

I salute you
for daring to be original
for taking a thought
maybe just a whisper –
and giving it life:
for showing us your heart.

Stony Live? Do me a favour!
Gimme a break!
eave it out!

Let The King, The Starman,
The Private Dancer,
The Gingerbread Man,
and the Joker
be themselves:
this imitation flatters no one.

Stony Live? Do me a favour!
Gimme a break!
Leave it out!

You are the freshness
that masks this slurry of covers
masquerading as a festival.
But you are not alone
look around….
I salute YOU!

© Stephen Hobbs

Archivists might like to note that not all listed turned up (H&S, at least one other) but that happily gave a bit more space for the driving reverie of David Cattermole’s songs.  So much talent and variety in one small bar.  Take a bow Pat ‘Mr Vaultage’ Nicholson (no mean writer and performer himself).


I have to admit to a stamina fail.  Guilty to an inability – a failing too sweet and rare many publicans who put on music will say – to spend time in a pub without a glass – or with an empty one – in hand, the week was taking its toll.  I am, however, assured that had I walked up and down the High Street on Friday a fruitful game of Cover Band Bingo was very much in prospect.

ers-stonylive/cover-band-bingo-2/” rel=”attachment wp-att-8865″> I’d give a source if only my source didn’t say they’d love to give a source.


On Sunday Derek  G put up a provocative post on FaceBook saying “Cover bands aren’t local music” which was greeted with varying degrees of approval, moderation, and a fair amount of scorn.  I’m pretty sure I only witnessed one song on that graphic all week, but I wasn’t trying.  I think the point – in the context of StonyLive! – is that you can see cover bands in Stony most weeks, and that there’s a difference between doing a more or less straight cover as opposed to an interpretation.  I shall return to this theme on Sunday.


So much to choose from.  I eschew the traditional outgoing lunchtime bluegrass session with those very fine Concrete Cowboys in the anticipation of a long day at the talent packed Fringe Festival, which I come and go from throughout the day, so I didn’t see everyone.  The Antipoet‘s Paul Eccentric got so worked up about the Americanisation of the English language via film & tv (“It’s not to go / it’s to take-a-fucking-way“) that he managed to draw blood with his signature mic forehead bounce finale of The wrong question.  This was a splendid event – well done JT & co, good to see that Scribal Gathering logo on the poster – but I have to submit to an attack of blogging fatigue here.  It was great to see (and hear, of course) Naomi Rose – one of the best songwriters around –  in good voice.  Headliners Forest of Fools did what they do – with folk-based accordion, congas, drums, bass, sousaphone and a touch of electronica – magnificently .

Mason Edwards design again


A nice relaxed Folk on the Green in a cool breeze and gentle sun.  Climax of, and, of course, a totally separate entity from StonyLive!  First time we’ve settled down on a spot with only a mere soft drink (Schloer Red Grape found in the garage leftover unopened from New Year’s Eve).  A great early set from another prime local singer/songwriter Mark Owen, who has never sounded better (thumbs up to the PA crew) and went down well.  Izzie Walsh and her equally young band gave us a sweet set of Americana, mixing originals and covers.

Paul McClure, the Rutland Troubadour, appeared in what he described as the closing wind-the crowd down-down spot.  This is the refreshing FOTG rethink of the last couple of years, whereby things close not so much with a bang as a … whimper?  No.  When I say Paul did his job well is not to say he was not anything but a charming and engaging end to the day (with a little bit of rock and roll on the side, just for good measure).

Trigger warning: if you are a post-Syd Pink Floyd fan, better to pass over this paragraph of self-indulgence.  Truth to tell, Paul McClure didn’t have much to calm down after Little Pig‘s cover of an obscure (to me) mournful slow Pink Floyd song, the second in their set.  Nothing against the musicianship, and they opened with a welcome workout on Kirsty McColl’s There’s a guy works down the chip shop swears he’s Elvis.  For argument’s sake let’s just say it’s my problem.  It is said that in the golden age of glossy music mags, Pink Floyd on the front cover was a guaranteed circulation boost.  I’ve also heard it said, last week in fact, that every town of a certain size has a tattoo parlour and its own Pink Floyd tribute band (Mr Hobbs, I believe).  I just don’t get it.

Anyway, here’s to the StonyLive! and FOTG Committees and small army of volunteers.  Now, World Cup permitting, it’s back to the telly, and the gloriously bonkers Flowers, and catching up on The handmaid’s tale, The Bridge and that series on African music.  I’ll finish with a rather wonderful detail from a Pontiac in the car show:


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SL-poster… until next year.  It’s probably been done already – I’ve only lived here in Stony Stratford for 9 years – but it occurs that the title line of Shady Grove, the bluegrass standard I heard at least twice during the week, shares the same 3-syllable poetic meter as StonyLive! and so could be reasonably adapted in celebration.  Too corny … to question mark or not to question mark?

Saturday morning errands to do, couldn’t tarry too long this year on the High Street for the mummers and the morris and other dancers, before hitting the Fox & Hounds for a pint and the always cheery opening bluegrass session from the Hole in the Head Gang, before hitting the (albeit fully integrated) Alternative Fringe in the yard of the Bull, where the weather at least behaved if not excelled itself.

SL AltFringe 16Codebreakers, a barber shop quartet out of (where else?) Bletchley were a nice change of pace after the fresh multi-generational family folk of Innocent Hare and, working backwards, ever improving Taylor Smith (who we shall meet again).  Roses and Pirates wove their spell, the cello adding to the weft.  It was all good, and putting the poets out on the main stage worked well, the bravura performance of Liam Farmer Malone tale of working on the London Underground on the day of 7/7 was worth a shout of its own.  At a certain point I left for some tea.

The Fabulators duo finished as usual with their parents’ My Generation, also the name, as it happens, of the tasty guest beer on at the Vaults, but not before i). fooling me again with the not the ginger-haired one sounding like the distinctive lead singer of the Fountains of Wayne, before the crowd-pleasing I’m just a Teenage Dirtbag, baby song emerged, and ii). setting me up with said song as an earworm (here it comes again, as I type).  The David Sanders trio intrigued with their own stuff – how to categorise? – and said they were going to murder an REM song, which they didn’t.  The full VHS Pirates band were nothing like the duo I’d remembered from Vaultage, all a bit rock stodgy, so I left early.  Which apparently was their cue to move up through the gears and finish triumphantly with everyone on their feet.  Hey-ho.

Ford PopSunday – cars and guitars and Willy the Shake – I’ve already chronicled it in A Stony sunday in June.  But here’s a photo of a Ford Popular anyway.

Monday, though there were things I fancied, I reluctantly – despite a resolution to do something every day – had as a rest day, saving myself for the next six days; mistake one way, wisdom another.

Bard presentsTuesday I had a pint in the Vaults and a taste of the traditional A Capella session, occasionally crooning along (at least I knew the words to the Buddy Holly song) before wandering back up the hill for the also now traditional Evening with the Bard & Friends.  Breaking with tradition The Antipoet‘s set consisted of material from their latest CD – no bad thing – though the leather mask for Gimp Night at the Fighting Cocks was new.  Rob Bray entertained with his one man, one guitar cabaret set, setting off at tangents mid-song with another, and another …  I’d missed Roses & Pirates formal set but still appreciated their playing during the interval – great voices and I’m always a sucker for a cello.  Prolific Bard Vanessa Horton‘s variety of material always impresses.  And again, it was all good.

Free SpiritLoisWednesday was Pat & Monty, two old dudes who normally go out under the name Growing Old Disgracefully.  Always a whiff of the SF summer of love in the guitar riffs when they play together.  With the addition of a relatively young-blood fiddler they are Freespirit.  Blinding set from Lois Barrett (photo © Pat Nicholson) playing her own songs, tonight with added congas.  Her impressive rhythmic and percussive right hand technique at the guitar in full play.  One of those songs is in 12/8 time apparently.

Thursday evening started with the uplifting sight and sound of the MK Women’s Choir in full motion in the packed upstairs – blanded out, refurbished – room in The Crown.  First outing of the week for the Beatles’ Help! (from which the title of this piece is taken); can’t believe I’ve never heard Rachel Platten’s rousing Fight song before; and the miserable bastard in my soul was severely dented by their joyous I wanna dance with somebody.  Great fun.  Vaultage StonyLive 16And so a quick stroll to the Vaults for Vaultage, swifts swooping and circling over the Market Square.

To tell the truth I can’t remember much about the music at Vaultage – a guy playing slide on a Strat, Mitchell Taylor giving an outing to the new improved, less strident, more stirring Blood of St George – but, if you’ll excuse the expression, the craic was great.

Ultimate BeatlesSS Shak 400Friday we followed the Stony Theatre Soc’s Promenade Shakespeare again some of the way.  Stephen Ferneyhough sprung a surprise with his musical interlude: the Kinks’ Dedicated follower of fashion with a fully outfitted Sir John Falstaff striking all the poses; I’m sure Shakey would approve.

The Ultimate Beatles Tribute Show, promoted by Scribal Gathering, was great fun, and got a few embers of memory glowing bright again – the sight of ‘Paul’ and ‘George’ sharing a mic, the ‘Lennon’ stance.  The show was in two parts, first half performed in those smart grey moddy suits with the dark collar at the back (and thankfully not those horrendous high-neck collarless things), the second in full Sgt Pepper drag, with the songs also treated chronologically.  There was some neat, if, it appears scripted (fanboy Hobbs stole the set list) scouse banter along the way too, including some bitter-sweet “flash forwards“, as ‘John’ described them, invoking future events; “Oh, no, that hasn’t happened yet.”

When I was in a band – over half a century ago now – half our repertoire was the first two Beatles albums, and seeing the lads doing All my loving (you forget what a great song that is) I was reminded of the agony of playing all those rhythm guitar triplets for the verse.  Inevitably this was the second Help! of the week.  Increasingly there was dancing.  Even through the entirety of A day in the life.  They may not have been that great as musicians – though the drum fills were immaculate, ‘Ringo’ – but they were easily good enough to have people enjoying themselves mightily.  Nice one, Jonathan.

And so out onto the hot High Street, lingering a while outside the open door of the Vaults to hear After the Lights playing the only Sweet home Alabama I hear all week.  With the guitarist having fun.

Saturday, laden with vegetables and fruit from the market – hey, the flat peaches are back in season! – I catch the second half of the stationary promenade Shakespeare crew in the Library.  Quick spot of lunch and its the StonyLive! bluegrass outro from the Concrete Cowboys (theme song: You aint going nowhere), MK’s second oldest band, at the Fox & Hounds.  Musically accomplished fun.  (A nod to the Fox, too, for having Hawkshead Bitter – great taste at 3.8).

TC3 - Nick Gordon

Looking good in lace over black, ladies!  TC3 – Photo (c) Nick Gordon

In the evening to the amenable York House and the company of TC3, the slimmed down Taylor’d Country.  With guitar god Ian Entwhistle perched up high on his stool and country angels Irene and Louise vocalising not far below it was a night of fine music making.  Their exquisite three-part harmonies and a broad but finely tuned selection of material make them a class act, the two women’s differing approaches at times complementing and at others offering a contrast that was somehow always in charming sync, losing nothing from the emotional charge of many of the songs.  They have fun performing and they know how to make an audience feel warm, often wistful, and good.  In the photo they’re being the mariachi brass section for Johnny Cash’s Ring of fire.  Oh, and to them we owe the third Help! of the week.

I have two friends who are quite prepared to be open in their disdain for the oeuvre of James Taylor.  I’m beginning to think there’s a gap in my CD collection, so I guess you could say, Job done.

If the programme cover looks a little battered it's because it's only just dried out: the year that will go down as Soak on the Green.

If the programme cover looks a little battered it’s because it’s only just dried out: the year that will go down as Soak on the Green.

By Sunday I was feeling the strain, and the weather forecast was not great, but with the alternative of a street celebration of Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg’s 90th, we packed the picnic for Folk on the Green.  Which is, of course, I should explain for non-locals, an entirely separate enterprise from StonyLive!, yet effectively functions as its climax.  As I say, it had been a heavy week, so this was the first FOTG that I had attended without a bottle of wine in the basket.

Intermittent drizzle made way for an actual bit of sun when Taylor Smith successfully made the leap from pub floor to a larger stage, and even had a few dancing to the boppy War is business (and business is good).  Earlier I’d liked 3rd & Lindsley‘s country rock (including a countrified Foo Fighters song), and the blues vamping (and much else) on cello from Alex Wesley‘s ‘nameless’ cellist partner, while Reeds had lifted spirits with their pop-soul-rock (always nice when a performer’s mother get a shout-out from the stage).  The weather worsened, but luckily for us we’d split before the heavens really opened.  Like biblical.  Shame.

selkie-and-princess-posterBut it wasn’t quite all over.  In the evening back to The Crown and a libation of Diet Coke for a session of storytelling of the highest order that deserved a bigger audience.  Soupcons from the local suspects led to Hel Robin Gurney’s The sleeping princess, a glass onion of a re-working of fairy tale that I’m afraid I got a bit lost in, (though StonyLive! fatigue probably had a hand there).  Then Red Phoenix gave us a glimpse of a Kelpie, which was a useful lead in to Fay Roberts‘s extraordinary The Selkie.  I’m gonna steal Danni Antagonist’s description of the show: “a stunning show of poetic storytelling (which also includes lyrical whimsy, cheeky asides and BEAUTIFUL singing) which took us all on a magical journey of geographical and mythological planes, and through all the elements and planets. Superb!! ”  To which I can only add a pretty good Scottish accent (for a Welsh woman) and, as well as that singing in a completely different register to the telling, the Selkie’s alarming distress screech, that made me jump.  (I was not asleep, merely spellbound).

Phew.  Over for another year.  And I was a mere member of the audiences.  Many bad things are said of committees.  Cheers to the StonyLive! one.

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classic-stony-logo-2016Just before mid-day the sun finally comes out.  Left the house a bit later than hoped (recovery time from Saturday).  Hit the Market Square and the place is buzzing.  Only just in time to catch a blues-wailing Banjo-ist singing the praises of his Sweet Home Chicago.  There seemed to be more cars and people than ever in the Square, in the car park and on the High Street for Stony Stratford’s classic car festival.

I’m not a great enthusiast (hell, I once owned a Lada) and my auto-aesthetic sensibilities are governed by nostalgia and classicism, with a soft-spot for the futurism of the past and a dash of the absurd.  So my favourites this year were the Jowetts, a Jag that took me back to the child reading the Eagle comic, the beautiful best-in-show-winner Beemer (resisting the urge to say something about Germany in 1939) and a – ah the UK ’50s car industry! – horrendous Hillman Minx Mark VIII (click to navigate through bigger pics, click again to enlarge individual images):

Deep purple 1952 Jowett JupiterJowett JavelinLe Mans 24 hr and all that JaguarBMW Prototype 328 1939Hillman Minx VIII

And so into the Vaults bar for a pint and the delights of “the longest-running ‘open session’ in the country”, including getting my head around a folk song take – played straight, one man, one guitar – on Randy Newman’s Sail away (“In America …”).  Weirdly, it worked.  “Song about slavery,” he said at the finish.

Pop-up art galleryYork HouseThen up the hill to picturesque Swinfen Harris Hall to take in some art (including Roddy Clenaghan’s original of this year’s StonyLive programme cover) and discover one of Ian Ian Fremantle wood sculptureFremantle’s intriguing wood sculptures in its grounds, on the way up to the Ken Daniels curated Bygone Stony – a pictorial history, which was doing brisk business and from which more might come, in York House.

Water liliesHome, briefly, where the irises in the pond have never been better, before a little touch of Shakey in the afternoon, the first of a series during the week to come, of the Stony Stratford Theatre Society’s promenade Shakespeare – performances of selected scenes, monologues and sonnets from the pen of the Bard hailing from the Stratford in Warwickshire.  A development from something tried last year, it worked brilliantly as the troupe of players and audience wound their way through the town, episodes linked by the suitably dressed concertina-ist playing period tunes.

ITMA. Photo (c) Derek Gibbons

So much going on, invidious to single out particular episodes and performances, but when the little girl came and sat down next to a cross-legged (poet Danni) Puck in the courtyard of The Cock Hotel, one got insight into the notion of the role model.  She had a great time, clapping and dancing along as a song followed.  A star is born.  Oh, and while that was going on, a couple of fly pasts from a Spitfire in the sky overhead.  The excerpt from The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society’s Production of Macbeth made a nice surprise too.  Great job, Caz Tricks.

Time for another rest and then an evening stroll along the River Great Ouse …
River walk

… and into the Fox & Hounds and a rock band open thingy, there soon to have the Banjo-ist trying to grab the attention and asking questions of someone called Joe, who appears to have a gun in his hand:

That old football chant: He’s here, he’d there, he’s every-fucking-where: Ladies and Gentlemen, the blues-wailing Andy Powell in motion, Chairman, StonyLive!; Andy Fenton on guitar.


Further on up the road to The Old George, for a grand Aortas session, where Dan had us thumping on the table and we had very fine sets indeed from Naomi Rose, Lois Barret and Mark Owen.

Dan Plews tuning up and a half-full beer glass

Dan Plews tuning up and a beer glass.  Moody atmospheric shot or crap camera?  Yeah, OK.

And so to bed.  (And not a banjo seen all day).  Given the Saturday before (which Lillabullero will briefly revisit next time) I had to take a time out on Monday to preserve myself for the rest of the week.  StonyLive! hurrah!

SL-poster stony-live-logo


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SL ProgCouple of times during StonyLive, Stony Stratford’s annual week of more than usual music bash, I had one of those Feeling/Like I’m almost twenty again moments.  That sense of refreshing wonder, a certain mixture of disbelief (and belief) at what you were hearing.  Discovery or rediscovery.  When you look around and the delight is palpable – all varieties of  glowing smiles and beatific grins on the faces of those around you in a small crowded room.  Take a bow, Forest of Fools and the Dave Cattermole Band.  Anyway, later for them.   Here we go, at least a week and then some after the events of StonyLive 2015 – I’ve been away in Wales – a personal chronicle of the week.

Rose & Castle

Rose & Castle

Saturday lunchtime, June 6, I wend my way, pausing briefly for the ritual purchase of this year’s raffle tickets and to take in some of the dancers on the High Street – young and old, tall and tiny, contemporary all the way back to Morris – to the Fox & Hounds, there to sup a pint to the traditional bluegrass opener, this year from the Hole in the Head Gang with their (and I quote) “annual rehearsal”.  Always an uplifting start to proceedings.

“In comes I …”

This year I’m trying to pace myself, and so it’s out on the street again to further experience this year’s wider spectrum of local dance – including Irish and Middle Eastern (the exotic Rashiqa from Wolverton) – and, of course, the Stony Stratford Mummers mumming.  As well as stalwarts Rose & Castle and Old Mother Redcaps, we had a new mixed side, New Moon Morris, from Ivinghoe, strutting their stuff.

Captain HumeSaturday night and at York House a select audience settle down to what it says on the poster on the left.  To be honest, given that there punning of ‘Leera Waye’ and Mr Simpson’s Little Consort‘s Samuel Pepys evening earlier in the year, I was expecting something filthier, but that takes nothing away from the exquisite nature of the fun and entertainment.  There were more songs and tunes from John Dowland and Thomas Ford than your actual gentleman prankster, mercenary, lech and musician, Captain Tobias Hume, one of whose songs made the case for putting love and tobacco on equal footing.

Soprano Cate McKee sang the melodies that in Dowland’s day were listed as being for ‘high voices’ with great charm (her facial expressions an object lesson in restraint – less is more – for Miranda Hart), while Phoebe Butler coaxed sweet music from a recorder I was not the only one present had not thought previously possible.  With Dawn Johnson alternating between lute and theorbo (a big bottomed lute with a giraffe’s neck) and Piers Snell bowing away on the viola da gamba (more stringed cousin to the cello) it was relatively fresh musical territory for me but I couldn’t help catching the intrinsic folk and jazz inflections that attracted guitarist John Renbourn – who ventured in these lands himself – and made him such a favourite of mine.  For a finish they attacked Monteverdi’s Zefiro Torno – his setting of a rhapsodic pastoral ode to the west wind auguring spring and the potential it brings for dalliance and romance – with such gusto that they had to pause, breathless, mid-way through.

And so out into the June night and a quick dash down to the Vaults Bar for the storming end of the Bearcat Blues Band set, a jump of three centuries from Restoration England of the 1660s to a classic ’60s rhythm and blues quintet of some distinction in less than half a mile.  And so to bed.

The chunky Rover 90.  My mate Mark's dad used to have one of those in Birkenhead.

A chunky Rover 90. My mate Mark’s dad used to have one of those in Birkenhead.


A certain Je ne sais quoi.  My “Best in Show”.

Sunday we had a family celebration lunch to attend deep in the suburbs of Solihull so I only had time for a quick recce of the Classic Car Festival but even at an early hour with the fine weather the place was buzzing.  And so apparently it carried on, to the extent of almost drinking the Crown dry, much to the chagrin of Monday’s gig goers.

Scribal June Sunday 15Back in time for the Sunday Scribal Gathering at the Fox and Hounds, and wasn’t that a treat.  Forest of Fools triumphed almost from the opening bars of whatever it was that they opened with.  Loud, driven dub folk with glorious blasts of melodeon – ace players all, attacking drummer, rapid fire percussionist stage right, energetically nimble bassman at the back, rounded off stage left by man with sousaphone, with added (have I got this right, or did it just sound like?) throat singing.   Most of the audience (myself included) had little idea what to expect and the excitement, the buzz, the joy, was instant.  This was Forest of Fools CDglorious.  Then a short manifesto statement of  folk roots, name-checking Cecil Sharp, and straight into an acapella Dogger Bank.  Now while it has to be said that their rendition lacked the sheer brio and muscle of Five Men Not Called Matt‘s interpretation, in context it was more than fine enough.  And then back to the folk driven shuffle of Bar room brawl (Here’s a YouTube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kx9-cBg9iWw.)  Later another controlled workout wherein the strains of the Mission Impossible theme was distinctly discernible among the more traditional melody lines.  And so it continued.  They took the roof off (or would have if there had not been a first floor intervening).  I even bought a CD.

Roddy et al - Andy Powell snapper

The Roddy Clenaghan Band (& sound man) – Roddy second left – upstairs at The Crown, giving a taste of The Crown’s eclectic decor. Photo (c) Andy Powell, banjo-ist of this parish.

Tom Manning.  Photo (c) Andy Powell.

Tom Manning. Photo (c) Andy Powell.

Monday, and so to The Crown, a pub with no beer (real ale anyway).  Guinness it was, then.  Apparently one of the Andys in Roddy Clenaghan‘s Band suggested, after Tom Manning‘s quality opening set, that they should be supporting him.  I’d say not so much a game of two halves as a double-A side (that’s a 45 rpm vinyl reference, younger readers).  Tom, a fine guitarist not scared of a jazz chord and in great voice, impressed with a mix of his own songs (one including a line about “the mourners at the wedding“) and some well-chosen, if you’ll excuse the expression, covers.  Finishing with an exuberant version of Love’s Alone again or from the eternal Forever changes album, which brought back to life the inner-hippy in a broad sway of the audience: “I think people are the greatest fun“.

Mournful as some of his song selections can be, there was plenty of fun to come too:  Roddy performed a short solo set, reminding me what a great writer Nanci Griffith is, and then brought on the two Andys for a set heavy with Bob Dylan songs, but who’s complaining?  They even kicked off with a twelve-string led Mr Tambourine Man) but the class showed with the selection of songs from the later canon – It’s not dark yet from Time out of mind – and a driving version of Things have changed.  “I used to care, but …”  Yeah, Bob, but you still wrote that song.  Another fine evening’s music.

(Is the dark Things have changed that well-known a Dylan song?  If not, it should be.  Originally from the soundtrack of Wonder boys, the movie  based on Michael Chabon’s novel – was Michael Douglas ever better? – the promo video, including clips from the film, is well worth a look.)

Scribal Jun Tuesday 15Tuesday I’m in The Vaults again for a pint’s worth of the A Capella Song & Ale Session and as luck has it I get over to Scribal in time for Paul Martin and friend’s footstomping set of vigorous dance tunes, Paul on mandocello (a big double stringed mandolin with sitar like harmonic drone potential)  and his mate on French pipes (not bagpipes, it was stressed, as if … there were pipes et un bag).  Enervating.  Rob Bray‘s new duo venture, The Straw Horses, for all his dapper tight grey waistcoat and trews, were singing new songs of olden days rural agri-folk (so more Thomas Hardy than Wurzels) with a hint or three of Wickerman about them.  His companion – Corinne Lucy – had one of those classic female folk voices and sported a wonderful smile.

Wednesday and it’s a decent turnout for Ken Daniels’ Alice‘s 150th birthday tribute to Lewis Carroll, Happy Birthday, Alice at York House, for what used, I guess, to be called a lantern slide show.  Fascinating collection of a wide variety of illustrators’ work over the century and a half, delivered with aplomb.  Then a walk down to The Bull for a change, humming Jefferson Airplane’s White rabbit to myself.

SL Evening bardAn Evening with the Bard & Friends featured many performers previously mentioned in despatches here at Lillabullero.  Given the luxury of fuller sets and Mark Owen and Naomi Rose duly delivered.

Vaultage SLThursday it’s back to The Vaults for another Vaultage, and a bravura performance from the Dave Cattermole Band.  With mesmeric acoustic guitar rhythm playing from the man himself, embellished by spare less-is-more lead lines on a Fender Start nodding to a wide spectrum of the instrument’s history or silky flat steel, and a hell of a cajon percussionist, they cast a spell.  Pièce de resistance was an extended spellbinding, rhythmically subtle, inventive uptempo meditation – shades of John Martyn – incorporating a hummed almost monastic song of praise which, one gradually became aware, had mutated into Stevie Winwood’s Blind Faith era song Can’t find my way home.  Magic moments in a small venue.  Feeling privileged.

Mark Owen was everywhere this week.

Mark Owen was everywhere this week.  WS himself would be proud of his ‘Breaking waves’.  Mitchell Taylor, who also did a few stints, & yr humble blogger, look on in rapt attention.  Photo (c) Pat Nicholson

Probably the first time this millennium I’ve been out five consecutive nights so Friday I hit a music and beer wall.  Feeling / like I’m definitely my age again.  Didn’t stop us catching the whole early evening Shakespeare in Stony trip though.  Choice selections from the Bear County’s Bard played out by a motley crew at various locations around Stony.  Rain on and off did not deter or (sorry) dampen spirits; indeed as King Lear‘s youngest daughter put it on FB, when the rain was at its heaviest, in the Fox & Hounds garden – which was always gonna be the most challenging stage on the journey – it seemed to supercharge the performance.  Juliet on the balcony in The Cock courtyard was outstanding too, while the Mummers, as the rude mechanicals from A midsummer night’s dream, were something else again.  Danni Antagonist had multiple roles – including being a witch in Macbeth, one of a spooky trio in the old graveyard, and Lear‘s decent daughter, Cordelia (and how many actors can make that claim in one day?).  I’d say her thespian experience is being  carried over into her poetry performancee on the evidence of a couple of days later.  Was good to be a part of the decent sized mobile audience.  Muchos kudos to Caz Tricks for putting it all together.

FringeFatigue lingering, Saturday lunchtime and it’s just a shandy for The Ozarks (another pooling of the MK bluegrass talents) for the country & bluegrass outro at The Fox, and then a stroll down to the The Bull’s yard for Part The First of the Alternative  Fringe.  The Caution Horses have some decent songs of their own but surprised (all the more dramatically so because it was unexpected) with an original treatment of the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby which gained something for these ears from missing the string quartet.  Paul Eccentric emerged from behind his Caution Horse kitchen percussion kit for some solo poems, which made a nice change.  But I was still tired so … that’s all she wrote for Saturday.

FotG15Sunday afternoon I flitted in, out and around Folk on the Green, which was lucky with the weather again, but stayed rooted for the duration of the Dave Cattermole Band‘s set, the band this time augmented by a bass player.  They did it all again with Can’t find my way home.  Sublime, tasty, tasteful, no posing.  Shame they couldn’t play longer.  On my way to the Alternative Fringe, Part Two, Subsection 1, I heard someone singing something about selling his soul for rock and roll, which made me feel old.

So here we are in the Vaults again, where the assembled poets (top and bottom three on the poster) did battle to be heard with the post-Folk on the Green topers, but the poetry won out in the end (we had a volume control knob and Richard Frost knew how to use it).  More than just the poets were entertained.  Then briefly down to the Stables Stage.  Now a four-piece, Glass Tears‘ wove their enchanting mix of originals and original treatments and I lingered for a bit more but  … a little sympathy please … I was tired and was driving to West Wales on the morrow.  Exit Lillabullero with a whimper.

It was a great week’s music.  Wish I’d had a bit more stamina.  Just because I haven’t specifically mentioned anyone doesn’t necessarily mean I didn’t appreciate them.  Huge thanks to the StonyLive Committee (not forgetting the entirely separate FotG people) and all generally involved.  Appreciated.

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