Beating January Blues, Bradford-on-Avon Roots Style

If the last thing you’d expect as the final sound you hear before leaving a festival carpark is of scraping frost off windscreens, notion of festivals as a summer thing is about to be turned on its head. January blues is curable in Wiltshire, The Bradford Roots Music Festival is your prescription.

Devizine is not Time Out, writing about our music scene is a personal voyage of discovery, but until now I’d not reached the core. Because Bradford-on-Avon boasts The Wiltshire Music Centre, a modern, purpose-built hub of music and arts, and I’m happy to confirm it’s a wonderful place.

Andy fondly reviewed their past roots festival, on the strength of this and the stunning line-up, it deserved sending my grumpiest of hibernating reviewers, so here I am, with beanie on.

Situated on a housing estate next to a school, first impressions are school-like, by design and decor. Interesting, a festival in a school, even has a coat rack, and fire doors held open by polite teenagers; imagine! If I get a detention here, I’ll be glad.

I believe it’s part-funded this way. Cause and effect are a wide age demographic; yes, a majority are those elders who can afford to fork out £20 in January, but it notably caters for the youngest too, with a vast craft area and workshops, a dinnertime finale of the latter being a Wassail kids’ procession led by Holt Morris Club in the foyer.

Also noteworthy, though I missed this, part of the proceeds goes to Zone Club, an in-house musical programme for learning disabled adults, who’s improv show opened the festival. The other half goes to the centre itself, which has charitable status, and is worth its rather hefty weight in gold.

Wowzers, I was impressed enough already, with plentiful to engage in, yet I’m told this three-stage single day is scaled-down post lockdown, previously housing two other stages and a food court, over three days. Though it was expressed this is the level they’d like to see it return to in future. I’m letting the cat out the bag, you can’t keep it a secret forever, Bradford, the south-west needs to know!

Though if food options were filtered to one, Bradford’s own Evie’s Mac N Cheese wagon is most definitely the one, my burger was to die for! There’s me, stomach-thinking first, when I’ve so much to report, so, so much great music, some completely new to me, others well-grounded in my favourites, and many to tick off my bottomless must-see list.

Aqaba

If I told you what I didn’t love, it’d be quicker, but blank! The only way to do this, is to get chronological, but before I do, it’s crucial to point out what’ll become clear by the end; the logo’s tree growing out of a guitar, and the whole name of Bradford Roots Music Festival can be a tad misconceiving; going in with the preconception it’s all folk, fiddles and hippy-chicks dancing barefoot, though these are present, to assume it’s the be-all-and-end-all is wildly off target. The diversity on offer here is its blessing, its quantity and quality is serious value for money, and likely the most important elements I need to express in order to sell next year’s to you, which I do, because it was utterly fantastic.

Not forgoing the hospitable atmosphere, its easy access under one roof, and its professionalism in staging the best indoor local festival I’ve been to, if not a forerunner for the best local community-driven festival, period. On programming I could point similarities to Swindon Shuffle, in so much as grabbing an international headline isn’t their thing, favouring promoting local acts. But unlike the Shuffle where you wander Old Town pub-to-pub, there’s a treasure behind nearly every fire-door.

Lodestone

Arriving as prompt as possible, unfortunately not as early as I’d have liked, finding Phil Cooper and Jamie R Hawkins packed up and chatting in the foyer, I consoled myself by noting there’s so much happening under this cathedral of music’s roof I won’t miss. Firstly, I found the main stage, a colossal acoustic-heaven seated hall, where came the cool mellow vibes of Chris Hoar’s Lodestone, soon to be renamed Courting Ghosts, with drummer Tim Watts from It’s Complicated, a band booked to headline the third stage, Wild and Woolley, but had to cancel.

Lightgarden

Though at this time, I’d not even found said third stage, dragging myself away from the balcony to the foyer, where a smaller makeshift middle stage hosted the duos and acoustic acts. The beautiful folk of Lightgarden currently attracting a crowd.

Mark Green’s Blues Collective

People tended to settle in one place, I rushed from stage to stage, excited as a sugared-up kid at Disneyland! Discovering the third stage was the best thing I did, as Mark Green’s Blues Collective thrilled with a reggae-riffed version of Knocking on Heaven’s Door.

The Graham Dent Quartet

Decided I need to settle down, smooth and accomplished piano-based jazz on the main stage by The Graham Dent Quartet could’ve easily helped, but hot-footing back to the third stage to catch Junkyard Dogs was a must.

Likely my acme of the daylight hours, if it’s nearly as impossible to rank the best thing any more than picking faults in the festival, Junkyard Dogs rocked this stage with sublimely executed Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry timeless classics of the raw RnB origins of rock n roll, (apt for a “roots” festival,) with added amusing originals, a downtempo Suzie Q, and a funky guitar chilled Dusty Springfield’s Spooky.

Junkyard Dogs

With fantastic delta blues in the foyer, via Westward, and a Wassail choir workshop in the main room, I tended to hover around the more unorthodox third stage, where Mod-type synths band Aqaba rolled out some damn fine originals.

Westward
Caroline Radcliffe Jazz Trio

Meanwhile joyful lounge jazz was blessing the foyer with the Caroline Radcliffe Jazz Trio, as I made my way to way to the main stage once more, to tick Billy in the Lowground off my must-see list. Missed this unique banjo and fiddle five-piece folk ensemble when they’ve graced the Southgate, but though their fiery foot-stomping loud ‘n’ proud scrumpy & western is hard-to-pigeonhole, I won’t be missing them next time.

Billy in the Lowground

This is where the stages vacated for dinnertime, and the Wassail children’s parade accompanied an entertaining Morris dance ruled the hour. It may’ve felt as if the festival was slowing pace, but it was only temporary. Outstanding Bristol-based soloist Zoe kicked off the foyer happenings again, a stalwart of the festival, while young Swindon popular post-grunge wild card, Viduals blasted the third stage.

Zoe
Viduals

It was great to meet the level-headed youths of Viduals, one to watch on the indie circuit, asserting the third stage now was for younger attendees. Man, they had some upfront drumming I likened to Animal from the Muppets, and some defined originals!

Foxymoron

The similarly youthful band, Foxymoron, to grace the headline at the third stage since It’s Complicated’s unfortunate cancellation, sounded prodigious, slightly more accomplished with slithers of retro post-punk, but I confess with so much going on, I didn’t catch enough for a full assessment. Because, I was equally surprised by Karport Collective at the main stage, but in a different way. Didn’t get any info on these guys, only to lean over to the frontman expressing my delight at them daring to cover Outkast classic Hey Ya at a roots event! If a pop repertoire of Fatboy Slim’s Praise You medlied with that Elvis breakbeat rework, wouldn’t fit at a folk festival, they did Bowie’s Let’s Dance too, engaging a mass-exodus to the dancefloor; surely a defining factor in my point about diversity here. Gallant five-piece, Karport Collective pulled a rabbit from their hat, and would be a superb booking for a function or large lively pub with universal appeal.

Karport Collective

Dilemmas over what to watch beached, the ultimate decision was the finale, where subtle yet powerful folk duo Fly Yeti Fly took the foyer, and my new favourite thing, Concrete Prairie played the main stage. Let’s get this straight, okay? Concrete Prairie are unmissable by my reckoning, though this is my third time seeing them live, and Fly Yeti Fly is one I so desperately want to tick off my list. The problem is solved by this easy access, we’re only one fire-door away from simultaneously viewing both, which I did; bloomin’ marvellous!

Complete with double-bass accompaniment, predicted gentle positive acoustic vibes from Fly Yeti Fly, if a song about burning the furniture for firewood on a frozen canal boat is gentle and positive! But, oh, how a duo can hold an audience spellbound, Fly Yeti Fly are the enchantment. My night was completed by their tune Shine a Light, which (plug) you can find on our Julia’s House compilation, together with swinging that fire-door to catch the sublime country-folk of Concrete Prairie as they polished off a set of debut album tracks, covers and new songs, with the magnum-opus Devil Dealt the Deck.

Concrete Prairie

Still at 1,000 feet of an impressive mountain; Bradford Roots Festival, I conclude, is faultless.


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