A Review of the final night of Northern Roots Festival 2012, by Frank Finlayson.
From leaving all too early on Saturday night to arriving fashionably late on Sunday evening, Bruce MacGregor ushered me into the barn to hear Edwina Hayes when I confessed to knowing little of her work. I’m pleased that he did. Edwina is a bit of a chatterbox between songs, with stories surrounding her songs, but also these tales are interwoven within her lyrics. The stories link to her family and her fans, in particular to a couple who regularly come to see her and had requested her to play a Leonard Cohen song.
The Leonard Cohen choice was ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’. Although chosen as Edwina puts it, for the grinding down towards the end of her set, this version had a great deal of warmth mixed within the melancholy. To round off the set Edwina covered Richard Thompson’s Waltzing’s For Dreamers. She asked for a sing-a-long, and the audience duly obliged partaking gently as the final number progressed. Edwina was applauded off the stage, with the applause not stopping til she left the barn by the exit at the back. I wish I had turned up earlier.
Next up was Wizz Jones, an artist that host Bruce MacGregor described as needing no introduction. The same Wizz that Medicine Music’s Rob Ellen enthused about during a chat in the interval. In his student days, when others were listening to Nick Drake and Pentangle, Rob told me that Wizz was his man, and that in itself shows the high esteem that Wizz is held in. A man at ease with his craft, a craft honed from his musical beginnings in the 1950s. This was probably best summed up in his Happiness Was Free, which he relates back to his period of busking in Paris in the 1960s. His guitar style evokes a real feel for the streets and boulevards of Paris, and yet conveys a poignant story within this notable piece of work. One of the endearing qualities of Wizz’s is his self-deprecating humour, most notably when having a few tuning issues. As he put it “I have one of these tuning things that you put on the end of the guitar. I can’t see the bloody thing.”
As with Edwina before, family, fans and influences are never far from the fore. He cited the late Doc Watson, not the first time at the festival, and the struggle to do what Doc was doing. Sitting on Top of the World was his tribute to Doc tonight. Songs for his father, and his daughter, gave an insight into his relationships with both, in particular his chat about his relationship with his father played out with that signature sense of humour. Lucky The Man was a song penned about his daughter when she was fifteen, in his words, prior to her having a credit or store card. But lucky the man, and woman, that saw tonight’s performance.
Last, and by no means least, were Virginia’s Furnace Mountain. A four piece with a mix of fiddles, bouzouki, mandolin, double bass and vocals. Oh yes, the vocals, I’ll talk more of them later. Another band with exquisite stagecraft and presence they took us through a couple of “death ballads”, as that is all they’ve got so they joked, as they prepared to play Turbo Dog, an instrumental, therefore, as they pointed out “no one is going to die!”
But those vocals, that I mentioned earlier were given their full airing when Aimee, accompanied by Morgan, produced a tour de force acapella version of Hazel Dickens’ Pretty Bird. Aimee’s vocal is pure Appalachian beauty, and the lush harmonies that form when Morgan steps in are a joy to listen to. And that’s what this set was, a joy to listen to. From the pure vocals to the raucousness of Millwood Boyce, this was a fitting way to round off any festival. And the good news about their new CD. If you don’t like it they have an address to send it back to, and they will send you one that they don’t like! However, I can’t see the postman, or more correctly the mail man, being too busy.
And so that rounded off Northern Roots 2012, and a big thank you should go to Bruce MacGregor for pulling together such fine acts over a weekend. And to think, I normally need at least two electric guitars to get me interested…
You can catch the rest of the reviews of the festival here.