Could there be a more picturesque location for a music festival than Purbeck Valley Farm, nestled under hills just outside Harman’s Cross and with spectacular views, including that of Corfe Castle?
The Purbeck Valley Folk Festival 2022 had a very special vibe, noticed by so many performers and no doubt helped by glorious weather.
It’s more than just folk music, of course, but it’s a good place to start. In no particular order… Festival favorite Martha Tilston was in a particularly positive mood on the fire stage, singing songs of love and loss and emotionally urging us to take care of each other, take care of our world and to institute social change.
The silken-voiced singer-songwriter from Cornwall was captivating and inspiring in the afternoon sun, rightly drawing his eager audience to a contemporary folk ensemble.
Backed by the two Matts, Tweed (bass, bouzouki) and Kelly (fiddle, guitar, percussion), Tilston served up beautifully disguised protest songs, hiding behind gorgeous tunes, brilliant grooves and wonderful playing.
If any artist defines PVFF, it is most definitely Tilston.
Michele Stodart, aka the coolest bass player alive, played guitar here in a set of his own compositions. The Magic Numbers stalwart was a late replacement for covid-stricken singer Kathryn Williams.
Stodart, a member of Williams’ band and a go-to musician for a call of famous names, drew inspiration from her own albums and collaborations for a country ensemble, backed by keys and drums.
The British-Scottish supergroup Magpie Arc, playing only their sixth gig, were simply sublime – five experienced musicians at the top of their game in an all-electric combo.
Featuring the front three of the incomparable Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr and Findlay Napier swapping lead vocals and chat between two songs, the five-track is rounded out by irrepressible drummer Tom A Wright and bassist Alex Hunter.
High level musicality, a variety of singing styles, folk, blues and country variations combine for a great occasion. Although they’re still a little mindful of each other (especially Simpson), they combine beautifully on tracks like I Should Have Walked and Roll Your Stone Away.
Soon they will be THE band to watch.
The band everyone apparently watched at PVFF22 was the mighty Show of Hands. As always, they did not disappoint in their natural summer festival surroundings.
Appearing at Purbeck for the first time in a decade, Steve Knightley and Phil Beer delivered a string of festival favourites, absolutely engaged audiences and looked like they were having a blast.
Cue the likes of Country Life, Roots, You’ll Get By, AIG, Company Town and some favorite covers from Boys Of Summer and Peter Gabriel’s Secret World.
Ending, as always, with a rousing, yet engrossing Cousin Jack with the speedy Galway Farmer, they’re gone, far too quickly.
Knightley reappeared the next morning in the popular Songwriters’ Circle, still one of my favorite 90 Minutes, with Stoddart and London-based poet, singer-songwriter and musician Gabriel Moreno.
The three swapped songs, songwriting tips and trade secrets, as well as dealing with a power outage, before ending with a rousing version of Mike Scott’s Fisherman’s Blues.
Moreno was back immediately afterwards with his band The Quivering Poets for a fun, offbeat set of alternative folk and Americana. Imagine if Leonard Cohen had come from Barcelona and you would be heading in the right direction.
In a full performance, Moreno, Gibraltar’s Cultural Ambassador for 2022, drew on his 20 years in the music world, from Spain and Italy to Peru and the UK, for tracks wonderfully smooth, jazzy and lyrical such as We Can Write England All Again and feel like dancing.
He deserves to be bigger, but it would be so nice to see him in the dark, seedy little clubs he spoke of with envy.
The powerful voice of BBC Radio 2 Ríoghnach Folksinger of the Year (ree-oh-na for the uninitiated) Connolly blasted from the main stage in a thunderous performance with her eclectic five-piece band Honeyfeet.
Based in Manchester, but hailing from Armagh, Connolly, probably best known as a member of the Afro Celt Sound System, is an exceptional singer and flautist who fuses styles, genres and sounds to produce, alternatively, tunes from hard-hitting dance music, soulful grooves and (it’s folk after all) protest songs with a twist.
Unexpected pleasures are always a joy in Purbeck Valley, such as the energy generated by the Balkan-infused Bonfire Radicals, the swirling sounds of Bristol’s Solana, veteran party band Quinns Quinney playing in broad daylight for the first time at the festival, their offshoot Wiff Waff in the bar, the old-school sounds of the Rigmarollers, metalheads Hound Dogs For Hire go wild on the Word stage, and Bellowhead’s Benji Kirkpatrick and the Excess channels Hendrix.
The dynamic Three Daft Monkeys filled the Big Barn, as did uilleann pipe maestro of Capercaillie, Michael McGoldrick, longtime acid croft pioneers, Shooglenifty.
World music was well represented by the hypnotic sounds of West African balafons by N’Famady Kouyate, American standout Amythyst Kiah, Newfoundland close harmony trio The Once and three-meter one-string bass Babatoni. by Gasper Nali.
At PVFF2022 there was, as always, so much more – Dorset’s Bierfass Band playing oompah music, poetry, fancy dress, crafts, comedy, lots of children’s activities. Pantheatrix, puppet shows, workshops, healing, storytelling, ceilidhs and even laughter yoga.
Three perfect days under the sun. This is the festival you don’t want to end.