I missed the Gavin Davenport Band gig at this year’s Warwick Folk Festival because, as is the case at so many music festivals, there was an inevitable clash between two acts I really wanted to see. Thankfully, however, Davenport put in another appearance earlier in the day, this time accompanied by fiddle player, Tom Kitching, rather than his full band. We watch the gig in the staggeringly well-equipped Bridge House Theatre, which is part of Warwick School – site of the festival (the luxuriousness of a private education I suppose…)
Davenport’s distinctive vocals were a notable feature of the recently reconstituted Albion Band, which is how I first became familiar with him. But today he concentrates on material from his solo career, including some of his excellent interpretations of traditional songs from his last solo album, The Bone Orchard. We thus get to hear songs like Creeping Jane, a traditional horseracing song collected by Edwardian song-collector, Percy Grainger. We also get to hear the self-penned title track of his solo album. The title was inspired, Davenport tells us, by his time working in a pub and the wonderfully colourful description that the domino-playing elderly Caribbean clientele gave to the local cemetery.
Davenport’s deep, bold, powerful vocal s are perhaps more traditional-sounding than many of his contemporaries on the modern folk scene. But he always avoids lapsing into cliché and his delivery suits the material perfectly. Davenport’s guitar and concertina playing also adds extra depth and beauty to several of the songs. Kitching, too, is an excellent fiddle player and the two work extremely well together. The audience in the packed (but thankfully air-conditioned) theatre on this blazing July afternoon respond enthusiastically. This was one of the highlights of the 2014 Warwick Folk Festival for me.
Howlin’ Rain – if there’s one modern band that captures the sound and spirit of those big bombastic soul-infused rock bands like Humble Pie, who relentlessly toured the arenas of America in the early to mid-1970s, it’s them. Tonight, however, we’re not in Madison Square Gardens or the Hollywood Bowl we’re at a pub venue in north London. Formed by vocalist, Ethan Miller, in Oakland, California ten years ago they’ve now released several superb albums. Though hardly a household name they’ve built up a loyal following in the UK and the venue is packed out by the time the band come on stage.
Howlin’ Rain have a great collection of songs – even if you’ve never heard them before they sound like you’ve been singing along to them for years, while still remaining fresh and original. The band themselves, with Miller on vocals and guitar, a superb lead guitarist in Isiah Mitchell, wonderfully soulful backing vocals and a magnificently energetic rhythm section, work really, really together. From the slower soulful numbers to the wilder rock-outs, they sound absolutely superb.
I just love the fact that there’s a band in 2014 making music like this, not cover versions, not pastiches but capturing the spirit and essence of a genre dominated by the likes of Humble Pie, The Allman Brothers and Creedence Clearwater Revival in the early seventies and doing something fresh and original with it. The audience, predominantly male but evenly ranged from early twenties to mid-sixties clearly agreed.
Although I have seen his less famous but nonetheless still extremely talented brother, Sean, on several occasions, until now I had never actually seen Seth Lakeman. The closing act on the main stage of a big folk festival does need to deliver something energetic so the crowd can let their hair down. Lakeman and his band proved to be a good choice.
Perhaps more than anyone on the contemporary folk scene Lakeman has been credited with popularising folk and bringing it to a wider audience. With a full band of really talented musicians they provided a superb support to Lakeman’s fiddle and vocals and a lively and enjoyable end to the day. There were a handful of slower more poignant songs in the set, too. This included Portrait of My Wife, a traditional ballad that Lakeman performed on the Full English CD, 2013’s collaboration with other leading lights of the contemporary folk scene and this song also features on Lakeman’s latest album.
All in all it was an inspiring and impressive finish to the 2014 Folk by the Oak festival. I doubt this will be the last time I get to see him.
Take No Rogues
King and Country
Blood Red Sky
Portrait of My Wife
The Riflemen of War
The White Hare
Lady of the Sea
High Street Rose
Blood Upon Copper
Race to be King
Folk by the Oak is the most civilised of festivals. Set in the historic grounds of Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, those used to turning up and getting frisked by legions for of security guards for taking even as much as a bottle of water in, will find this a very different experience. For this one-day festival punters turn up not only with chairs and food hampers but picnic tables, too.
Such a sedate setting did nothing to dampen the atmosphere down at the front of the stage for Richard Thompson’s set, however. With no backing band for this current series of acoustic dates, it was just Thompson and his acoustic guitar. Introducing Thompson, the festival compere said that this year had seen the biggest ticket sales for Folk on the Oak so far, telling the crowd the inclusion of Richard Thompson on the bill clearly had a lot to do with that. I couldn’t disagree. Thompson has rightly been rated as one of the world’s greatest guitarists but it is a wonder to be there and listen to the truly amazing sounds that one man can produce simply standing on stage playing an acoustic guitar.
A Thompson gig is never simply about watching displays of technical prowess, however. Being such a talented songwriter he has built up a stunning back-catalogue of great songs and he delivered a blinding set, including many of the songs that feature on his excellent just-released CD, Acoustic Classics. We were therefore treated to stripped down acoustic versions of classic songs like I Want To See the Bright Lights Tonight, Walking on a Wire, Down Where the Drunkards Roll and, of course, 1952 Vincent Black Lightning. We also got some newer songs that have become classics like Savings the Good Stuff For You, from his 2012 “Electric” album and, from 2007’s “Sweet Warrior” album, Johnny’s Far Away, a modern-day sing-along sea shanty, explains Thompson, set on a cruise ship. He also did a lovely tribute to his erstwhile Fairport Convention colleague, the late Sandy Denny, by performing a beautiful rendition of Denny’s Who Knows Where the Time Goes.
Thompson has genre-crossing and generation-crossing appeal and tonight the stunning guitar work and amazing songs demonstrate exactly why that is.
When the Spell is Broken
Walking on a Wire
Saving the Good Stuff For You
Johnny’s Far Away
1952 Vincent Black Lightning
Who Knows Where The Time Goes
I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
Between You and Me
Good Things Happen to Bad People
Wall of Death
Down Where The Drunkards Roll
One Door Opens
Tear Stained Letter
An added bonus of buying tickets for Black Sabbath in Hyde Park was having the chance to see Motörhead on the bill earlier in the day. Lemmy’s recent health problems had left some question marks over the future of the band and so, five years after I’d last seen them, it was good to catch up with them again on stage.
However, while Motörhead’s “best of” CD and their iconic No Sleep ’til Hammersmith live album are frequently blasting from my stereo, I must confess to having heard not a single album Motörhead have recorded since about 1982. And although we were treated versions of Stay Clean, Ace of Spades and Overkill that owners of the No Sleep… album will be very familiar with, there were several songs in the 45-minute set with which I was unfamiliar. The thing about Motörhead, however, is consistency: in sound, in quality and in attitude. So while a particular song they are performing may not be a classic from the Overkill/ Bomber/Ace of Spades era, it manages to sound exactly like it should be.
As well as iconic front-man/bassist extraordinaire, Lemmy Kilmister, Motörhead are Phil Campbell on guitar and Mikkey Dee on drums and while neither were in the band in the early “classic” years, Campbell has been with them for thirty years and Dee for over twenty. As for Lemmy, you wouldn’t think it from his vocal delivery and certainly not from his bass-playing, but it’s during his brief between-song banter with the audience that you realise that Lemmy is now quite an old man.
Will Lemmy and Motörhead be around forever? Obviously not. Will they be performing for that much longer? If truth be told, probably not. Is it still worth seeing them? On today’s performance – most certainly yes. Catch them now while they are still a living, working unit, still delivering the classic Motörhead sound.
Over the Top
Lost Woman Blues
Going to Brazil
Killed by Death
Ace of Spades
If there’s a competition for the longest gap between the first and second time you’ve seen a band then my entry will be Black Sabbath. I first saw them at Reading festival in 1983 and didn’t manage to see the band for a second time until tonight. My original encounter, back in 1983, was a rather strange version of Black Sabbath, though, with Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan on vocals and Smoke on the Water as an encore; and it was mercilessly panned by the critics. Thirty one years later, however, and we are very much seeing a classic version of the band in Hyde Park giving an undoubtedly classic performance. Save from drummer Bill Ward, who is replaced by Tommy Clufetos from Ozzy Osbourne’s solo band, it is the iconic Sabbath line-up with Osbourne on vocals, Tony Iommi on guitar and Geezer Butler on bass.
Osbourne’s ups and downs have certainly been well-documented and Iommi has been undergoing debilitating bouts of chemotherapy over the past two years. All of that is a world away from tonight’s performance, however, and the band members are all blisteringly on form. They commence with a stunning version of War Pigs and one by one the classics are reeled off: Snowblind, Fairies Wear Boots, Iron Man. The sound is great. The guitars, drums and vocals are everything you would want at a Sabbath gig. The visuals on the big screens behind add to the atmosphere of the music and the huge and good natured crowd loves it.
The set-list is vintage Sabbath, with two tracks from the recent comeback album, Age of Reason and God is Dead?, thrown in. The 13 album was more than just a comeback album, though, and God is Dead?, performed towards the end of tonight’s set, is a real classic that easily sits alongside other Sabbath classics of the early 70s. That was followed by a well-received Children of the Grave. A hugely appreciative Osbourne thanks the enormous crowd and the band leaves the stage.
Everyone knows how strict Westminster City Council is when it comes to their 10.30pm curfews at Hyde Park. But there were still some time precious minutes left and what everyone in the crowd wanted was for Black Sabbath to come back on and give us Paranoid. And that is exactly what we got, not only Sabbath’s best known song but one of the greatest rock tunes of all time. It was the climax to an utterly stunning evening. Iommi has hinted in interviews that after Hyde Park there may not be an opportunity for the band to tour again so this could be Black Sabbath’s last ever performance. If it is then what an absolutely stunning performance to end on. 10/10.
Into the Void
Age of Reason
Behind the Wall of Sleep
Fairies Wear Boots
God Is Dead?
Children of the Grave