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2008 St Albans Folk Festival
A look back at the 2008 St Albans Folk Festival

By Bill Quinn
Posted Saturday, May 10, 2008

The St Albans Folk Festival organisers turned on an enjoyable weekend north-west of Sydney over the Anzac Day long weekend in April.

Various observations and goings on from the annual St Albans Folk Festival

Despite the small size of the village, tucked into a picturesque bend on the MacDonald River, the venues were spread out over a reasonable area, and punters could kid themselves into believing that a hike up the hill to the Gallery or the Church could burn off some of that breakfast egg and bacon roll.

Like many small festivals, the set-up was such that any blow-in punter could be camping next to headline performers. It’s an attractive aspect of smaller festivals that evening tune and/or singing sessions in the camping grounds can be such a mix of punters and performers.

For the author, it was the first folk festival (ever) that I’d bought a ticket for, i.e. no volunteering, no MC-ing, no choirs. So my code-word for St Albans 2008 was ‘workshops’.

And they got a hammering.

Beeswing gave a few insights for the uninitiated into coal-mining songs, including an overhead projector for a visual presentation of the content of their songs, and more importantly for some, the lyrics to sing along with. For the overflow of participants out the side door, the group even read some lyrics out, which was just as well. At least one punter was wondering about the reference to the ‘bearded Jew’ until it became clear the correct lyric was ‘bid adieu’.

As one presenter at the Workshop Cabin pointed out, the configuration of the venue (someone’s weekender) was useful to maintain a healthy crowd for the duration: “We thought you were all captivated – you just can’t get out!”

Mary Jane Field led a very well-attended participative singing workshop (including one or three of Mary Jane’s Bright Star Singers) at the Gallery Café on chorus songs from around the world. And we did indeed take a tour around England, Africa, Israel, and one Aboriginal language group."

Later, the ever-popular (and always at St Albans) Wheeze and Suck Band graced the verandah of the Gallery with their very popular sea shanties workshop. The Wheezers urged the crowd to patronise the Gallery Café liberally so they could afford a wider verandah at the 2009 festival – the 2008 crowd was spilling back into the gallery, around the corner, and down the stairs.

A workshop highlight for me was Maureen O’Brien’s ‘Borderless’, an hour of songs and stories from Maureen and friends about the experiences of women in the diaspora from Ireland, both convict and ‘free settlers’, the latter group not always finding themselves so free. Very informative and illuminating.

Penelope Swales played in the main tent to appreciative audiences, as she mused over the conflicting priorities of studying law and politics while continuing to do her music. The crowd urged her to focus on the music.

A new set of faces for this reviewer were Three Left Feet who seemed to be coping well with their cross-over status. “We’re a blues band at a folk festival, so the obvious choice is to do a reggae tune!” Which they did with spectacular energy, prompting a possibly only half-joking request at the end of the number: “Can we have some CPR up here?!”

That was only a warm-up as the Wheeze and Suck Band took the stage for the last spot of the evening and ripped it up, ever-so slightly sneaking over the PA curfew time, as the crowd didn’t quite understand the concept of ‘just time for one encore’.

After some drizzly and misty beginnings, the weekend weather was superb and Sunday morning was spectacular, prompting a good turnout for the Chorus Cup. The field was small-ish, but the quality was there. It’s always good to see the youth get involved, and the Apple Icy’z knew how to work some good audience reaction into their lyrics:

Clap goes the audience, clap clap clap
We come here every year
You can’t stop us coming back

Winners of the open section, The OK Chorale, could yet need a trip to the High Court to defend their title, as they themselves admitted that the ‘chorus’ in their song (to the tune of ‘I Was Only 19’) was, well, non-existent at worst, and at best consisted of three words (‘God help me’). Apart from the pseudo-chorus, however, there were some absolute defining moments in lyricism:

Then Vic Jeffries yelled out "Poet's Breakfast!"
And the bloke behind me swore
A boring man recited "How McDougal Topped the Score"

Or how about:

And can somebody tell me why my tent still stinks of puke?
And what on earth possessed me to buy a purple uke?

Breath-taking. (I sent a link to the lyrics to John Schumann and his succinct verdict was: 'Very droll'.)

Chorus Cup judge Fred Smith was a big hit with the St Albans crowds and after the cup winners had been crowned, he treated the audience to an eclectic set of humour, emotion and yes, a little light Sunday afternoon devil worshipping arm movements. Fred sprinkled in a few numbers from his new ‘Texas’ album and was joined on stage by Penelope Swales to a great reception as proceedings started to wind down.

As the sun started to toy with the idea of heading further westwards and down a little, it was time to head the wagons south. The line-up at the Webbs Creek ferry did give a few of us the chance to have an end-of-festival de-brief. One of those leaning on bonnets and boots was Michael-John Azzopardi, who had performed his ever-popular blend of acoustic wizardry on the main stage over the weekend, the last set including some back-up from Chris Gillespie and one of his Wandering Hands.

It was a cruisey way to ease out of festival mode and to contemplate a return visit around about Anzac Day 2009.