A rainy day in Walton-on-Thames didn’t dampen the mood of this small festival with a lineup you’d expect from an event several times larger. The acts were more impressive than ever, with the festival returning to its usual Sunday slot ahead of the May bank holiday.
First on the outdoor stage, a surprise appearance by Sue Graves – the ‘Surrey Nightingale’ – a local singer and guitarist who often performs with her band, Suntrap. Her unscheduled appearance was due to a shorter set by Ellie Gowers, who suffered from a sore throat.
Sue delighted with her collection of covers, opening on traditional American folk song, silver dagger; shWe proved that the Beatles From me to you and what a wonderful World (made famous by Louis Armstrong) are also folk songs at heart. Ending with enthusiasm big yellow taxiit was a good start to the day.
The Warwickshire-based singer, songwriter and guitarist Ellie Gower sounded exquisite despite a sore throat. I was lucky enough to catch her supporting Blair Dunlop earlier this year, so I knew it would be a treat. Ellie stoically and elegantly gave us five songs before her voice gave out. She’s a passionate and elegant performer, and the songs featured on her upcoming album suggest it’s going to be something extraordinary. The highlight for me was The sky is on fire, on which his delicate picking accentuates his intense voice. She is on tour to launch her new album, Dwelling near the weir.
It was exciting to see Jack Cookson back after weathering a storm at the first Walton Festival in 2018. Jack regaled us with a few stories and entertained and challenged audiences with his honest and often hard-hitting writing. It was great to hear a sequel to ocean song on his father’s boat on the Plym, but the tracking, Michael’s boat, was a bittersweet tale of the sadly sinking ship. Jack’s guitar work is breathtaking, as he so skillfully demonstrated on House of the Rising Sun. An acoustic Ironashley was another surprise, a brilliant and thoughtful exploration of toxic masculinity.
There is a real buzz around Angeline Morrisson right now, and she’s headlined at some of the UK’s most prestigious folk festivals this summer, including Cambridge and Sidmouth. Angeline has a commanding presence and extensive knowledge of traditional music (she lectures on the subject at Falmouth University, where she obtained her doctorate). It was an empowering set, drawn mostly from his stunning new album, The Brown Girl and Other Folk Songs and his next songs of sorrow project. Difficult in the sense that it confronts one of the “elephants in the room” of tradition, the lack of songs that tell the story of the black experience in English folksong. Opening with The brunette girl, one of the few traditional songs to tackle the subject, a story of racism and revenge, it was a stunning acapella reading, showcasing Angeline’s remarkable voice. More heartbreaking songs followed, including Unknown African boy (died 1830) – the title speaks for itself – and, while the set was a wake-up call for the audience, Angeline herself was warm, illuminating and engaging. Set beside the River Thames with a stage surrounded by trees, Walton’s Birds happily joined Angeline. They taste good.
There was no escaping English weather, however. So the arrival of The outer track was doubly welcome as it kept the crowd dancing in the drizzle. My 10 year old son was successful all the way. He even got a shoutout for his moves from Teresa Horgan, the band’s lead vocalist and whistle-player. The pandemic meant The Outside Track hadn’t played together in two years. With band members scattered across Scotland, Ireland and Cape Breton, it was no surprise. But their infectious mix of violin, accordion, harp, guitar, flute and whistle has not diminished. They were great as usual and you could feel the band’s joy of being together on stage, especially in the upbeat dance numbers such as Road To Rollo Bay, The Cape Breton Set and Drilling. The logistics mean they don’t tour regularly, so if they’re at a club or festival near you, move heaven and earth to be there.
Polly Paulusma performed songs by invisible music scrapbook (reviewed here), a collection of traditional folk songs that influenced novelist Angela Carter. We were entitled to The Maid and the Palmer, jack munro and Lady Isabel and the Elven Knight. Polly’s singing is distinctive and her more contemporary voice breathes new life into these old folk tales, just as Angela Carter has achieved through her songwriting. Polly’s songwriting matched these old songs easily; particularly She moves secretly and On the hill. Some excerpts of songs from his next album, The pivot on which the world turnssuggest she’s back to her songwriting best.
Luckily the rain stayed away for the final act, Kin of Wildwood, another number that I had never seen live, and they were magnificent. The sound they create together is awesome. They performed a number of favorites including Wake up Sleeper, Never alone, beauty in brokenness which thrilled the crowd, many of whom danced throughout their set.
What a highlight! A stimulating, informed and thrilling day of music. The Walton Folk Festival‘s mission is to present and celebrate the best in cutting-edge and contemporary folk, roots and acoustic music. Mission accomplished.
Awaiting announcements of the 2023 festival, the Riverhouse Barn in Walton will present its fall concert series indoors with Road not taken on Sunday September 11 and the welcome return of Peter Knight’s Gigspanner on Saturday, November 5with more to announce.
before it is a very special concert by songwriter Tobias Ben Jacob (half of Jacob and Drinkwater). Jacob will perform songs from his superb 2020 CD, REFUGE, a vibrant album of electronica-tinged story-songs inspired by people at the heart of the global refugee crisis. The show will also raise funds for CED’s appeal in Ukraine. Tickets from the links above and on riverhousebarn.co.uk