Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Beyond Compere: a Beduff Retrospective-

      A final, possibly even unique  retrospective, from a slightly different angle this time, on the weekend's 39th Bedworth Folk Festival. In all the back-slapping afterwards on Facebook, fulsome tribute was paid ( quite rightly) to all those who contributed towards this wonderful spectacle. Namely:
    The Organisers, of course and in particular, Malc and Gill, without whom there would not have been a Festival at all. Ever. Performers and artistes with their immense and eclectic contributions. Musicians and,dancers.Narrators,storytellers and singers. Also acknowledged is the magic woven by the various Sound Crews, the brilliant audiences and the sheer hard work of the Stewards. We've saluted the patient bar staff (at all the venues), thanked Security and Catering. We've applauded the photographers and the wandering minstrels. We've thanked the people of Beduff for their hospitality, the Civic Hall management and the Rugby Club Committee.We've thanked those who braved the elements singing outside the Almshouses and the Funfair for providing that unobtrusive Saturday night backdrop. Let's hear it too for the  Litter bins, the lamp posts, the pigeons  and that little kitten from up the road at Number 42. That's everyone,then, isn't it?
     Well no, not quite.  Let's hear it also for the M.C.'s. Their contribution cannot be overlooked. The Comperes, those unsung heroes and heroines of The Meet and Greet. Shepherding fractious,nervous, over-confident and occasionally distressed guests to and from their venues, rounding up audiences too, as they go along. Of course, most guests have been to a BFF before, but a smile and a familiar face for them can be very settling. Some guests are new- “ Bedduff Virgins, as Malc terms them, and  it's an adventure that could go wrong, but seldom does. When I've done BFF as a performer, it is nice to be met by an M.C. Whether Ali O' Brien, Norman Wheatley or Dave Fry, they have always combined banter with boosting self-confidence. It's good to chat to someone who can put you at ease. Or a 'gofer' who can supply a soft drink mid-performance, arrange for  a kit-kat and directions to the Green Room.
     Friday Night at the Rugby Club was the easiest task of the lot, as I knew everyone I had to introduce and they all knew the Rugby Club venue, too. Most of them had appeared at Nuneaton Folk Club, and a couple had even played with me in bands, in the past. I also knew the bar staff and Cousin Tom the Sound Man. An excellent prospect, overall. With so little to do (and because I knew them all), it seemed incumbent upon me to spice up their intros a little with a few extra facts. Or, in the case of The Old 'Uns, some libel, defamation of character and invention. I can state now categorically that Malc Gurnham's latest album is not " Songs From The Commode."  -An easy mistake to make. 
    Logistically, the only question mark was actually against me, having spent the previous couple of days on crutches, whilst at the mercies of Mrs. Itis's young lad Arthur. However, with the help of Wolvey Taxis and despite Hurricane Aloysius threatening to sweep tents off the lawn, I got there in time and intact. With the courage of the exemplary Graeme Knights as my role model I even arrived without my sticks, although I paid dearly for that conceit with some ice-packs on Sunday.
    Dragonhead kicked off  Friday evening. A compere's dream, they are. Always on time and  in place, and they stick to timings. They got the joint poppin' and smiled politely at the jokes I did whilst introducing them, about Daniel O'Donnell, John's erstwhile career in Baking, and Clairvoyancy. ( There's no future in it).
    The Old Un's had rehearsed well and had done a very thorough sound test beforehand, so there was nothing for me to do, but insult them. I had some very old fashioned looks from the stars of TOO,as I outlined their careers to date but the audience seemed to enjoy it, and Sue Benson told me she almost injured herself laughing.
  The Old 'Uns fairly spanked through two 45 minute sets including a brief interval for everyone to get their breath back, and a gusset sorry, guest appearance from Bill Bates. He  seemed far too young to me to qualify, but there you go. 
a few of the Old 'Uns: L to R. Elaine,Malc, John,? Gill

      There was even an encore, and that left Malc himself, Mr. Festival, to welcome Bill Bates and Keith Donnelly who were going to finish the evening with a Late Night concert. When I left, well past midnight, they were in full stride, alternating turn by turn and doing the stuff that has made them so popular on the Folk Circuit.
    Saturday dawned...well it just dawned. Let's say I was mildly hung over- by perhaps a little too much of The Bishop whilst watching Keith and Bill last night, as I risked the vagaries of the local bus service to get to The Civic Hall by 11am, in time for an early spot of compering. Both guests were slightly ill at ease on arrival.  Flaky Tarts I had not met before, but they were two utterly charming blokes in Beach Shirts  who interacted well with each other. A motorway navigation error en route had left them feeling they were a little late, but actually, we managed to get them signed in, plugged in and under way bang on schedule. 
The Flaky Tarts get to grips whilst Tone looks on enthusiastically.

    They shared a very chatty informal session with Tony Portlock, who I had compered before. Inscrutable, talented both as a musician and songwriter, Tony is always a bit of an unknown quantity. Although the heating was on, it had been a damp, cold start to the day, and all three guitarists had a few initial issues with getting fingers warmed up. This did not detract from their performance or their material. As we headed towards the close of the session, Tony was also struggling with sugar levels, however, being like me , a T2D. He left the Flaky Tarts to finish, whilst he went off in search of a top-up. The FT's were neither Flaky nor Tarty, by the way.
    A few hours later, I was back to host a  session led by my good friends Scarecrow. Again, this was laughably easy, but to make it look professional, the audience and I asked them (as requested) intelligent questions about material, instrumentation and arrangements.
    By my reckoning, in just one hour, Scarecrow used 12 instruments between the three of them! We learned a bit more about their background,and some of their songs.I kept Rey supplied with throat sweets (Hall's Extra Strong Mentholyptus and Vocalzone) , and a delightful 60 minutes flew by. Miriam Backhouse and Moses and the Ref dropped by for the final bit. And it was LOVELY to see a very much better-looking Catherine Cope.
     Later on Saturday evening, I was back at the Rugby Club for a session featuring Chris Tobin,Tony Portlock, Dragonhead and Scolds Bridle. It would be fair to say it was a mixed audience to begin with, with Folkies and Rugby Club stalwarts sharing the bar.(Timothy Taylor had replaced The Bishop by this time).  Hurricane Bertha was tousling the campers tents this time, so there was noise inside and outside to begin with. 
    Chris easily and instantly wove his magic, and had the whole room eating out of his hand (not literally) before the end of the first song. Billy Fury, The Beatles, Bruce Chanel and Buddy Holly numbers got the audience singing enthusiastically. Indeed, so enthused was I by his Buddy Holly, that I son- bombed his encore and between us we did “Rave-On” together.
Chris does not do any Frankie Vaughan. or does he?
  Tony was still evidently struggling again physically, but his performance was not diminished at all. He did some Blues, some Country and a a few of his own,but he was running out of steam and had to finish a little early. I filled the gap by inveigling John Harris into accompanying me in an impromptu version of “All Over Now,” before Dragonhead did another superb set.
Geoff & John getting to grips with " All Over Now "
     Which left Liz and Sue. Scolds Bridle, all the way from The Wirral. They concluded this first concert with some tastefully arranged and heartily sung songs, and a few slightly racier ones. A Scolds Bridle is an instrument of torture, but this was nothing like torture. Nice harmonies, good picking from Liz and strong vocals from Sue. We managed to engineer an encore and this time I kept my trap shut!
Scolds Bridle, looking very dapper!
      Was the evening over? Well not quite, as approaching the interval between the early and late concerts, the lovely Charmaine behind the bar. was going through a bad patch. Charmaine has been the regular bar staff at the Rugby Club Sessions of Bedworth Folk Club, and a nicer more accommodating host could not be found. But she'd had a nasty car crash the previous day and was feeling the consequences. A flood of latecomers came in from The Civic hall, but all managed to get served and settled before the indefatigable Graeme Knights took to the stage for a one-man singing display. In his shorts of many pockets, he launched stridently into a string of fairly Industrial Nautical songs,laced with a few shanties and anecdotes.
     The Timothy Taylors was flowing like-well like Timothy Taylors when I finally took my leave, again well-beyond midnight, to meet my taxi. I knew I could leave Graeme and the Gang to close things down. He's done this sort of thing before, you know.