The Lancashire Mining Museum, Astley

The second Folk Tent event at The Lancashire Mining Museum at Astley Green offered a six-hour sample of the cream of local folk and some newcomers to the scene!

Operating, as a trio and greeted by a torrential downpour that served to bring people into the folk tent – Vision Thing are a class act whatever their line up, and fully deserve to be wider known. Today we are presented with Pete on guitar and vocals, along with the fabulous violin of David Windsor, both providing the musical support for the fabulous voice of Cherlene Walmsley. Offering the first reference to mining in their song ‘There is a Seam’, discussions after the set centred on the attractive idea of augmenting a recording with both brass and a choir – so the members went off in search of the band that had led in the parade as the community choir that had followed them. Watch this space for future developments – they also gave us the first acknowledgement of a change of government! A run through what should be their greatest hits (minus the fabulous ‘Woman Like Me’) they set the tone for a tone for a day of eclectic excellence.

Being a Lancashire Day, performers were largely drawn from the Folk stalwarts of our region – none more so than Swinton Folk Club’s finest, Ged Todd – a star in more ways than one, as he compensated for an organisational timetabling malfunction by becoming the glue that held the day together – contributing between other artist’s sets with a fine combination of accompanied and acapella singing, bringing forth the work of Ted Edwards’ The Coal and Albert Berry‘ which after numerous appearances at this and the previous event has become what could be described as its anthem – and there is no better choice – not only were we treated to a number of on message songs but also some personal and social history giving the reasoning behind their choice - Bravo!

Next up, Ken Scally, researcher, novelist, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist – some might call him a polymath but as I don’t know what that means, he will just have to be described as variously talented! He did have to admit that he had to alter his set in order to avoid clashing choices with Ged, although it has to be said that, in his infectious upbeat enthusiasm, he is capable of making songs his own. Ken does offer performances covering subjects as wide ranging as The Roman Occupation, to the History of Music Hall in Wigan – plus his apparently encyclopaedic knowledge of mining songs – have a look at his socials for education and entertainment combined.

Deprived of his Rare Old Times bandmates Lawrence Hoy and Tim Marris due to various circumstances, the billing of Steve Higgins and friends yielded a number of wonderful surprises as they turned out to be – Sue and Gerry of Dandelion Train – their own promo states that you should expect the unexpected and that is what we got – their musical excellence and immense enthusiasm matched the return of sunshine to the site – their eclecticism ranged from the standards - as good a version of ‘Star of the County Down’ as you will hear, through the classics, starting with ‘Crazy Man Michael’ to the classical as they finish with a fabulous flourish of flamenco. The first time I have encountered Dandelion Train in person but hopefully not the last!

Paper Boats will be familiar to FNWesters of a Wigan persuasion as frequent visitors to the Folk clubs and related events of that parish. A fresh name on the scene, they provide an additional outlet for the more easily available members of Vision Thing, being guitarist Pete Cunliffe and fiddle player David Windsor, plus the uni-monickered Baz adding vocals and guitar. As a relatively new band, their focus is on carefully curated covers, ranging from Passenger’s gently involving Hearts on Fire, the decidedly non-Proclaimers song ‘500 Miles’, through to ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ and finishing with a nod to the impending football with a catchy tune called ‘Hey Jude’, which they credited to The Beatles – if they have others like that, we may be hearing more about them!

Having established that Gregson Lane is geographically and philosophically the middle of nowhere, existing simultaneously in the orbit of Preston, Houghton and The Ribble Valley, the arrival of Graham and Bernadette – otherwise known as Trouble at T’Mill, is both an achievement and a delight – the latter being a multi-faceted triumph. The polished duo brought another aspect of folk music to an already eclectic afternoon. Their good natured interaction with both each other and the audience forms the bedrock of a set that features cleverly observational songs, musings on the nature and contradictions of everyday life delivered, with wit and humour – every time I have seen them, my world has seemed a better place for it, and this occasion was no exception.

Bimi, the stage persona of local Wigan singer songwriter Jim Bimson, bridged the gap between classic rock and adventurous folk with a well-chosen set of crowd pleasing tunes – however, what was really intriguing was the fact that he was able to move from his version of a U2 classic to ‘Take Whatever’s Yours’, a song of his own and have both warmly embraced by the audience. He admitted to a desire to include more of his own songs in sets as the context allows it and his voice and stage presence honed by a busy schedule suggests that the transition in well-chosen venues would be a positive step!

With the event drawing to an end – it fell to Dave Gaskell, much loved habitue of the local folk circuit, to finish off the day’s events. In his alter ego of ‘Bad Grandad’ he stamps his own persona on everything he offers, whether it be his own take on the Arthur Brown classic ‘Fire’, a brief visit to Ipanema, almost but not quite in the style of Astrud Gilberto, a touch of Mozart or wickedly musing on the circularity of life. There’s no one quite like him and is a hard act to follow – so it is just as well no one had to!!

A few additional musings – besides the musical delights on offer – and it was a varied set, it is also a delight to see the interaction between the artists, as they follow their own orbits in the folk universe, the chance to align is one that they seize on with pleasure.

Secondly, at the time of writing it is in the region of 364 days until the next event, yet The Lancashire Mining Museum is worth a visit at any opportunity – offering plenty to see, plenty to do, plenty to remember and much to learn!

A quick mention for friend of FNW, Corrie Shelley, singer-songwriter, doyenne of Over Hulton Folk Club and currently working on a mining related project (watch this space), sadly unable to perform in her usual format, she popped up in the poetry section of proceedings to deliver some stanzas of her own.

A HUGE FNW THANKS to Tim Marris (assisted by Graham and Alice Fletcher ) for providing and operating the sound system throughout – coping with quick changes, line up and instrumental variations with apparently consummate ease and good humour throughout.

Finally, a get well soon to FNW’s own Dave Jones, who sadly had to miss his compering role – but will hopefully be back for future events! His deputy was fair to middling.

Visit the Museum website