Saturday, 30 June 2012

REVIEW: Oysterband's Big Session 2012

FolkCast listener Catherine Hume went to Oysterband's Big Session festival. Did she enjoy it? Read on and find out! (But yes, she definitely did!)

"I've had my blood pressure tablets.  I've had my cholesteral tablets.  I'm ready!"

This wasn't what I expected to hear at a festival, but the Oysterband do attract an audience of all ages.  The Big Session Festival 2012, run by the Oysterband, did not disappoint fans.  Rather, it surprised.  

The first year at its new location, Catton Hall, situatued between the River Trent and the National Forest, The Big Session Festival was a small but intimate affair.  A small market place with a good book stall selling what would normally fall under the radar and a stall selling sheet music and instruments occupied the centre of the grounds.  Mini melodeons had a good airing at The Big Session, with sales of the instrument and a popular mini melodeon workshop.  

Friday night of the festival featured Chumbawamba and the Oysterband.  Chumbawamba played a fantastic set on the Friday evening, and as always were political as well as very funny.  Singing acapella as well as with acoustic accompaniment, they sang songs of local heroes and a Mexican soldier who survived a firing squad.  

The Oysterband closed the Friday night with twenty songs from a list as voted by fans.  They were joined on stage by former drummer Lee Partis in one of his obligatory kilts, as well as piper and whistle-player James O'Grady who has performed with the Oysterband for ten years.  Old favourites such as The Oxford Girl were played as well as more modern well-loved tracks like Dancing As Fast As I Can and the audience participation song Everywhere I Go.  Festival goers were well satisfied and looked forward to the following day.

For me, the stand-out acts on the Saturday were Magic Tombolinos, Abandoman and Treacherous Orchestra.  The Magic Tombolinos are an energetic Spanish-led band who take their influences from jazz, pop and Gypsy music.  I didn't have a clue what they were singing about, but it was a terrific flavour they were dishing out!  

Abandoman are an Irish improv-rap duo, which may sound a bit dubious to many, but I was actually blown away by these two men and their sheer talent and ability to look at any object or hear any audience member's hobbies or favourite food and instantaneously incorporate them into a humorous rap.  

As someone said to me as Treacherous Orchestra were tuning up, "What is the definition of a gentleman?  A man who knows how to play the bagpipes but doesn't!"  Well, I cannot say that is true in the case of Treacherous Orchestra.  Following the likes of Lau and The Peatbog Faeries, Treacherous Orchestra take old jigs and re-invigorate them for a modern audience.  

Sunday afternoon was led into the evening by Jon Boden and The Remnant Kings.  This band, although featuring Paul Sartin and Sam Sweeney, had a very different sound and pace from Bellowhead.  This new venture of Boden & Co look at what could happen if civilisation as we know it crumbles, and so the songs have a more thoughtful aura about them.  With the aid of 'Edith' the Edison phonograph, Jon Boden and The Remnant Kings finished their set with a track reminiscent of 1940s crooning, exposing the delicacies of Jon Boden's voice with the brilliant musicianship we have come to expect from him and his associates.  

Playing the song list from their tour of the USA and Canada two decades ago, the Oysterband and June Tabor brought us tales of politics and social need and gave them a human face.  Along with the high standard of musicianship, there was something very powerful about seeing June Tabor in the flesh as she sang the stories of human struggle and triumph.  

Show of Hands played a great set of old songs and new, from Arrogance, Ignorance And Greed to Country Life and Cousin Jack.  They joined the Oysterband and June Tabor for the festival finale where they all sang acapella The New Jerusalem, sealing the festival with hope, and then finished with the festival's usual closing song and message, Put Out The Lights.  

There were many acts at The Big Session that were unknown to me, but the one that stood out to me was Lucy Ward.  Lucy Ward is local to the Derbyshire area, and known around the local folk clubs and smaller festivals in that part of the country.  On the traditional side of folk, Lucy has a beautiful and mature voice that silenced the entire main arena.  I had the pleasure of spending some time with Lucy, a positive young woman who has her feet firmly on the ground. Lucy is someone to watch out for in the future and is playing at a number of festivals this summer, but if you can't make any of them I suggest you listen to her on Youtube or have a look at her website

There was advice on The Big Session website to bring a chair.  Many people - including myself and my mother - did bring fold-up chairs because of our disabilities.  A lot of provision was made for seated audience members, whose numbers swelled to around 400 in the main tent arena.   

The Catton Hall site is very flat which was advantageous for people in self-propelled wheelchairs.  However, the downside to a flat site is that the camping areas got a bit soggy with the rain.  Several local hotels were linked in with the festival and a shuttle bus system took people to and from the hotels and the festival site.  My mother and I stayed at Premier Inn.  We found it clean and cosy, and the staff were professional and friendly.   

John Jones of the Oysterband had walked from Leicestershire to the festival over a period of two days, and had been joined by a number of people on both days.  John Jones has recently discovered long distance walking and found that he is passionate about it.  A blog of his adventures and a list of where he will be walking and when are available if you feel like joining the Oysterband's frontman as he hikes around the UK.

I would be interested in returning to The Big Session Festival next year to see how it grows.  Moving from an indoor venue to an outdoor festival seems to have paid off.  Well done, Oysterband!

Thanks Catherine! And readers - if you were at the Big Session and want to make a comment about it or this review, please do. And if you've any photos of the event that we can include in this blog, please contact us via email

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