I won’t go into the long and arduous preparations that actually went into the organising of our inaugural all day charity roots music festival as it would take way too long, and as a lot of you will know I’m not averse to a ‘war and peace’ type introduction or two (unwittingly I may add!) along the way, but suffice to say there was a mountain of things to sort before the actual day itself could happen, and without Donna, Lloyd and Liam (my awesome family) they probably wouldn’t have been done on time! It’s essential that things are planned as meticulously as possible, that way it will minimise the chances of something going wrong on the day, and if and when it does, you’ll know how to cope with the problem. And as most of you will also know, the day went off pretty much without a hitch.
Let’s concentrate on the day itself – or even the night before, when both Donna and I were in the Tower at 7 o clock the night before, setting up the stage, arranging the main hall for the daytime event and getting the artists green room as ready as possible to receive an army of hungry and thirsty musicians who were, amazingly, all donating their talents and music for zero recompense.
The following morning Liam and I were down again at the Tower, this time setting his drum kit up. It was to be the communal kit, which would be used by both The Jamie Freeman Agreement and The Jigantics (and also by Liam himself for his guest appearance on two numbers with The Jigs). Time then to go briefly home for some breakfast, then back down by 10 o clock for the rest of the day.
Between 10 and 12 it was a case of the Histio charity bods (Lynne and Mark) sorting the charity promotional stuff, our wonderful volunteers and I loading the PA system in and generally getting things ready, and Ron and Jean helping Donna get the mountain of food in for the daytime and evening acts. Even during that lull before the storm, generous people were popping in with cakes and pizzas for the bands and just in some cases staying to lend a helping hand which was so much appreciated by us all. Come opening time at 12, the venue was ready to roll and from then on the whole day just whizzed by in a blur.
The Cantilena Youth Choir, led by the indefatigable Gareth Howells, proved to be a great way to start the day as they sang their hearts out, outside of the Tower with lots of people stopping to listen to them and giving them hearty applause between numbers. And this opening impact was doubled, as as soon as the choir had finished, the infectious traditional irish folk sounds of The Courtiers started to draw people into the venue and by the time of their 2nd number, the place was fair packed with people enjoying a beer and some lively foot tapping tunes.
“Whispering” Dan Ogus produced a typically wholehearted set – Dan has a big voice to match his big hair, and he certainly didn’t disappoint the packed crowd. Likewise young Joe Houghton-Gisby, who for such a young lad wasn’t fazed at all by the audience, and had the crowd in the palm of his hand with a sublime set of acoustic blues that displayed his guitar virtuosity and mature vocal style to good effect.
We were fortunate in that we had previously seen Jonas & Jane, so we knew what to expect from this wonderful duo who sing and play old-style around a single microphone. With their roots based firmly in bluegrass, Charlie and Katherine proceeded to wow the throng with a beautiful set that ranged from the sublime to the full on singalong, and as there was a little time to spare (unusually!) they even managed to sneak a deserved encore in, as the audience wouldn’t let them finish! Carrying on in the traditional bluegrass mould, local trio Wood, Wire & Words cranked things up another notch playing tunes from their newest album “It’s A Barbecue Day”, and continuing to enthral the people that had gathered. Full kudos to David for his sterling vocal and guitar efforts as the poor man was struggling even to walk – but with his wife Clare and father-in-law Pat, they still managed to pull together a sumptuous 30 minute set.
Then, still miraculously on time, it was the turn of our headline act for the afternoon, Fleetwood Cave (aka Marion Fleetwood and Gregg Cave) to stun a packed Tower with a gorgeous selection of songs that delighted our ears and soothed any aching limbs. Here were two top quality musicians and songwriters on top form, interacting beautifully with their audience – it’s always a joy to see musicians clearly enjoying what they’re doing and Marion and Gregg proved to be the perfect headline act to close the daytime part of the show. A class act.
It was time then to close the venue for a couple of hours to the public, while the main hall was set out again for the evening ticketed event, and also it was time for the evening acts to arrive for their sound checks. Condensing 5 acts into basically an hour and a half for sound checks was fraught from my point of view as I always had my eye on doors open time, but the professionalism of all the acts and Andy Thomas our over-worked PA technician, ensured that doors did indeed open only a few minutes late for the new audience to put in and grab their seats for an evening of non-stop top quality roots music.
Gareth Howells (again!), his 15 year old son Louis, and Dillon, collectively known as Time’s Effect, had played relatively few gigs prior to opening the evening part of the show, but we’re really pleased that they were able to do this for us. Gareth as many of you may know, is the main driving force behind local roots band Bemis, and is undisputedly an excellent songwriter in his own right, having written many cracking tunes that would grace anyone’s collection. And as expected, they didn’t disappoint – and I’m sure Gareth won’t mind me saying that Louis is a real star in the making with a lovely voice that will only get better with time and experience. He may even outdo his dad one day!! And local singer songwriter Megan Linford continued the feel-good vibe with a sweet three song set that oozed promise as well as charm.
Then it was time for our three main acts of the evening. The Jamie Freeman Agreement are a band that we here at Square Roots rate very highly indeed. I’m sure that Jamie is tired of hearing that he is a highly underrated songwriter – but he is! This man writes great songs, it’s as simple as that really. Their set was balanced perfectly, with just the right amount of punchy electric riffery, short, sharp, tight as a nun’s chuffer, imaginative, with enough melodies to send your head spinning. And of course they possess the coolest bass player around in Emma! No wonder people were raving about the band’s set after – the new songs sounded very strong indeed which bodes well for the new album when it finally comes out. I was also very touched, and a little choked up, when Jamie dedicated the bands last song, “Scrabble In Afghanistan” to yours truly. I love that song anyway and it was a lovely gesture.
Our good friends Porchlight Smoker were one of the first bands to volunteer their services for this charity show, and of course we were thoroughly delighted as we have had them play twice for us before at the Tower, and both times they have sold the place out. This band know how to put on a great show and as we knew they wouldn’t disappoint, and naturally they didn’t! They had people clapping and cheering from the off as their bluegrass/americana/rootsy mash up is an intoxicating brew, guaranteed to bring a big smile to your face. Fred, Scott, Scott and Steve left the crowd clapping and cheering wildly, as if saying to The Jigantics – follow that!
And The Jigantics did exactly that! Here are a band that are just jammed full of genuine top line players and songwriters. Here at Square Roots we have long believed that they are one of the best live bands around on the americana / roots circuit, and I’m sure that those in the audience who hadn’t seen them before would now be of a similar opinion. These boys (and girl) know how to put on a show, so from the moment they hit the crowd with their opening number “Swimming Song” we knew it was going to be another special set. Which indeed it turned out to be – they even found time to bring Liam on to play drums on 2 numbers (“Water In The Well” and “Bad Liver & A Broken Heart”) – Martin (Jigantics) has know our Liam since he was a little ‘un, and had asked him if he’d be up for playing as guest drummer for a couple of numbers, which of course Liam was absolutely chuffed to do so. Marion even quipped “now that Liam’s on stage, the average age of the band has just halved!”.
It was left then finally for The Jigantics to bring as many of the nights musicians up onto the stage as possible, for a rousing and emotional encore of “The Weight”, with verses admirably taken by Gareth Howells, Dan Ogus, Mark Cole, Gregg Cave and Fred Gregory (i’m trying to forget my brief stage appearance!). It was a fitting way to end an amazing day, with musicians and audience alike singing away at the top of their voices for a fabulous cause.
Promoters, musicians and audience, all coming together to produce an amazing team effort for the common good. Thanks everyone. It’s a day and night I won’t forget and that’s down to all of you. One very humbled promoter finally climbs into his bed at 1am…..zzzzzzzz……
Photos – mostly by Gareth Howell’s wife Ali! Thanks Ali, brilliant photos!