By Rick Stuart
My last planned adventure of the year was a 500 mile round trip to Bournemouth on the south coast of Dorset, to see the Fatea 30th Birthday Bash (http://fateafestival.co.uk/ ).
I’ve known Neil King for about eight years now and he has to be one of the hardest working unsung heroes of the independent roots music scene – for example, the weekend just gone was not only the Fatea Festival, but also the launch of the 43rd Fatea Showcase Session download and another edition of his Along The Tracks radio show on Blues & Roots Radio.
So it was lovely to hear Neil getting credit & respect from the artists as well as many other people who helped make the Festival a success.
The Festival itself was held in The Shelley Theatre in Bournemouth, with 18 main acts spread over Friday night and Saturday, as well as open mic sessions and sing-a-rounds in the bar.
Friday night opened the Festival with, and I quote, “two of Bournemouth’s funniest acoustic bands, Plastic Jeezus and Polly Morris Band”. I cannot confirm or deny, because after a six and a half hour drive down I was in no fit state to go, so I took a wander down the beach to sort my head out.
Saturday was a different matter – after swim (in the hotel pool, not the sea), Jacuzzi, sauna and breakfast, I was ready to enjoy the day…
What I realised as soon as I got there was that the festival was spread over two stages, the Theatre Stage and The Mulberry Stage, so some decisions were going to have to be made. Seeing all 16 acts was not going to be possible.
As it turned out, there were 17 acts, as Steve Knightley and Phil Beer AKA Show Of Hands (https://www.showofhands.co.uk/ ) dropped by to open proceedings with a four or five song cameo. This was actually really fitting as they mentioned the support that Fatea had given them early on in their 30 year career…
James Edwyn & The Borrowed Band (https://www.musicglue.com/james-edwyn-and-the-borrowed-band/about ) started the show in the Theatre Stage, self confessed Scottish stereotypes with a wonderful sense of humour and well written songs.
I then moved over to the Mulberry Stage to catch Trevor Babajack Steger (https://www.trevorbabajacksteger.com/) perform his solo CBG and harmonica set. Trevor was deservedly one of three winning acts voted for by the public to appear at the festival under the banner of Fatea Future Star.
It was about this point that I realised how good the setup of the theatre was, as the two stages were separated by the bar where the sing-a-rounds (run by Noeleen and Alex, known locally as duo A Half of Murphy's (http://www.murphyslore.co.uk/halfofmurphys.php) with help from The Folk Orc (https://www.folkorc.co.uk/) were taking place, so there was always something on wherever you went. Some people moved around catching specific acts, while others found a place to be and settled in to enjoy whatever came their way.
There was also a food concession outside, courtesy of the Funki Griller, which as well as steak and burgers, provided a vegetarian option of grilled halloumi & chips, which was gorgeous.
Back to the music and the act that surprised me most was Will McNicol & Luke Selby (https://www.willmcnicol.co.uk/will-mcnicol-luke-selby/) . I was aware of their names but not actually heard them and to be honest I was a bit nervous. Regular listeners to Roots & Fusion or readers of my blogs will be aware of my distrust of drums in an acoustic set up. Too often I hear songs destroyed (in my opinion) by metronomic drums. Drums / percussion, like any other instrument, should be there for a reason, to add something to the song, so when I realised that Will & Luke were in fact an acoustic guitar and drum duo I was full of trepidation.
But, oh they were wonderful. Brazilian & African rhythms interwoven with intricate guitar lines – I was entranced. This is how drums should be played in this setting.
I stayed to watch Lucy Ward (https://www.lucywardsings.com/), who was as passionate as ever and interspersed her songs with enthusiastic vignettes. A warning here, if you troll Lucy online, you will end up in a song…
Numerous times through the day, artists mentioned that they were actually younger than Fatea, Lucy was one of them…
One of the acts I was really looking forward to seeing was Oka Vanga (https://okavanga.com/). I’ve been a fan of them for a few years now, from their intricate & intense guitar duets to their beautiful songs. Their set was marvellous and I was really pleased I finally saw them, although it did mean I missed The Trials of Cato who were playing on the other stage at the time – I had heard some really good thing about them, they’ll have to wait for another time.
Then came the choice that most people I talked to found the most difficult. Even though they are completely different, Luke Jackson (http://lukepauljackson.com/) & Merry Hell (http://www.merryhell.co.uk/) are both un-missable in their own right. I have seen Luke numerous times but not seen Merry Hell, so I thought I’d see Merry Hell. I then made the mistake of catching the start of Luke’s set. So difficult to leave. After three or four songs, I slipped out and caught some of Merry Hell’s set. Instead of their usual 8 piece, they were an acoustic 6 piece, which made sense for two reasons. One was the size of the stage and two, they have just released an acoustic album; Anthems To The Wind. I was very pleased I saw some of them, as I am now really looking forward to watch their full set in early December when they play in Poynton, walking distance from where I live.
The final choice was between the well regarded singer songwriter Reg Meuross (http://www.regmeuross.com/ ) or the last collaboration of Kadia (http://kadiaband.co.uk/) and Said The Maiden (http://www.saidthemaiden.co.uk/) . I chose the latter.
Two trios merging with gorgeous harmonies, cello, guitar & violin – just beautiful. It was also the perfect end to the festivities as, to quote from the souvenir programme, “2018 saw the sad news that Kadia are disbanding. Fatea has followed and supported their career from its inception and it seems fitting that the Birthday Bash will be their farewell concert”.
That sentence, “Fatea has followed and supported…” could be applied to countless musicians throughout the past 30 years, a testament to the driving force that is Neil King and his team.
I am really pleased I went to Bournemouth for the weekend, not only because the Festival a runaway success but also because I met up with some people I have known for some time online, but never met in person – one of the highlights was Angela from Oka Vanga saying, “You look just like your photograph, it’s like I know you already…”
To finish off, I want to mention that all of the Fatea Showcase sessions are now preserved in the British Library Sound Archive. Furthermore there is to be a digitisation project to enable the Fatea archive & magazines to also be preserved in the British Library. Fatea will be announcing ways you can help contribute with funding soon.