Allen Valleys Folk Festival

The programme for this year’s folk festival is the biggest ever, and the weekend looks like an exciting jaunt through contemporary folk music.

The festival workshops are an annual component of the festival, as led by local tutors, and the burning of the wolf on Saturday evening at 6:30 has garnered an impressive audience over the recent years. As someone said online not too long ago: it’s Allendale, better light a bonfire! But the wolf blaze is a work of art, transient and scary at the same time.

Of course the music offerings are the main point of the festival, and they kick off with the concert at Allendale Brewery’s open day at 5pm today. Say, that reminds me, I could do with a pin of something special, after the work this week on our track! A special ceilidh by Hedgehog’s Skin at Allendale Village Hall starts at 7pm, and pub sessions throughout the evening thereafter at each of the village’s three pubs will all conspire to launch the festival off to a brilliant start.

And then Saturday is full of music and dance . . . and fire! The weather auguries are not so good for Saturday; the Hadrian Clog group might need special Hadrian umbrellas! And the Allendale Wolf might have to be cloaked in rain-proof gear until its unveiling for its eventual immolation. But such incidental matters as rain could never really dampen a folk festival, after all. Music and dance will be everywhere: St. Cuthbert’s Church; Allendale Primary School; the village hall.; and, of course, the village square.

Sunday afternoon looks like a delightful relaxing time in the hall, with George Welch and Christine Jeans starting the afternoon, and the beloved Unthanks closing off the programme at 2:45.

Peter Aldcroft sends in a personal perspective on the festival, as well as some photos from previous years: thanks Pete!

“The first Allen Valleys Folk Festival (2014) was run as a three way partnership between the North Pennines AONB, the Allen Valleys Folk Festival Committee and Allendale Lions’ Club, who supplied financial and admin support. The programme launch gig that year was held at the High Forest Community Centre, Sinderhope and featured Bridie Jackson and The Arbour. The venue was packed. Sinderhope was listed on their national tour poster between Derby and Glasgow. Talk about putting folk music on the map! The all-female band had won Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent award in 2013. Bridie closed our first festival on Sunday October 5th, 2014 and received a standing ovation in Allendale Village Hall. 

The festival is now run by Allen Valleys Promotions Ltd, a not-for-profit company with a board of thirteen volunteers. Current board members are Anna Harrison, Victoria Pugh, Nick Pepper, Craig Atkinson, David Crellin, Oran Villiers-Stuart, Bryony Villiers-Stuart, Mike Swindale, Carrie Winger, Rob Kitchen, Glynn Galley, Tim Reed and myself, the  inaugural festival chair.      

The same organisation runs the New Year’s Eve ceilidh in Allendale Village Hall. Our vision statement (2015) is ‘To be the best local folk festival in the North of England, a festival that is culturally relevant, creative, diverse, enduring, distinctive and popular, with a strong sense of community’. We need diversity to cater for a variety of tastes and demographics. Each year’s line-up is a democratic process with choices considered from each board member. We have to balance various elements ie world, traditional, roots, progressive.  For the last three years Rob Kitchen, programme lead, has been passionate about gender balance, which we’ve achieved this year with equal numbers of male and female artists. 

At the outset, the concept of a folk festival was not well received. Over the years, we’ve worked on community engagement and the festival is now a lot more inclusive. The Golden Lion, The King’s Head and Allendale Inn  now actively participate as music venues and we’ve created an iconic local event – the burning of a wooden sculpture representing the legendary Allendale wolf.       

There are two personal folk festival highlights I’d like to share with you.The first was our opening night in 2014 with Will Pound and  Martin Stephenson. For Will – genius harmonica player and three times BBC Folk Awards nominee – it was his first solo gig ever. There was a booking complication. He was due to play with his wife in folk duo Haddo but sadly they separated a few months before our festival. Advance ticket sales for that Friday night had reached the grand total of 19. I called my drummer son, Simon, who had great experience of gigs and their audiences. He told me that providing you have an audience of at least 13 you’ll be OK. I don’t know why I was reassured by that but I was. In the event, weekend pass holders and walk-up punters swelled numbers to capacity. 

My second highlight is Ezza, the soul-stirring Tuareg trio and 2017 Saturday headliners. We were split on booking them but they turned out to be outstanding with brilliant audience engagement. They had the power and intrumental brilliance of Cream – Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton and the late Jack Bruce.   

This year’s festival has something for everyone. We open on Friday night with a full-blooded ceilidh from Hexham’s Hedgehog’s Skin and close on Sunday afternoon with a delightful set from The Unthanks – those internationally renowned folk sisters. In between you’ll experience a range of talent from the lyrical originality of The Rheingans Sisters to the high energy dance rhythms of Saturday night headliners Me & My Friends and Turfu. We also welcome Newcastle performance poet Rowan McCabe to broaden the artistic appeal of the festival. For most people, The Unthanks will be the festival highlight this year. Personally I’d like to see two of the more progressive acts – Turfu and Me & My Friends – really ignite the festival audience on Saturday night. The Wolf experience will be different every year and always a highlight. Enjoy!”

All in all, it feels like it’ll be a great time, a lovely weekend ahead, with a variety of foodie opportunities and plenty of delightful beer, cider, and wine, of course. Good luck on the weather front to the festival organisers and volunteers, and good luck on the trading front to the shops, pubs and amenities around the patch who stand to benefit from the influx of visitors.

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