Dave Woodhall attends the opening day of the Moseley Folk & Arts Festival.
One of these years I’m going to make all three days of the Moseley Folk & Arts Festival, to give its full title. 2023 is another one where a day, or rather an evening, was all I could manage so it was a case of making the most of a crowded schedule covering just about every form of creative activity in the all-too-short time between arrival and curfew.
As ever, film, theatre, poetry and a myriad of musical styles filled Moseley Park. There’s no point in having pre-conceived ideas; better to have a walk around and see where the mood takes you. For example, a man with a plastic bag over his face talking to a local author might sound more niche than mainstream festival fodder but this was Carl Chinn and Irish podcaster Blindboy, which meant standing room only at the Speakers Corner stage.
Carl was explaining the Peaky Blinders phenomenon to an outsider, who returned the favour by talking about how Black Sabbath changed the musical world. It’s accepted fact that their music was forged in the metal-bashing industries of Birmingham (the “orchestra of the factory” as he put it) but to explain how their upbringing in the immediate post-war era struck a chord with Americans during Vietnam was something I, nor the audience, had thought of before.
Unusually for Moseley, where an appearance of makeshift amateurism belies a well-oiled and thoroughly professional operation, this new double act over-ran, which meant I missed the opening numbers of folk rock legend Graham Nash’s set. By now the sun was going down and the old folkies that still make up a large proportion of the festival’s regular audience were enjoying their man in idyllic surroundings.
Marrakesh Express is slowed down from the Crosby Stills & Nash version while the anti-Putin Find the Cost of Freedom and Military Madness were well-received by listeners who’ve been railing against wars since Vietnam. There were kind words for the recent passing of David Crosby, whose death Graham described as surprising – “We expected him to die decades ago,” as the audience mood changed with the song from rapt attention to joyful participation. In less environmentally-friendly times they would have got the cigarette lighters out for Our House. Now they hold hands and smile. Into his ninth decade, Graham Nash still has the voice to make you do just that.
Back up the hill to Speakers Corner for a burst of stand-up, with compere Phil Pagett rueing having to start relying on medication as you’re getting into your not-yet old age. Brummie comic Tal Davies spoke graphically about the perils of taking in a rescue stick insect while Daliso Chapanda, surely the finest Zambian-born Malawi comedian in the country, relived the aftermath of finishing third in Britain’s Got Talent and trying to avoid a follow-up TV appearance on Dancing on Ice.
Listening to this meant missing out on much of singer-songwriter Louie Miles, former winner of the Janice Long Bursary and making his second appearance on the stage that bore her name. He went down well, receiving generous applause not only from a healthy crowd watching him but also from many of the growing numbers in front of the main stage while they were awaiting the evening’s headliners.
Squeeze are the ideal band for such an occasion. Bona-fide national treasures and with a back catalogue that everyone knows, they took to the stage and put in a slick performance of their greatest hits and more. Take Me I’m Yours was the opener, followed by Hourglass. In passing reference to the name of the festival, Glenn Tilbrook called Up the Junction “the nearest thing to a folk song” the band have ever recorded,
There were a few lesser-known songs in with the favourites. Difford and Tilbrook might sound and dress like a market town accountancy practice when in reality they’re perhaps the best songwriting partnership Britain has produced in the past fifty years and that amount of time together is also reflected in their polished stage act. Chris takes over the vocal duties a few ties, Glenn shows off some nifty guitar work, particularly on Another Nail In My Heart.
After a few mellower moments Electric Trains brings the mood of the crowd back up and from then on the band hit the home straight to the delight of a crowd where dancing stretches back to the far reaches of the park. Annie Get Your Gun, Pulling Mussels From a Shell, Is That Love, Tempted, Cool For Cats. There’s scarcely a band in existence who could be entertaining the crowd all night then pull that lot out.
Without bothering to go offstage the extended sort-of encore Black Coffee in Bed, complete with band intros and solos, brings the day’s entertainment to an end. Whatever it might be called, the festival in Moseley Park over August Bank Holiday can’t be accurately labelled, except as quality throughout.