A Music Weekend in the Midlands: Gate to Southwell Festival 2018

The Gate to Southwell Festival (7-10 June 2018) was a last minute addition to my summer festival calendar this year and a really pleasant surprise! Having arrived from London via Nottingham by train it was a mere five-minute walk from Rolleston station to the festival site. Intriguingly, our designated stewards camping was located on the grounds of the Rolleston racecourse, so I set up my tent next to the parade ring and the women’s toilets had a ‘lady jockeys’ sign on it and saddle holders installed on the walls.

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As I got to Southwell (pronounced as it looks by most locals and ‘Suthel’ seemingly by anyone else) a day early I hitchhiked into town to get supplies and had a look around the Minster, whose two impressive towers also feature on the festival logo. I also came across a few of the especially decorated gates, a lovely idea to link the festival with the town through the ‘decorate your gate’ competition (see this year’s winners, sisters Sophie & Caitlin, below).

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After a relaxing morning, I was based at the box office on Thursday afternoon until the night of Blues started at the Big Top. The standout artist of the night was Li’l Jimmy Reed, a 77 year-old living breathing blues machine, who came down from the stage a few times during his set to play amongst the audience (apart from the Frontier Stage with just a few benches strewn about, all festival venues are seated). There were also some more live acts on at the same time in the Barleycorn Stage adjacent to the main festival bar and I headed over there at around 10pm for a set by Banter, a quirky ceilidh band like no other witha self-proclaimed ‘disregard for musical boundaries.’

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The main festival takes place from Friday until Sunday night, so it makes sense to stay until Monday morning, which unfortunately wasn’t possible for me this time around. Despite the festival site not being huge, the four main stages are arranged in a way that there is almost no noise interference from the other tents, which is fantastic. I was back at the box office on Friday afternoon and by the time I was finished with my shift, a lot more festival goers had started to arrive. I had really been looking forward to seeing both Blue Rose Code and Don Mescall, but both sadly had had to cancel at the last minute. Instead I gave Mongoose, a young, all female band from Ireland a try as well as East Anglian folk and Americana band The Shackleton Trio. The Friday headliner was Lindisfarne, a Newcastle folk rock band hugely popular in the 1970s, and I finished off my night with a spot of ceilidh dancing with Banter at Hoofers, an indoor venue at the race course, just a hop skip and jump away from my tent.

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After a fairly quiet first two days, Saturday was packed with a busy programme in town and at the festival site. The sun was shining and when I got into Southwell on the festival shuttle bus (ca. 3km, Friday until Sunday, £2 return) the town seemed transformed. There was a bustling market in a central square and at 11am the Morris parade started winding its way along King Street with lots of lively music and colourful costumes, including Harlequin Morris (see pic below).

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There were also a number of free events for locals to get a taste of the festival artists and I’m so glad I caught one at the Final Whistle pub, a beautiful disused train station, where Americana artists Vivian Leva from Virginia and Riley Calcagno from Seattle (see pic below) played a short but wonderful set in the courtyard. They were my favourite festival find and I’m sure they’ll be back in the UK many more times.

GTSW The Final Whistle Pub

After getting back to the festival site, Saturday continued with a varied programme on the four stages, which included Canadian fiddling and step dancing sensation The Fitzgeralds, celtic-inspired contemporary folk band Ranagri (Fort of the Hare), whose danceable repertoire included a ‘Brexit Charleston’, and quirky US duo Truckstop Honeymoon, who I hadn’t seen live for a couple of years and had almost forgotten how great and funny their songs were. Another Americana highlight was the evening’s headliner Gretchen Peters with some fabulous new songs and an impressive back catalogue as well.

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On Sunday morning I made one last trip into town for a latte at The Old Theatre Deli, very friendly café with delicious food right in the centre of town before enjoying the final day of the festival. There were so many acts on at roughly the same time who I had not seen before that I decided to switch between the stages, which was unproblematic as there were always some spare seats in each venue. Despite missing the Sunday headliner Cara Dillon, as I was already on my train back to London by the time she was on, I caught lots of other good acts, such as Scotsman Kris Drever, blues and roots guitarist and singer Martin Harley, Lincolnshire duo The Rye Sisters as well as Canadian songwriter James Keelaghan with Hugh McMillan.

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My favourite event of the day, if not the weekend, was the Tune & Verse & Ditty Challenge, a sort of a celebrity musical pub quiz led by Keith Donnelly on the Frontier Stage. It included questions from the world of folk and roots music and beyond and the two competing teams consisted of some of the Young ‘Uns, Rod Clements of Lindisfarne and various other musicians playing the festival this weekend. I hope it’ll continue to be part of the festival programme in future years, do not miss as it was brilliantly entertaining.

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If you like your festivals small and relaxing where you never really need to worry about getting a good seat while still seeing to top class acts from the world of folk, roots and Americana music, Gate to Southwell is a great choice. There was also plenty of food to choose from (Thai, pasta, fish & chips, wood oven pizza, Leon’s vegetarian, bubble waffles, ice cream and an espresso stall) and two bars with seating. Families with children were also well catered for with lots of entertainment, such as the hilarious Dan the Hat with his juggling and comedy acts as well as stalls with toys and a kids area with a story tent, games, a van to decorate with paint and even a petting zoo. The animals included goats, giant rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens and tortoises and were well looked after. The festival offers a range of ticket options including ‘taster tickets’, which allow you to enjoy the festival during the day with family and friends, but exclude the main evening concerts. But would want to miss those impressive evening lineups?

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Rotterdam: Your Guide to the Vibrant Dutch Harbour City With a Big Heart

I was so glad this year’s Traverse 18 travel blogger conference took place in Rotterdam, as it gave me the perfect excuse to finally visit The Netherland’s largest harbour city. I had heard lots of good things from friends who have already been there and couldn’t wait to explore it for myself. The Traverse guys had lots of fun events lined up for us, such as a chocolate tasting at Chcocafe, a walking tour with Rotterdam Pages, a visit to both the Marriott Hotel (making the best of the great views from the top with a skyline photography class from Michael of London View Points) and the Hilton Hotel (where we had an Instagram workshop by local photographer Sabine Metz, got to see the Presidential Suite and a behind the scenes tour) and a barista master class with Ketel Binkie Coffee to name just a few.

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You don’t need to be a blogger to have a brilliant time in Rotterdam though. It’s a lively city full of positive energy known for its daring architecture and you can easily see all the sights on foot or by bike.

Join a Guided Walking Tour to Get an Overview

I went on a tour by Rotterdam Pages and it was fantastic! It was really fun and personal and our guides Hassan and Ferah seemed to have endless enthusiasm for their city, which was really contagious. They showed us all the main sights like the iconic Cube Houses, the harbour, the impressive Markthal market hall (see pic below, which also houses some apartments with amazing views) and some street art and it was a great introduction for doing some more exploring on our own.

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Explore the Inside of one of the Famous Cube Houses

I returned to the Cube Houses a few day afterwards as one is set up like a museum and it’s only €3 to visit. It’s not that spectacular, but for an interior design fan like myself, it was great to see the interior and how the shape of the building influences what kind of space you have available on the inside.

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Visit the Cat Café and Other Quirky Places

I also often enjoy checking out some more unusual places, like the local cat café. This one, Pebbles Kitty Cat Café is bright and spacious and when I arrived two Dutch bloggers were busy taking pictures and videos. There is a €2.50 ‘cat tax’ but the prices for coffee, cake and sandwiches are reasonable and it’s very clean, so no worries in terms of hygiene, plus the adorable kitties will leave you smiling for sure.

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Another great spot was the ChcoCafe (see pic below) with one location in the Markthal and a sit-down café in Oude Binnenweg. Imagine choosing from over 60 types of chocolate on a stick to dissolve in hot milk, chocolates of all shapes and flavours and lots of other goodies too hard to resist. You won’t want to leave!

I also like picking interesting places for lunch or dinner and another blogger had recommended Burgertrut (‘Burger Bitch’), which serves vegan, vegetarian and organic burgers and whose profits support the local art project Roodkapje. One of their employees has a cute chihuaha, but I missed him unfortunately. I asked them whether customers are OK with a dog (I most definitely would be!) and they said, if they are not, they can go somewhere else. Rotterdam is a lot like that. Openminded and practical locals who get on with their lives and enjoy it a lot.

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Have a Pubcrawl with an International Twist at Witte de Withstraat

As far as I could see, Rotterdamers are always out and about and there is a huge café and pub scene. Some of my favourite places for going out at night was (accidentally) the street I was staying in, Oude Binnenweg, with a handful of great bars (plus the chocolate café, see above, a cheese shop, bookshop and record shop), you can’t miss the street, it’s the pedestrian area right beside the ‘Santa Claus’ sculpture.

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The other area and the main party street is Witte de Withestraat a few blocks further down. There are restaurants with food from around the world as well as lots of local dishes, such as ‘kapsalon’ (literally meaning ‘barber shop’, but now a popular local version of a layered kebab with fries on a plate, veggie options exist, too).

See the City from the Water

Watertaxis are a popular type of transport in Rotterdam and they are super fast, imagine crossing the river like James Bond, just in a slightly smaller boat! When you visit the Maritime Museum, the ticket includes access to various ships anchored right outside it, which will give you unusual viewpoints to photograph the skyline. Once you’re tired from all the sightseeing, rent a Hot Tog with some friends, it’s like a hot tub turned into a boat and apparently they are coming to London soon.

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Have Breakfast on an Island in Katendrecht

For a bit of quiet time out, head to Kopi Soe Soe on the island of Katendrecht (easy to reach from the centre on foot, by bike or public transport) and start your day with coffee and cheesecake. This former fairly industrial area is now rapidly becoming popular and the Fenix Food Factory has many food stalls and other shops with creative things to browse.

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Spend a Morning in the Pretty Town of Delft

Lots of people recommended Delft to me and the return ticket was only €7.80, so I decided to go there for breakfast on Friday morning. I found a café online that came recommended due to its appeltaart, so Kuch Café was my first choice and it was lovely eating the still warm cake and sipping my latte watching the local square wake up. I then took a walk to the windmill, the two churches and along the small canals (nothing like Amsterdam or Bruges, but more chilled) before hopping on the train back to Rotterdam.

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Stay in a Cosy Hostel

There are lots of nice options to stay in Rotterdam and anywhere central is pretty much walkable, so take your pick. I stayed at a boutique hotel above a restaurant (which was fairly noisy, but the room was so cosy and sunny I didn’t really mind). I also often like to get a single room in a nice hostels, so you get a good night’s sleep, but also have the advantage of friendly company. Ani & Haakien is such a place, including a garden with a hammock and a sweet fluffy cat. Room was a hostel I spent a lot of time in as there was live music one night and one of our workshops, a fun barista class from Ketelbinkie Coffee took place there, too. King Kong Hostel on Witte de Withstraat also looked pretty cool with wooden furnishings and a huge terrace, perfect for soaking up the sun.

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Explore the Street Art around Town

I also loved how much street art there is in Rotterdam, one piece is even climbable (the first couple of meters anyway!). You can start exploring the side streets around Witte de Withstraat, but you’ll soon notice colourful murals and quirky sculptures everywhere.

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Cultural Events and Festivals Galore

While I visited I managed to catch a brilliant contemporary dance show (Tinkling 1), which was part of the Opera Festival, and I just missed a very fun sounding festival called the Rooftop days where you get access to rooftops for the best views of the city. There was also Rotterdam’s first vegan festival on while we were in the city, but there just wasn’t enough time for everything.

Grab some brochures from the tourist office, hostels or cultural venues and, most importantly, quiz the locals about the best places to go. In the Netherlands pretty much everyone speaks English, so it’s easy to get talking to people, e.g. when I saw a guy looking at a plaque (In Dutch) on a building and asked him what it was all about, he gave me a mini lecture about the history of this part of the city, which made him a bit late for work and completely made my morning.

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Yes, I’m a little bit positively biased because I got to explore Rotterdam with a bunch of other enthusiastic intrepid travel bloggers, but seriously, now that there is a direct three-hour train link from London and good links to lots of other European cities, there really is no excuse not to visit. Whether you’re into architecture, culture, art (there is a whole museum quarter, which is already on my list for next time), are a foodie, a coffee or animal lover, this lively place has it all. Don’t be deceived by its modern, edgy exterior, Rotterdam has a big heart and will make you feel welcome from the moment you arrive.

Are You a Yoga or Festival Newbie, or Both? Give World Yoga Festival 2018 a Try!

Here in the UK we’re blessed with many options for amazing yoga experiences pretty much all year round and, as far as I’m concerned, summer festivals are the best way of combining time outdoors in nature with learning new things in the company of other friendly people. You might be thinking, but I’m not a yogi (yet) or I’m definitely not a camping person. I felt the same way a couple of years ago. Now I enjoy both so much that I wanted to give you a heads up to give them a try this summer. Who knows, you might just have found your new passion in life!

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One of the most inspiring yoga festivals around is World Yoga Festival, taking place for the third time this year at Beale Park, near Reading, from 19 until 22 July 2018 and founded by Ram and Sonali Banerjee. It focuses on traditional yogic wisdom attracting incredible speakers and teachers from India, the UK and beyond while feeding you the most yummy vegetarian and vegan food to fuel your weekend of relaxation and learning. I visited the festival for the first time last year (full review here) and was very impressed by the quality of teaching, the stunning serene setting as well as the welcoming and warm atmosphere all weekend.

Here is an FAQ on a few of the things people often mention to me when I talk festivals or yoga and they’ll hopefully help to put your mind at ease about giving a yoga festival a try this summer. You’ve got nothing to lose, but everything to win!

What are the essentials I need to bring to World Yoga Festival?

If you’re staying on site, bring your tent and anything you need to be comfy for a few days under the stars. Apart from essentials, such as your sleeping bag and your festival tickets, things that always come in handy are a sleeping mask and earplugs, sun cream or hot water bottle depending on the weather, flip flops, rain jacket and warm clothes for the evenings, swimming outfit (there is a beautiful lake!), bandaids, scissors, an extra battery for your phone, spare loo rolls, wet wipes and some sellotape. Don’t forget your yoga mat, of course (but if you do, you can purchase a shiny new one from one of the vendors), your refillable water bottle, as there is free drinking water on tap, some cash to pay for food during the weekend (most vendors also accept cards though). There are no cooking facilities in the camping area and nowhere to keep items cool, so either bring lots of fruit, veg and other simple snacks or enjoy sampling the delicious vegetarian food on offer. It includes South Indian, Tibetan and other healthy food options plus hot drinks and plant-based cocktails.

I don’t own a car, how do I get to the festival?

The site is close to Pangbourne train station and the festival offers a free shuttle to the site, but do check with them beforehand when it runs. You can probably walk it if you don’t have much luggage, it’s just over a mile. I used a local taxi company on my arrival day and put my name on the list for a shuttle on Sunday (sign up at the info table during the weekend).

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None of my friends feel like going to a yoga festival with me, what is it like attending by myself?

Festivals are fun, friendly events where people enjoy themselves and forget about their day jobs for a weekend. I almost always attend them by myself because it gives me the freedom to choose exactly how I want to spend my days and I still always end up meeting lots of like-minded people to have chats with over a meal, before or after classes. Don’t be shy to start a conversation with other festival goers like have they been before or what sessions can they recommend. There were so many different people of all ages and backgrounds at WYF last year, so it was a fantastic way to connect and exchange tips with others who are into yoga and meditation.

I’m a camping newbie and not too keen on the idea of sleeping in a tent and sharing showers. Will I still have a great time?

Absolutely! There are a few ways you can approach your first camping experience. Go with friends, bring your sleeping bag and let them organise the gear for you. Go just for a day without camping and walk around the campsite, talk to people and see what they pack and how big or small a tent would work for you. Stay for just one night. You’re probably crashed at a friend’s sofa before without much preparation and survived the experience, so think of it as an outdoor sleepover. If the weather is nice, a small/thin tent with just one layer is good enough. But bear in mind, that in this country the weather can often change quickly and the rain will get inside your tent if it doesn’t have two layers. I’ve been in this situation twice (obviously not having learned from it the first time around!) and it was a very uncomfortable, soggy and cold experience you don’t want to get in the way of enjoying your yoga experience.

I suggest: buy a smallish tent (mine is a ‘three men’ one, which despite its name just about fits myself and my gear), bring as little luggage as possible, but as much as you need to be comfortable. Even if you notice you’ve forgotten some essential item or need help setting up your tent when you get there, don’t panic, talk to your camping neighbours and most likely they are happy to lend you any spares they have, you can always treat them to a drink (no alcohol at WYF, but they had lots of delicious herb cocktails etc.) in exchange.

Regarding the showers, WYF has some of the best and cleanest ones around, no portaloos, but proper flushing toilets with sinks and mirrors (see my post from last year for pictures). As it’s a fairly small festival and the classes start early in the mornings people tended to not stay up too late, so I slept pretty well at night and you can always take a quick power nap after lunch, if needed. Plus there is a spa area by the lake for some serious chillaxing with many tempting pampering options on offer.

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I’m not sure if I can afford attending the festival, how can I still attend?

Most festivals offer a volunteering option, but you need to make sure you book your spot a good bit in advance. Here is all the volunteering info for WYF. If you do sign up, please be aware the festival team counts on every single individual and expects you to stick with your shift times and allotted job. However, especially if you’re attending by yourself, enjoy helping others and are good with people, it’s a great way of making new friends and getting to know a behind the scenes look at how a festival works.

There are so many great sounding sessions on offer, how am I supposed to know which ones are suitable for me?

The most important thing is to be realistic about how much you can fit in one day and make sure you plan in enough breaks. Unlike lots of other yoga festivals, WYF focuses less on a packed schedule of asana-based classes, but a lot more on personal growth and spiritual learning. While there are still plenty of physically challenging sessions on offer you can build up knowledge throughout the weekend by coming along to follow-up sessions by the same teachers or you can sample lesssons from lots of different styles and philosophical schools. I recommend reading up on the presenters before heading to WYF as it will give you a much better idea of whose classes are for you. All the teaching tents were spacious and airy, the perfect place for learning and relaxing. There is also some beautiful Indian live music scheduled for each evening in the main tent.

Upcoming festival highlights and booking information

This year’s line-up includes many of the very popular speakers from last year as well as some exciting new additions,such as Mumbai-based senior Iyengar yoga teacher Zubin Zarthoshtimanesh, Swami Ambikananda, founder of the Traditional Yoga Association of the UK, sound healer Sheila Whittaker, Vedanta teacher Swami Brahmavidananda Saraswati and Dr. Ramesh Pattni, a world renowned authority in yoga psychology. You can check out the provisional timetable and presenter biographies in advance. If you’d like to find out more about the festival’s philosophy and history, you can read my interview with directors Ram and Sonali Banerjee, whose calm and positive presence throughout the weekend clearly set the scene for the very pleasent atmosphere at WYF.

Tickets are available from the festival booking page and feel free to get in touch for  questions anytime. See you on the mat this summer!

Disclaimer: All photography used in this blog post was provided by World Yoga Festival.

 

 

Sunshine & Good Times: Folk Weekend Oxford 2018

The recent heat wave coincided perfectly with the seventh Folk Weekend Oxford (19-21 April 2018), which seems to get better every year. It’s one of those festivals where you might not know very many of the bands on the line-up beforehand, but which always delivers in terms of quality, fun and a friendly community feel, something many of the larger festivals simply cannot offer.

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Before my first stewarding shift on Friday night I had plenty of time for a pizza in the sunny backyard of The Rusty Bicycle pub and a leisurely stroll around the Cowley Road charity shops. Then I was off to St. Barnabas church in the Jericho neighbourhood, just north of Oxford City Centre. The ceilidhs always draw quite a crowd (up to 200 dancers) as the festival puts on fantastic live bands every year and this time was no exception. I was very impressed with the sound of Banter, one of the most quirky ceilidh bands I’ve come across so far, whose sound goes far beyond English traditional music including jazz, pop and soul influences. Unsurprisingly, they were a huge hit with the dancing crowd. The night also included a performance by local rapper (sword dance) team Mabel Gubbins.

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After an incredibly sunny Friday, I woke up to more sunshine and met up for breakfast with a friend for coffee and exceptionally good cake at Barefoot Café on Walton Street before checking out some of the morris spots around town for live dancing with sides from various traditions, including Black Annis Women’s Morris and their adorable canine mascot Hattie (see pic further down). Around lunchtime we headed to one of my favourite Oxford venues, the airy hall of the Quaker Meeting House for a concert of traditional folk music, which included Dan Evans and Rebecca Hallworth (see pic below). Dan is a renowned fingerstyle mountain dulcimer player who also held an interesting workshop on the history and different styles of instruments on Sunday afternoon.

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There was just enough time for dropping into Blackwells bookshop’s Norrington room for a set by young contemporary singer-songwriter Martha Bailey (see pic below) and a quick burrito dinner before my shift at the Wesley Memorial Church. The line-up consisted of Oxford vocal duo Hoverhawk, traditional singer Nick Dow and a solo set by one of the festival headliners, Eliza Carthy, who obviously drew the crowds for this event.

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On Sunday morning, during breakfast at the Nosebag restaurant, I got talking to another festival goer, who told me their Appalachian dance team, Cornucopia (see pic below), would be performing around lunchtime in the pedestrian area on Cornmarket. Their spot was one of my favourite performances all weekend and got a lot of positive reactions from locals and tourists alike. I then made my way over to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Centre where I caught half of the Topette workshop, a French-Anglo collaboration including Andy Cutting. They played some very beautiful dance tunes and spoke about the joys and challenges of working together across cultures and borders.

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As I had not managed to join any workshops yesterday, I decided it was time for some dancing on the festival’s last day. So I took part in the Harlequin Morris Cotswold morris workshop (hankies and bells) for an hour. After we had warmed up for a few minutes we got taught a routine of various steps, jumps and hanky movements accompanied by accordion music. Let’s just say it was an ‘interesting experience’ and is a lot harder than it looks, but I think I’ll stick to Irish set dancing in future. It was great to see, however, that the class attracted people of all ages, including some enthusiastic youngsters, and we did manage to learn a whole routine in the short time we had.

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My last event of the festival was a great ‘Meet the Artist’ session with Ross Couper (from Shetland, now based in Glasgow) and Tom Oakes (from Devon, now based in Edinburgh). I had last seen the pair play one of the BBC Seirm recording sessions at Celtic Connections back in January and had been well impressed by their energetic performance and expert use of fiddle (Ross) and guitar (Tom).

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Of course, I managed to only catch a fraction of the huge programme for all ages, which was on offer during the weekend. I love supporting smaller festivals and I’m always amazed at how entirely volunteer-run events, such as Folk Weekend Oxford, manage to pull off such a big event so well. It’s usually down to a lot of hard work by a dedicated committee and many volunteers (like Jo, Rosie & Penny in first picture) throughout the year.

I highly recommend visiting the beautiful city of Oxford (picture above is Christ Church) during the festival to see for yourself what a positive impact such a community event can have. You might come back with a new idea what grassroots arts are all about, get a more in-depth understanding of local heritage and culture and have a lot of fun with like-minded people!

Maverick Festival 2018 Preview

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The Maverick Festival launch event in London always feels like the start of summer festival season! Every March, the festival organisers present some great live acts, who this time included previous Maverick artists Don Gallardo (see below) and ‘The Living Bluesman’ Tom Attah (see last pic), to press and industry and you get to catch up with what everyone is up to over the summer months. Having said that, it’s hard to imagine summer ever coming back with the weather we have had here in the UK in the past few weeks. But I trust once June and July roll around, we’ll be in the mood for cocktails and ice cream again and some great live Americana from the UK, the USA and further afield.

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This year’s line-up is as tempting as ever. In just one weekend you can listen to lots of quality Americana, folk and country artists you already love and find some new favourites you had maybe never heard of before. I was really happy to hear to that the following singers and bands are all joining the line-up this year: Jonathan Byrd (US), Lachlan Bryan and The Wilds (OZ), who I somehow managed to miss last time, Anna Tivel & Jeffrey Martin (US), Southern Avenue (US), Bonnie Bishop (US) as well as awesome UK live bands like Danny And the Champions of the World, The Mountain Firework Company and The Vagaband.

There will also be a special feature with music from Hawaii, which I’m already super excited about, including the Hawaiian singer and dancer Kehau Kahananui. Other highlights include Nashville cult favorites The Cordovas, native Tennessean pianist and  songwriter Hans Chew and Arkansas-based Dylan Earl.

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The Maverick programmers always manage to book artists that had been on my list for quite a while and find Americana jems that I was glad I discovered at the festival. This year is no exception. I’m already looking forward to getting a chance to listen to The Local Honeys (US), Bonnie Bishop (US), The Most Ugly Child (UK), Imogen Clark (OZ), Arkansas Dave (US), and many more live at the farm this summer.

I’ve been to the festival quite a few times now and it’s been one of the most relaxed and  enjoyable outdoor events on my summer calendar ever since. Read my previous reviews and my top 10 reasons to attend to get an idea what the atmosphere is like. You can buy day tickets or stay for the whole weekend, which I recommend, of course, as it’s just a lovely place to hang out for a weekend.

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If camping is not your thing, you can book a nearby B&B, the closest train station is Woodbridge and Easton Farm Park is not too far from the sea and nestled in beautiful rural Suffolk countryside. On top of all that, it attracts a super friendly crowd, dogs are allowed at the festival site and there is some yummy food and drink on offer (think Suffolk cider and local ales), so you definitely won’t go hungry or thirsty.

Make sure you keep an eye on the Maverick Festival website for the full line-up so far and for any additional acts, which are likely going to be announced in the coming months.

Disclaimer: All photography in this blog post was provided by Sophie Boleyn Photography.

Sense of Place: Aye Write Festival Glasgow 2018

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When I left Glasgow in January after another excellent Celtic Connections Festival (see previous blog post) I was looking for a reason to return sometime soon. Luckily, Aye Write, which I’d had my eye on for quite a while, was taking place from 15-25 March 2018, so it was the perfect excuse to hop on a train back to Scotland.

I only had a couple of days to get a taste of the festival, but it was well worth it. All events I attended were fantastic with intriguing guests and cheerful, helpful staff and volunteers at every venue. Glasgow is one of the friendliest cities in the UK, so you’ll have a great time no matter whether you’re travelling on your own or with friends. Plus, all the city centre festival venues are walking distance from each other and you can do some sightseeing before or after the events.

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The first session I attended was in the Strathclyde Suite of the Royal Concert Hall. It was a celebration of Orain Ileach: Gaelic Songs of Islay, a brand new collection of songs from the Scottish island. The large room had more of a conference venue feel to it, but as soon as the two choirs, including the Glasgow Islay Gaelic Choir, and various solo singers got up on stage, it was almost like being back at Celtic Connections. Speakers included Ishbel MacTaggart from Islay, Kenneth Thomson, the conductor of Scotland’s oldest Gaelic choir, Ceòlraidh Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu, and Lynn McDonald, the editor of the book. I absolutely loved learning more about how musical traditions are actively being kept alive on the Scottish islands and are actually thriving through community efforts and engaging the younger generations as well.

The event which followed was completely different, but equally intriguing. Sarah Winman, author of Tin Man, who I’d last seen at a reading in Vancouver several yeas ago when she was promoting her bestselling first novel, When God Was A Rabbit, and Gail Honeyman, who lives in Glasgow and whose first novel Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine was an instant success. The two novelists were interviewed by another author, Zoe Venditozzi, and the hour allotted for their conversation just flew by. I was particularly intrigued by Gail mentioning that she wanted her novel to be set in Glasgow as she felt it is an immensely kind city, but often isn’t portrayed that way, which really struck a chord with me as I’ve also come to love Glasgow for that very reason.

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On Tuesday night I headed down to the Glasgow Film Theatre, a beautiful historic cinema in the heart of the city for a talk by Nick Triplow, author of Getting Carter, followed by a screening of the classic 1971 British crime movie. While the film had been a cult classic since the 1970s, the author of the book it was based on (Jack’s Return Home), Ted Lewis, remained an elusive character with a mostly troubled and tragically short life. I was in the minority of people on the night who had not seen the film before and must admit, it will not become one of my all time favourites. I can see its appeal to others, however, and very much enjoyed the interview with Nick Triplow, who had to overcome various obstacles in order to get this fascinating life story researched and published.

My last day at the festival also included lots of crime writing. I was at the Mitchell Library for two sessions, which each featured three crime writers, all new to me, and, as it turned out, all with very different writing styles and subject matters. I’m not a reader of crime novels ( just yet), but have been a big fan of crime drama since someone recommended ‘Shetland’ to me a few years ago, so was looking forward to getting an overview of the latest publications.

Both talks on the night included short readings from all authors, which gave us a real flavour of their style, subject matter and sense of humour. The main thing all of them had in common was how much real life influenced a lot of their writing. Either things that had happened to them personally or to people close to them or issues they deeply cared about. Ex-police woman Clare Mackintosh writes about ordinary people who deal with extraordinary circumstances in their lives, for instance an apparent suicide of both parents of the main character in her latest book Let Me Lie. Former news reporter and political correspondent Sarah Vaughan wrote Anatomy of a Scandal centering around a husband being accused of a terrible crime while serial killers and obsessive personalities are the topics ex-journalist Fiona Cummins successfully focuses on.

Aye Write Crime Authors 2018

The last session with Claire MacLeary, whose two female detectives ‘of a certain age’ are definitely some of the most quirky characters you will come across in the world of crime fiction, as well as Owen Mullen and academic and former solicitor Angus MacAllister centered around a sense of place and a connection to Glasgow. All three authors are either from the Scottish city or have lived there at some point and wrote books set there and had lots of fascinating anecdotes on their research and writing process for their novels.

During my whole time at the festival I tried to avoid sneaking a look at the pages in the programme with all the many tempting sounding events I was inevitably missing and everyone I met seemed to have a great time at the readings they attended. Apart from the main programme, Aye Write also includes a children’s festival, Wee Write, with lots of exciting events for all ages, as well as a number of complementary sessions, such as creative writing classes. It’s a book festival which reflects the city it takes place in: it’s down to earth and warm-hearted with a great sense of humour!

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with review tickets for select events. Opinions expressed are those of the author. Photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival with the exception of the Orain Ileach book cover photo. 

25 Years of Celtic Connections – The Anniversary Festival 2018

This year was the 25th anniversary of Celtic Connections in Glasgow (18 January – 4 February 2018) and the festival has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Year after year it attracts a huge number of visitors not just from Scotland and the UK, but also from other parts of Europe and further afield. As most of the concerts happen in the evenings, lots of visitors use the festival as an excuse to explore other parts of Scotland on day trips, which are easily accessible by train or bus from the city. Celtic Connections also always manages to get a lot of fantastic musicians together on stage for special collaborations, e.g. various tribute nights (Tom Petty, Songs of the Gael, Scotland Sings Canada), usually with an impressive all star line-up.

Lighthouse View CCFest 2018.jpg

This year I’d also decided to make it a proper holiday and stayed eight nights in total. I was a volunteer artist liaison for three concerts on three consecutive days right after I arrived, which kept me busy pretty much 24/7. My first concert was a night of outstanding traditional music with The Fretless (pic below), a Juno award-winning quartet from Canada with support from Scottish musician Ewan Robertson and friends at St. Andrews in the Square church. Glasgow has quite a few churches turned music venues and this one is one of the nicest. The next day I looked after Corb Lund from Canada and Hayes Carll from Texas, both country music artists. They shared the stage for their performance in another beautiful former church, St. Luke’s near the Drygate Brewery, north east of the city centre and it was a great night of Americana intersected with brilliantly funny banter.

The Fretless CCFest 2018.jpg

Most people don’t realise when they are attending shows as an audience member just how much work goes into putting on live music events. From pre-planning it months in advance, sorting out accommodation, transport and food to dealing with tech issues, merch logistics and all sorts of other bigger and smaller last-minute requests, like unexpected schedule changes (e.g. additional performances at the festival club on the night of the concert), lots of things can happen, which might require a change of plan.

The artists themselves might have just flown in from another continent, jet lagged and maybe missing parts of their equipment, having to do interviews with various radio stations and journalists on the go. So we’re always trying to give them the best experience and make things as easy for them as possible. If all goes smoothly, the artists will step on stage with a smile on their face, a perfectly tuned instrument in their hands and everyone will have an enjoyable night. And as a volunteer, you breathe a big fat sigh of relief that all your efforts and those of the festival staff have been worthwile!

My third concert as an artist liaison was Cara Dillon with support by The Fretless, in the New Auditorium right in the Royal Concert Hall. I had only seen Cara at Cambridge Folk Festival once before and it was fantastic to experience her beautiful, moving songs in a hall with great acoustics for a change. Her excellent band on the night included Sam Lakeman, John Smith and, for a few songs, The Fretless as well.

The RCH is a huge multi-space venue in the centre of Glasgow with a large, confusing web of hallways and backstage areas connecting the different performance spaces behind the scenes. From preparing dressing rooms, sorting out riders (carrying food, drink and ice buckets around), liaising between bands who are sharing a stage, organising access keycards, sharpies and blue tack to getting set lists printed, there is always a long list of to do items to tackle on the day of a gig. But it’s also really fun to work together on something exciting and then sitting back and seeing it unfold in front of you once all the work is done. Plus you get to hear the sound checks and get a much more in-depth experience of an event.

St Mungo by Smug CCFest 2018.jpg

On my days off I finally made it to the medieval Glasgow Cathedral from 1136, which is a beautiful space, and to the multi-faith Victorian Necropolis on the hill beside it. The winter light was amazing that day and once you climb to the top, it has some fantastic views across the city. So does The Lighthouse museum and art centre near the Central Station, take the lift to the 6th floor viewing platform and enjoy (see first pic in the post). I also took lots and lots of pictures of Glasgow’s many stunning murals, my favourite being the Modern Day St. Mungo by Smug (see pic above) on High Street, but they are all over town and there is a proper Mural Trail to follow, if you fancy it.

Glasgow Police Museum CCFest 2018.jpg

Another day I visited the small, but very informative Glasgow Police Museum staffed by friendly retired police officers. Glasgow had the first police force in Britain and as it’s a small two-room museum, you can easily add it to your schedule and learn some interesting facts about the city and its inhabitants past and present plus see a well-curated collection of uniforms through the ages and from quite a number of other countries, too.

I also attended more concerts. Dougie MacLean  (pic below) had a headline show (with support by Yvonne Lyon) in the Main auditorium of the Royal Concert Hall and I had made sure I had a first row seat for it. On Sunday night, I returned to St. Lukes to see The Barr Brothers from Montreal. They’ve had quite a few changes in their band line-up since I’ve last seen them and I’d also not heard their new songs live. But the beautiful church venue was the perfect backdrop and I especially enjoyed hearing favourites like Half Crazy and How The Heroine Dies. Andrew remarked how much they appreciated the quiet, respectful atmosphere, it was just a lovely night.

Dougie MacLean CCFest 2018.jpg

Hazy Recollections at the O2 ABC is an afternoon show curated by Findlay Napier and there are always some interesting artists to discover, this time including James Edwyn & The Borrowed Band from Glasgow. Having been to it three years in a row now in this venue, I still enjoy finding new artists, I just really think it deserves to be moved to a more atmospheric place, such as one of the church venues, rather than a nightclub during daytime.

I also had a lot of fun at the BBC Alba ‘SEIRM’ recordings I attended and managed to make it to all three this year. What’s so nice about it is that the Hillhead Bookclub in Glasgow’s West End is such a cosy venue and once you have a table you can enjoy the show without having to worry about people chatting in the background as it’s being recorded for TV and everyone has to be quiet (!) during the performances – perfect!

There are usually around four or five artists on between 6pm and 11pm and every single one this year was pretty amazing. They included US mandolinist and bluegrass singer Sierra Hull, I’m With Her (Sarah Jarosz, Sara Watkins & Aoife O’Donovan), with wonderful harmonies on the first night and Lau (just as a trio, see pic below) on the second night. The third night was probably my favourite with Irish singer Declan O’Rourke & band, Scottish-English musicians Ross Couper & Tom Oakes, Senegalese-Lithuanian duo Solo & Indre (such a beautiful sound) as well as The Secret Sisters from Alabama. All three sessions will be on BBC Alba sometime this spring.

Lau at Seirm CCFest 2018.jpg

On top of all this, I did extremely well this year catching four nights of the festival club at the Arts School. It’s a great way to wind down or (get dancing) with a pint after one of the official gigs and the line-up generally consists of a selection of that night’s festival artists, which was great as there is so much on every night, it gives you a chance to see artists you missed, such as the excellent Nashville-based Molly Tuttle & band.

Of course, the deepest winter is not the greatest time to visit Glasgow in terms of weather, but that is also your best excuse to while away many hours in great company listening to the crème de la crème of folk, Americana and other genres in some stunning venues. So put January 2019 in your calendar now for the 26th edition of Celtic Connections and you’ll practically be guaranteed the perfect antidote to post-Christmas blues!

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with review tickets for some events. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival.