Superb line-up at this year’s Gate to Southwell Folk Festival


The Gate to Southwell Folk Festival is one of the highlights of the musical year in Nottinghamshire. We caught up with festival director Mike Kirrage ahead of the four-day event which starts on 5th June. 

For people who have never been to the Gate to Southwell Folk Festival what can they expect from the event?
The Gate to Southwell Folk Festival is one of the best and most eclectic music festivals in the Midlands attracting over 5,000 visitors over four days in June. Whilst English and Celtic music remain at the core we have now expanded to embrace international artists and other roots music forms. Southwell has built a reputation for seeking out exciting new talent and providing something a little different. Quality remains the watchword so whether it’s country or gypsy jazz, ska or rockabilly, bluegrass or punk, traditional or contemporary, it’ll be good.

Tell me about some of the musical acts performing this year . . . 
Sally Barker, runner up in BBC1’s The Voice, will be a major attraction. Singer/songwriter Sally performs with all-women act, The Poozies, adding to the festival’s strongest line-up so far of female roots music talent. Moya Brennan, the voice of Clannad – who received the Lifetime Achievement Award 2014 – visits Southwell for the first time with her own family band (husband Tim and children Aisling and Paul) en route to performing at Glastonbury. She’ll also collaborate with The Henry Girls, who come from Moya’s home county of Donegal. Among an eclectic array of over 50 acts appearing over four days, there’s Folksinger of the Year winner Bella Hardy, plus Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar (Horizon Award) and the Mischa Macpherson Trio the Young Folk Artists Of The Year. And of course we have some great headline acts in The Bills and The Sojourners from Canada, England’s Feast of Fiddles and the Scottish folk-supergroup Treacherous Orchestra .

As well as music, what else can people enjoy during the festival?
There’s always a great variety of events going on at the festival site (near the National Trust Workhouse in Southwell) and also in the town itself. Dance displays remain a popular part of the festival with the emphasis on variety and entertainment. Ceilidhs or other social folk dances take place each day with a late night silent folk disco as a new introduction this year. Children’s activities are aimed to be educative and fun with our own instrument workshops, and various other hands on opportunities. Family entertainment and comedy always includes a liberal dose of Street Theatre and ‘walkabouts’ as well as storytellers and musicians. There’s also a beer and cider festival, a sculpture trail, an indoor market with food and craft stalls and much more.

I understand the festival will also include the premier of a folk opera written by Mick Ryan which will be performed as part of the Great War centenary commemorations. Could you tell me more about?
Mick’s folk opera uses original songs, spoken verse, monologue and dialogue. His piece, entitled A Day’s Work, tells the story of a group of farm labourers, members of a mummers’ team, who join up, or refuse to join up, and meet finally on the first day of The Somme. The opera examines war, love, courage and cowardice. Originally written and performed in 1995, with great success on the folk scene and beyond, this revival for the Great War centenary uses a re-written script, with some additional, newly composed, songs and a cast of well known and highly respected, performers including Mick Ryan, Paul Downes, Maggie Boyle, Pete Morton, Greg Russell, Matt Quinn and Heather Bradford.

Are there camping facilities available for people who want to stay for the whole weekend?
Yes there are really good camping facilities for the festival weekend. For full details visit the website.

The festival has become one of the highlights of the year in Nottinghamshire. Could you tell me about its history and how it has grown?
From its humble beginnings in 2007 as primarily an English folk music and dance festival, Southwell has evolved into one of the leading and most innovative folk events in the country. Now in its eighth year, it’s clearly going from strength to strength having received a prestigious Festival of the Year award from influential Fatea magazine. It’s even been described as “the biggest little folk festival in Britain”.

What have been your most memorable festival moments over the years?
There have been so many over the eight years. We’ve had some fantastic musical moments, including Jools Holland’s visit in 2012 and the anarchic brilliance of Bellowhead, plus great performances last year from established acts like the Oysterband and Show Of Hands, the amazingly entertaining Canadians Gordie Mackeeman & His Rhythm Boys . . . and Eliza Carthy & Jim Moray’s Wayward Tour. But we’ve also gained a reputation for bringing on rising talent, such as Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar and Lucy Ward. Most important it’s about seeing festival goers of all ages enjoying the overall festival experience. We can’t guarantee the weather but if the sun shines as it did last year it’ll be a brilliant few days again.

Why do you think the festival has become so successful?
It’s just such a great, relaxed, small festival featuring some of the best artists on the folk and roots scene in the UK and internationally at the moment. It’s really good fun and seems to attract a really friendly crowd who appreciate their music, dance and other family activities.

What is it about the town of Southwell that makes it the perfect place to host a festival like this?
It’s a beautiful market town in a really picturesque part of Nottinghamshire. Aside from the famous Southwell Minster, the workhouse and races, there’re good shops, cafes and pubs, and the locals are genuinely lovely welcoming people. For anyone interested in music and dance, I think it’s a fantastic place to visit and spend the weekend. If you want to take your kids to a music festival, I’d recommend coming to Southwell in June because it’s small, safe and incredibly entertaining.

Do you have anything else you’d like to say about the event?
Get yourself along to Southwell from June 5th to 8th and enjoy this great Nottinghamshire experience!

You can buy your tickets for the event via the Nottingham Tourist Centre and the festival website.

Posted on 28 May 2014
Featured author: Catherine Allen Marketing Assistant

Arts fan, runner and cyclist who has been living in Nottingham for more than a decade. Loves real ale, craft beer, good food, travelling and sausage dogs.

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