Underneath the Stars - Review
Billed as a family-friendly festival and certainly living up to its claim, Underneath The Stars Festival, at Cinderhill Farm, near Cawthorne is also very popular with the not so young.
As well as music, it has arts, crafts, workshops and excellent food stalls whether you're a meat or a plant eater and the beer tent was a revelation – so many cask ales, and I was driving.
The atmosphere is laid back with plenty of room to wander around and sit down at will.
On Friday evening we took in a singing class – learning one of my favourite hymns, Hallelujah in five or possibly six-part harmony and it sounded amazing. A quick visit to the small marquee to catch the CC Smugglers who delivered a hugely engaging performance then it was time to queue up for The Proclaimers.
We ended up right near the front of the stage with the ‘superfans’ who knew every word and sang and danced with abandon. The Reid brothers may not be the skinny young lads that took the world by storm in 1987 but they are still in magnificent voice and delivered a fantastic set with plenty of crowd-pleasers.
Saturday was a full day of doing and seeing things and hearing some fabulous sounds.
Jo May’s Spoons workshop was immense fun, with a selection of plastic, stainless steel and olive wood spoons handed out to the audience. The percussionist trained at the RCM and started out with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and her music on the spoons in schools and at festivals has, err, tapped into an unusual but rhythmic vein.
Baskery was another melodic head-turner. The sisters Greta, Stella and Sunniva Bondesson from Sweden gave us a lovely, folksy twist on Americana rock, easy to listen to, making them global festival favourites.
Tyneside’s The Unthanks, sisters Rachel & Becky Unthank, also have a big following from the public and other musicians for their plaintive, folky musical mix, since their debut album won Mojo’s folk album of the year in 2005. Lovely stuff, reflecting their independent Border Reiver roots.
We also caught Chris McShane who had a full house for his ukulele workshop, with dozens of ukulele players in the audience following the string virtuoso, who studied music at Huddersfield University and later a teaching diploma from Rockschool and has just released his first album.
Jamie Francis, banjo, and percussionist Evan Carson in The Sam Kelly Trio were the nucleus of Sam’s band, The Lost Boys. They blasted out great music, ending with a great take on The Chain. Sam was also on stage with Ruth Notman, celebrated folk musicians, and their solo album Changeable Hearts, recorded at Kate Rusby’s Pure Records studio and produced by her husband Damien O’Kane.
Coleraine’s O’Kane “with family and friends” filled the stage. I counted up to ten musicians, maybe more, including his parents, sisters, brothers - the first mass gathering since the turn of the century.
The most laughs came from The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican, Alan, Björn and Scott from Barnsley who have carried on the crooner’s love of knitwear and elaborate hair - and then some. Their witty parodies and talented work on accordion, banjo, fiddle, mandolin and guitar had the tent jumping: viz, The Lady in Greggs. Wonderful.
It took Barking’s raucous Billy Bragg to cram out the big tent, standing room only for his almost-spoken, almost tune-free, harsh lyrics and much better rocking guitar. Introduced as “the hardest working man“ in the business he opened with Mr Sexuality and closed nearly 90 minutes later, having scarcely drawn breath, with his epic A New England. In between he made a savage blast at Boris and Donald and then took a swipe at Morrissey. The audience seemed on-side.
Kate Rusby and her team have been running these not-for-profit festivals since 2014, taking their name from her song, Underneath the Stars. Kate headlined on Sunday night but sadly we could not be there due to a clash of commitments.
Still, there's always next year. It takes place From July 31-August 2, 2020.
Details at https://underthestarsfest.co.uk