Gig Review - Bristol Acoustic Music Festival 2009

From Friday 16th until Sunday 18th January 2009 @ The Folk House and St Georges
Featuring Performances From: The Wraiths, Jane Taylor, Babel

This wet and windy weekend in January saw Bristol celebrate its 5th annual Acoustic Music Festival and, in break from the norm, after a full, successful programme at The Folk House on Friday night and Saturday, Sunday saw proceedings move over the road for the first time with St Georges taking a turn at hosting. To see how this classical venue would fit into the Bristol Acoustic Music Festival ethos, SY went along on Sunday night to celebrate the last evening of the weekend’s shows.

We arrive late in the day to catch The Wraiths, a Bristol two-piece that do folk old-school: honest and beautiful but you wish it had a bit more of a kick! Their best song was the penultimate of their set, ending with a breathtaking collaboration of banjo strokes and grand piano twinklings – delicate music that showed off the talents of the venue and underlined why the organisers were so keen to try St Georges for a day. The acoustics here are without a doubt the best in the city as even the gentlest pluck of an instrument or whisper of a voice can be heard to perfection, making the performances that bit more pure and intimate. It’s fitting considering this is an ‘acoustic’ festival focusing on the music but I can’t help but feel that St Georges was stifling the atmosphere a bit.

At Bristol Acoustic Music Festivals gone by, drinks have always been flowing freely along with a playful, fun atmosphere that enhances the mood of all concerned but the regal setting of St Georges with its fixed rows of pews combined with the fact you’re not allowed booze anywhere near the stage seems to hold the fun back. Instead, everyone impeccably observes and respects the music (even Big Jeff, though still centre-front, is seated and muted) which is fine but festivals are just as much about the atmosphere as the music itself. Downstairs the booze is on show and the relaxed atmosphere is as it should be but as soon as we hear Jane Taylor starting upstairs, drinks are downed, we file up the stairs and all festivities are put on hold.

Atmosphere is at the back of everyone’s mind though when you’ve got someone as captivating and talented as Jane Taylor to watch live. Bristol based again but on the road to some very great things, her frame is pure Westcountry and her voice pure magic; a voice which is probably the most stunning anyone has or will hear all weekend. She is accompanied and complemented beautifully by a double bass, cello, violin and a small brass section while she herself navigates between guitar and piano to play some fantastic, swooping songs that calmingly wash over our souls. We’re treated to about 30 minutes of Jane’s stunning show which doesn’t feel like enough.

Last on the bill were Babel, certainly one of if not the, best band Bristol has in her ranks at the moment. This lively, six-piece folk outfit break straight into the haunting Disarm, eager not to waste playing time. A few more ruckus songs follow in quick succession and the band manage to inject a bit of life into the audience – there’s hands clapping along, arms swinging and even, shock horror, some dancing on the balcony! Energy levels rise briefly but Babel are fighting a losing battle against their surroundings with a huge, imposing mural of Jesus, the dude himself, behind the band keeping an eye that no-one gets too over-excited.

Babel are equally impressive on fantastic, pacey crescendo songs like Rain as much as they are on delicate slow numbers like Police Car but their real appeal is their energy, style and banter; three things that flow freely in The Folk House but seem to fall a bit flat in St Georges. The set is an enjoyable one but not quite the party I was hoping for to end this festival with a bang – due to time restraints we weren’t even allowed an encore, no matter how much we hollered.

All in all another successful year for the Bristol Acoustic Music Festival (or ‘Bristol Acoustoc Music Festival’ as my ticket says) and no doubt it is still the best place to discover and revel in Bristol’s best musical talents. The change to St Georges needs to be looked at but for such a fantastic line-up all weekend, hats off to the organisers.

Matt Whittle

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