There is something nerve racking about a new festival, and I’m not the one running it! It’s 5:30pm and the stage is still a work in progress. Ladders and flight cases litter the area which will soon host the musicians. A lighting engineer dangles cables aloft, a sound engineer talks about taking maybe an eighth out… but wait, it sounds better now – ah, it works better if plugged in apparently! But we have plenty of time, Kaves are not due on for another hour… well 45 minutes…
Organisers Brian and Niamh McAllister seem very relaxed, but then I suspect that most of the important stuff has been done by now. Kaves are sound checking the drum kit… the ladder has been removed… a mum and her toddlers are bopping to the beat of the sound check…
Then, on time, Kaves open the first ever BanhamFest. They are here because they won the Twisted Melon Battle of the Bands competition, in King’s Lynn earlier this year. Their solid rhythm and guitar work the perfect backdrop to Caitlin’s powerful voice. She even got to bop to a wasp!
The supermarket carrier bag front of stage, was a very subtle piece of branding for the next act – for this was in fact a bag of cans belonging to the band Bag of Cans. This over excited five piece from Norwich were a joy to listen to with their free badges for sale at a pound a piece! Never before have I seen a band duck so you could see the drummer’s solo!
Mammals Not Fish are a band I have heard good things of, and I was not disappointed. Everything moved up a notch when they got their funk and groove going – blending excellent rock guitar with Ska creates a genius sound.
Closing Friday night was Jay McAllister – no relation to the organisers by the way. Better known as Beans on Toast, his is a style all onto himself. I often bemoan the lack of protest song singers these days. People in the mould of Dylan, Seger or even Billy Bragg – in Beans I have found a man whose lyrics are (all at the same time) thought provoking, real, funny, and deep. His love songs hit you straight from the heart as well. This was his second gig of the day, the first being a 1pm slot at Kendal Calling in Cumbria – a seven hour drive from Norfolk.
The heavy clouds that threatened to spoil Friday evening held off until it was time to go home but overnight the rain fell constantly through into Saturday morning. By the time Just Tom & Pete took to the stage it was dry, but the clouds looked ominous. This duo were the perfect start to Saturday. An early slot is never easy but these cheeky chaps got us in the mood with their polished performance. From which I learned that the Spice Girls are not popular in Coventry!
There then followed four solo performances by Kieran Hensey, Simon Kelsall, James Veira and Tangles, none of who were known to me until now. Kieran didn’t say much, he didn’t need to, his laid-back percussive lap guitar playing in the style of Eric Roche was enough. Simon Kelsall’s seasoned performance was thoroughly enjoyable – and even if the book he bought in a charity shop “Easy to Play Paul Simon” wasn’t, he had mastered it. Tangles, (check the pictures, you’ll see where the name comes from) despite what her busking audience might think, sang beautifully crafted songs that you need to listen to.
But for me, the revelation of this part of the line-up was James Veira. James runs the open mic nights at The Barrel. This quiet man and his twelve string Freshman guitar played a mix of his own songs, and some covers, with no faffing or fuss, just playing good music well. Inspired by a blues band he’d seen at The Barrel he wrote “This Time You’ve Crossed The Line” – wow, was what went through my mind. I feel a trip to The Barrel for an open mic coming on.
By now it’s 4pm and a duo I’ve wanted to see for some time came on just as the rain started. When Rivers Meet are Grace and Aaron Bond who between them, with just a slide mandolin, a Gibson and a kick drum, create a wall of sound that is a pleasure to behold. A mix of original and traditional blues with their own unique take. Have already booked tickets to see them at The John Peel Centre in October – do not miss this band, a must see & hear.
Next up was Niamh about whom I have waxed lyrical before now. But I have only heard her sing indoors – outside her crystal clear voice carried across the Appleyard beautifully to entertain us. If you have not yet found her album ‘Flammable’ I can highly recommend it. Proving her versatility, she also entertained us with hedgehog jokes whilst tuning her guitar, which did not like the damp weather.
By 6pm we are fast heading towards headline time with the weather gradually deteriorating. Funky foursome The High Points kept the audience’s spirits up with their mix of funk, rock and pop – check out their album ‘Instant Love’ on our Spotify playlist.
Then it was time to gear things up a notch with Bury based Thy Last Drop bringing their very own West Suffolk take on pirate folk rock – or Victorian Murder Punk, as they describe it themselves. It may well have been raining heavily but ‘18 Witches’ had the crowd of dancing without a care in the world.
Pirate Joe and the Foreign Locals maintained the hectic pace as darkness fell. Energetic is one way to describe this performance, with more than a hint of classical Spanish guitar infused with punk folk, and the accordion giving it an eastern European feel with the percussion keeping it all together.
By now BanhamFest and Glastonbury had developed something in common – John Wheeler of Hayseed Dixie pointed out that the last time this Tennessee based band had played a gig this wet, was Glasto 2005!
With the crowd now showing the weather a metaphorical finger, organiser Brian McAllister had this to say:
“Two years ago when we arrived at The Barrel it was a dream that my favourite band Hayseed Dixie would play here. I was at the front of the BanhamFest crowd at 10:30 on Saturday night in the pouring rain. I turned around and saw a sea of people dancing with huge grins on their faces. My dream has become reality.”
But that wasn’t the end. On Sunday BanhamFest hosted the BBC Introducing, curated stage for new artists featuring: Billy Lubach, Emily Parish, Soham De, The Red Dear, Danny Whitehouse and Ben Danny Mo.
The atmosphere at BanhamFest was warm and welcoming. The weather was not kind to the event, but this is England in summer – you cannot control what mother nature throws at you. Was it a one off? No. Just a rehearsal for a bigger and better event in 2020, and I for one, will be back there for the atmosphere and the top-class music.