Stainsby Festival could be forgiven for slipping into the comfort zone of middle-age – at 43 years and still going strong, it’s older than Glastonbury, outlived many similar spectacles and survived the wrath of Mother Nature.
No matter how many times you support the north Derbyshire event, you’ll see something new, something with the wow factor, something that will make you want to return next year.
Innovation and inspiration are words synonymous with Stainsby Festival, both coming over loud and clear in the 2011 event at Brunts Farm, near Heath, last weekend.
Sunday’s line-up featured two bold moves – a hip-hop/folk band whose pounding beats went down a storm with the teenagers and a historical creation about the north Derbyshire pioneers whose vision built outstanding communities for working people.
Dizraeli and the Small Gods were the band that changed the face and the pace of the Sunday afternoon concert.
The big question was: could a band with its roots in hip/hop win over an audience with more traditional tastes?
They could and they did, big style! As frontman Dizraeli pointed out: “Hip-hop music is folk music for my generation.”
Their set was packed with firsts for Stainsby, from a hip-hop song with bagpipes, to a competition between DJ Downlow on the turntables and Philippe Barnes on the flute.
Rapping storyteller Dizraeli created an off-the cuff piece based on random words yelled out by the crowd, which summed up the festival: Stainsby, love, tankard, moshpit.
Earlier in the day, the production of Love, Life and Liberty, hosted by the Town and Country Planning Association, took spectators on a magical history tour via poetry, readings and songs from the 17th Century through to present day, addressing political, social and artistic matters which are as relevant now as they were hundreds of years ago.
The intellectual and thought-provoking production was narrated by Hugh Ellis who injected plenty of local colour and humour into his well-researched script. Spectators found out that in the 1890s, the socialist and philosopher Edward Carpenter, then chairman of Millthorpe Parish Council and a friend of the designer and artist William Morris, ran a commune promoting sex, naturism and vegetarianism.
This easy-going stroll through time was the perfect antidote to the 21st century musical mayhem of the night before.
Stainsby favourites Loscoe State Opera played a storming gig in the main marquee which fired up the fans and inspired some to dance outside in the chilly night air.
In the tent, the atmosphere was like being on board a ship, with frontman Ben Daglish resembling a flute-playing Captain Jack Sparrow. Wind rippling across the roof of the marquee gave it the appearance of a galleon on the high seas.
The beat-laden buccaneers plundered the treasure chests of folk and punk as they took the moshpit mass on a voyage of discovery.
Can-throwing punters came close to causing mutiny, with a warning that the band might pull the plug on their show because liquid and electricity were a dangerous combination.
The previous act, Chris Wood took issue with a group of noisy children. He said: “I am struggling to remember all the lyrics with the creche at the front. Is it possible to move all the kids to a different place?” With the burden of guilt weighing on his mind, he later said: “I will sing for all the kids I have just evicted,” before launching into ‘Hard’ written about his six-year-old daughter.
Chris’s well-crafted set of songs inspired by poems, news items and love stories - as well as an unseasonal While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night - reflected a man of great talent whose passion for performance earned him BBC2’s Folk Singer of the Year 2011.
The Top Shelalahs lived up to their name with a cracking set which mixed first-class acapella singing and musical expertise with gentle humour.
A mesmerising opening number in which they sung unaccompanied, providing percussion with hand-clapping and tapping on shoulders and thighs saw one spectator mimicking their every move. Just a shame about the noisy crowd at the back of the tent who preferred to chat rather than listen to sublime singing.
The lady with the toughest job at Saturday’s concert was Liv Torc, performance poet and compere. Not only did this supremely talented and immensely likeable wordsmith delight the crowd with her verses about living beards, hideous wallpaper and colourful bunting, but she also wrote poems about her fellow entertainers while they were performing.
Lucy Ward brought Sunday afternoon’s sunshine into the main marquee, with a personality as colourful as her turquoise hair and a rapport with the audience as warm as her dazzling smile.
One of Derbyshire’s rising folk stars, she kicked off her show with a song based on a true-life story of a poverty-stricken woman who tried to avoid the workhouse at Shardlow by setting up home in a box on a village green in Little Eaton. Other gems included her tribute to Mike Watterson in A Stitch In Time, self-penned Adelphi from the new album and a singalong version of Blur’s anthem Tender.
One of the biggest cheers of the festival went to Vin Garbutt, Stainsby legend and Teesside Troubadour (the latter is the name of his latest album), No matter how many times you see him - and he has performed at the festival on several occasions during the past 40 years - he never ceases to entertain. He intersperses his sensational singing and magical musicianship with amazing tales of his devoted fans, one of whom was rescued from a ship during the Libyan revolution and turned up at his gig that night, and amuse with his views of holidays in Tunisia and Benidorm.
Vin’s songs shone like jewels in the festival crown, with my top three favourites being Neither Wife Nor Widow, Believe Me Of All Those Enduring Charms and Silver and Gold.
A living legend playing at a legendary festival - Stainsby doesn’t get better than this. Roll on next year.