Last updated on December 26, 2018
Normafest 2017 took place at Whitby Pavilion, January 6-8, 2017. Sadly, Norma Waterson was too ill to attend, as was guest star, Richard Hawley. However, those that did make it were in rude health, the excesses of New Year already a distant memory.
The programme featured nothing but standouts – filler wasn’t an option. From Stick in the Wheel’s witty but abrasive opening to an emotional performance by Eliza Carthy and Marry Waterson, leading the Gift Band in Norma’s absence, the weekend was a stream of outstanding musicianship, good will and bonhomie to one and all. As a musician myself, it was wonderful to be able to join sessions led by Saul Rose and Sam Sweeney, as well as the ultimate post-gig session at Eliza’s local pub, also featuring Lynched (see below), a Dublin band whose reputation goes before them and yet doesn’t even begin to do them justice, and the ever-wonderful Stick in the Wheel.
I had my trusty Sony A6000 in tow, so rather than try and sum it up in words, here are a collection of pics and videos I snapped on the hoof. Looking forward to next year’s event already.
Stick in the Wheel
London’s finest folk wheelers and dealers…
Eliza Carthy’s musical soulmate, and the only man capable of out-drinking the combined attendance of Normafest 2017.
And Saul Rose also led the sessions, too. Here’s Saul, Sam Sweeney, David Delarre and yours truly, mostly in a state of considerable disrepair.
— Jon Wilks (@JonWilksMusic) January 7, 2017
The Waterson Family
And then came the mighty, incomparable Watersons, with Eliza Carthy and Marry Waterson to the fore. It’s a sad thing that none of the original Watersons lineup were onstage, but Martin Carthy was there representing the old guard, and there was plenty of evidence around the festival that a new generation is already shaping up.
Peggy Seeger and Neil Maccoll
Without doubt the most moving performance of the weekend. Peggy Seeger was astounding, not merely for her musical dexterity at 81 years old (if I can pick a banjo as fast as she can when I’m “riddled with arthritis”, I’ll be pretty damned pleased with myself), but also for the powerful political punches she still packs – from the church to Trump, nobody was let off the hook. The final song, Ewan Maccoll’s “Joy of Living“, left the audience utterly speechless.
The combined talents of Emily Portman, Rachel Newton, Alasdair Roberts and Lucy Farrell represented Scottish folk music (even though, as they sheepishly admitted, two of them aren’t actually Scottish). Beautiful harmonies and a saw solo – what more can you ask of a modern folk band?
— jonwilksmusic (@JonWilksMusic) January 7, 2017
Representing Irish traditional music were Lynched – one of the most astoundingly tight and harmonically pure bands I’ve ever seen. Well worth going to see if you get the chance, and you will, because – as they told me after the gig – they’ve been to play in the UK 21 times in the last 18 months. They pretty much live here.
— jonwilksmusic (@JonWilksMusic) January 8, 2017
Eliza Carthy and the Gift Band
Intended to be Norma Waterson’s chance to sign off from Normafest 2017, the band played on admirably, although obviously feeling a Norma-shaped hole in the proceedings, and the slight wobbles that come with having your lead singer and special guest cancel at the last minute. Still, it was a beautiful gig with the crowd joining in in full voice and Eliza commanding the stage in her usual all-encompassing way.