Purbeck Valley Folk Festival 2022 had a very special vibe, undoubtedly helped by sublime weather.
Festival favourite Martha Tilston was in particularly life-affirming mood on the Fire Stage, singing songs of love and loss and, emotionally, urging us to care for one another, look after our world and institute social change.
The silky-voiced, Cornwall-based singer-songwriter was captivating and inspiring in the afternoon sunshine, drawing in her audience to a set of contemporary folk. Backed by the two Matts, Tweed (bass, bouzouki) and Kelly (violin, guitar, percussion), Tilston served up beautifully disguised protest songs, hiding behind gorgeous tunes, brilliant grooves and wonderful playing.
Michele Stodart, aka the coolest bass player on earth, was here playing guitar in a set of her own compositions. The Magic Numbers stalwart was a late replacement for covid-stricken chanteuse Kathryn Williams. Stodart, a member of Williams’s band and go-to musician for a rollcall of famous names, drew on her own albums and collaborations for a countrified set.
Anglo-Scots supergroup Magpie Arc, playing just their sixth gig, were sublime – five musicians on top of their game in a fully electric combo.
Featuring a front three of the incomparable Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr and Findlay Napier swapping lead vocals and twixt-song chat, the five-piece is completed by irrepressible drummer Tom A Wright and bassist Alex Hunter.
Top-class musicianship, a variety of singing styles, folk, blues and country variations all combine for an excellent occasion. Soon they will be THE band to watch.
The band that seemingly everyone watched at PVFF22 was the mighty Show of Hands, who didn’t disappoint in their natural environment of the summer festival.
Appearing at Purbeck for the first time in a decade, Steve Knightley and Phil Beer delivered a set of festival favourites. Cue the likes of Country Life, Roots, You’ll Get By, AIG, Company Town and a couple of favourite covers in Boys Of Summer and Peter Gabriel’s Secret World. Ending, as ever, with a rousing Cousin Jack and encoring with the speedy Galway Farmer, they were gone all too quickly.
Knightley cropped up again the following morning in the popular Songwriters’ Circle along with the aforementioned Stoddart and Gabriel Moreno, London-based Gibraltarian poet, singer-songwriter and musician. They traded songs, songwriting tips and secrets of the trade, as well as dealing with a power outage, before finishing with a rousing version of Mike Scott’s Fisherman’s Blues.
Moreno was back immediately afterwards with his band the Quivering Poets for an amusing, quirky set of alt-folk and Americana. Imagine if Leonard Cohen had come from Barcelona and you’d be heading in the right direction.
In a full-on performance, Moreno, Gibraltar’s cultural ambassador for 2022, drew on his 20 years in the music biz – from Spain and Italy to Peru and the UK – for wonderfully smooth, jazzy and lyrical tracks such as We Can Write England All Over Again and Feel Like Dancing.
The powerful voice of BBC Radio 2 Folk Singer of the Year Ríoghnach (ree-oh-na to the uninitiated) Connolly boomed from the main stage in a thudding performance with her eclectic five-piece band Honeyfeet.
Manchester-based, but hailing from Armagh, Connolly, best-known for being a member of Afro Celt Sound System, is an exceptional singer and flautist who merges styles, genres and sounds to produce, alternatively, thumping dance tunes, soulful grooves and (it is folk after all) protest songs with a twist.
Unexpected pleasures are always a joy at Purbeck Valley, such as the energy generated by the Balkans-infused Bonfire Radicals, the swirling sounds of Bristol’s Solana, veteran party band Quinns Quinney playing in daylight for the first time at the festival, their offshoot Wiff Waff performing in the bar, the old-time sounds of The Rigmarollers, metalheads Hound Dogs For Hire thrashing it out on the Word Stage and Bellowhead’s Benji Kirkpatrick and the Excess channelling Hendrix.
The dynamic Three Daft Monkeys packed the Big Barn, as did Capercaillie’s uilleann pipes maestro Michael McGoldrick long-standing acid croft pioneers Shooglenifty.
World music was represented by the west African balafon sounds of N’Famady Kouyate, US star Amythyst Kiah, Newfoundland close harmony trio The Once and Gasper Nali’s three-metre, home-made, one-string Babatoni bass.
And there was so much more – Dorset’s Bierfass Band playing oompah music, poetry, fancy dress, crafts, comedy, plentiful children’s activities. Pantheatrix, puppet shows, workshops, healing, storytelling, ceilidhs and even laughter yoga.
Three perfect days in the sunshine. It is the festival you don’t want to end.