Review: FolkEast serves up a musical banquet

FolkEast is a feelgood festival

FolkEast is a feelgood festival - Credit: Gregg Brown

Sheena Grant battles the elements to enjoy a festival that is fast becoming unmissable

FolkEast music and art festival showcasing the best of Suffolk at Glemham Hall.

FolkEast music and art festival showcasing the best of Suffolk at Glemham Hall. - Credit: Gregg Brown

The weather gods must be lacking in taste when it comes to music judging by the salvos of rain and wind hurled in the direction of the three-day FolkEast festival. Or maybe the opposite is true. Perhaps they’re enraged, stuck up there in the clouds, unable to take part in all the fun.

You can understand why they might be mad. In its fourth year at Glemham Hall, FolkEast is starting to feel established, putting down roots like a mighty oak.

From the riotous performance, rousing violin playing and flawless singing of Eliza Carthy and the Wayward Band, Friday’s headline act, to last night’s closing finale by Irish supergroup Usher’s Island, playing their only UK festival this summer, FolkEast served up a musical banquet.

Among the weekend’s many highlights was the premiere of a collaboration between festival patrons the Young’uns and Aldeburgh Young Musicians, telling the story of a Suffolk folk legend who died almost 40 years ago.

John Spiers

John Spiers - Credit: Photograph: Ross Gilmore/Redfern

The Life & Songs of Bob Hart showcased the mesmerising talents of 29 Aldeburgh Young Musicians and the Young’uns while capturing the essence of one man’s extraordinary life. Bob Hart worked on Lowestoft fishing smacks where he learned to sing, was wounded in the Battle of the Somme, lost his wife and sons in tragic circumstances and made a folk album, recorded at his Snape home, when he was in his 80s.

The Young’uns’ Sean Cooney, narrating Bob’s life story (much of it told in his own words), seemingly from memory, brought warmth and feeling to the performance while Aldeburgh Young Musician Georgia Denham provided haunting vocals on many of the songs.

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Another side to the Young’uns talents was on show later when the trio’s David Eagle, a comedic genius, led a hilarious podcast that featured, among others, squeezebox player John Spiers (formerly of Bellowhead) and singer-songwriter Sam Kelly.

During the weekend, allotment holder Spiers proved he is not just a brillliant musician but also a very knowledgeable gardener, sitting on a panel of experts answering gardeners’ questions in an event on the Garden Stage. Kelly and his band, meanwhile, set the Sunset Stage alight on Sunday, oozing musicality and youthful exuberance with a performance that belied their years. Kelly’s voice is utterly beautiful.

David Eagle, Sean Cooney and Michael Hughes of the Young'uns at FolkEast.

David Eagle, Sean Cooney and Michael Hughes of the Young'uns at FolkEast. - Credit: Archant

Away from a full programme of music over six stages there was a smorgasbord of other delights too - a cinema tent, the chance to view and try your hand at arts galore, dancing, workshops, poetry, children’s events, archery, horse and carriage rides and food, reasonably priced and much of it local.

FolkEast is a feelgood festival, hugely creative, full of heart, charm and fun with a strong sense of place and the tradition it is part of. Whatever the weather gods may throw its way it’s not just coping, but thriving with every passing year.

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