Keys to the park

A fine hay-rollin’, cider-sloshin’ weekend was had by Martin Longley at the Moseley Folk Festival.

Rapidly approaching its 10th birthday, this three-day weekender cannily takes advantage of the steep amphitheatre nature of a usually semi-private Moseley Park. It’s an ideal setting, with a small lake glistening just behind the stage, crowded enough to achieve atmospheric mass, small enough to allow pleasing amounts of body-space.

Definitions of ‘folk’ are stretched, unless all of popular music is deemed to be of a wandering troubadour persuasion. The outbreak of rampant fiddle-sawing during electro-folkster trio Lau’s Sunday evening set was almost shocking. The manifestation of traditional music during this weekend was mostly in the form of diaphanous female vocals, set in a minimalist pool of instrumental calm. This lent an extra force to some of the more robust musical outbreaks.

Much of the fest involved reclined grazing on the slope, but interspersed with certain acts that demanded standing right down at the stage-lip, for maximum involvement. The unified English-and-Scottish Lau were prime amongst these, their tunes steeped in trad, yet delivered with a rocktronica mentality.

Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore was instructed to leave his latest ear-ripping combo in London, so obliged with a solo set on 12-string guitar. He uncannily re-shaped rockers into ballads, emulating his accustomed waves of feedback with the ring of an acoustic string-cascade. Grey Wolf, a Ludlow trio, represented old time banjo-clatter, whilst the dance-inducing, partially South African Count Drachma employed a Zulu vocabulary, re-jigged into indie-funk form.

Brooklyn quartet Woods provided an outstanding booster of duelling-guitared psychedelic country, and then New York’s Felice Brothers continued the trend for pumped-up folk rockin’. Richard Thompson headlined on the Saturday with 90 minutes of his usual classic-filled songbook.

Sunday afternoon was particularly gauzy, but if we were to enjoy female vocal ethereality, this was best left in the hands of US singer/guitarist Marissa Nadler, whose set was akin to a single long song, suite-like in its cumulative seductiveness. The London Ceilidh crew Cut A Shine distributed bales of hay, leading to a hearty straw-fight for most of the kiddies in the park.

Another fest-joy was to chance upon unfamiliar artists, such as Malvern singer/guitarist Sam Walter, with his dramatically enunciated delivery of songs in both English and Swahili, creating a unique Afro-sea shanty vibration.